Every generation for the past several decades seems to have their own unique relationship with horror master Stephen King. His works have consistently been a form of cultural currency, both in literature and through adaptations on screen. King seems to be flourishing in the present, in particular, due to highly successful adaptations of iconic properties like the IT franchise. This is not entirely surprising, as he has a penchant for crafting engaging worlds that translate well to the screen. Just in recent months, I have had the pleasure of reviewing It: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep and Castle Rock, and now I have the opportunity to check out his buzzy new HBO show. The Outsider debuted earlier this year to an enthusiastic audience, led by a knockout cast including the likes of Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo and Jason Bateman. The tale starts out simply enough, but expands into unexpected territories in true King fashion.
As someone who prefers to go into shows and movies with a relatively clean slate, the following paragraphs will be as spoiler-free as can be managed (no promises are made during the Special Features section, though). Rather than the standard New England setting of most King tales, The Outsider takes place in the sleepy Georgia town known as Cherokee City. A terrible tragedy has just befallen the town as the story begins; the mutilated corpse of young Frankie Peterson has been found in the nearby woods. The details are stomach churning, but it thankfully does not take long for detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One) to zero in on a suspect. Multiple eyewitnesses saw local Little League coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman, Ozark) with Frankie earlier in the day, and there is even security footage of him covered in blood at a local strip club. A disgusted Ralph does not hesitate to take Terry into custody in the most public manner possible: right in the middle of a game in front of the whole town. Terry seems befuddled by the accusations, and his wife, Glory (Julianne Nicholson, Boardwalk Empire), is enraged as she quickly calls the family lawyer, Howard (Bill Camp, Joker). He maintains that he was at a conference out of town, which eyewitnesses and security footage supports. All of the evidence seems to point to the fact that he killed this boy, but there is just as much pointing to the contrary.
With this being a King story, you know that this is not going to be as straightforward as a case of mistaken identity. The story starts off with one of the most thrilling beginnings to a miniseries that I have seen in a while, and it does its best to maintain that quality as mysteries and mythologies are posed and revealed over the ten-episode season. Mendelsohn is low-key excellent as the detective who is clinging on to the facts as he wrestles with recent tragedy of his own. He brings a real humanity to the character, which is only enriched by a beautifully nuanced performance from Mare Winningham as his wife, Jeannie. Her character is not simply one to play dutiful wife to the sensible authority figure. Jeannie challenges Ralph at all of the appropriate times, which helps keep him open in all the necessary ways. Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) is given arguably the juiciest role of the series, Holly Gibney. Holly is a gifted private investigator that is hired to investigate what actually occurred on this day, and how it might connect to other events around the country. Erivo embodies Holly’s eccentricities with ease, while also grounding her with real emotion and personality behind the relatively expressionless exterior. While these are only a few of the standouts in the show, the entire cast is putting in expert-level performances.
The show sets up several mysteries from the jump, and it does a decent job of balancing the reveals with new aspects to keep the audience invested. The show is technically sound from the awe-inspiring cinematography to the crisp editing within each episode. That being said, the story probably could have been shored up slightly to avoid some wheel spinning that happens shortly after the halfway point of the season. With a bit of restructuring, this could have been an even more engaging eight-episode season that would not rely on characters being as deliberately obtuse just to keep things from moving forward too quickly. As it stands, the series starts of incredibly strong and mostly sticks a satisfying landing, but it meanders a bit when there was a clearer path forward. Nevertheless, the journey overall is an incredibly fun one brimming with tension-filled mysteries and engaging characters.
The Outsider comes to Blu-Ray with an excellent 1080p presentation that handles all of the various darker settings with ease. This is a very dark show, both thematically and visually, which allows the show to build tension within the unknown. This presentation provides incredibly deep black levels that handle subtle details really well. With a quick comparison to the streaming option, the Blu-Ray disc holds up slightly better in the depth of field during these scenes, and a quite a bit better in digital artifacting. There does not appear to be any issues with compression artifacts, digital noise or any nuisances of the sort on the disc. There are not many instances of intense color, but brightly lit sequences during the day reveal nice shades of green and tan within nature. Skin tones likewise look quite natural with subtle features easily distinguishable. Clothing and other elements of the production design show off a pleasing amount of texture all around. This presentation really does the show justice.
This Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that delivers a fierce and effective presentation. The show features an appropriately sinister score that permeates the channels in a really pleasing way that envelops you at all the right moments. Dialogue primarily stays in the center channel, and is crisp and clear without ever being clipped by sound effects or music. The track has a defined sense of directionality that accurately places the sound in the mix. Sudden bursts of noise are used sporadically to great effect. There is some impressive engagement in the low end, even outside of the music blaring in the club. When there is something malevolent nearby, you will often feel like you are getting hit in the chest with bass. The show does employ some panning effects when necessary, and gunshots ring out in a powerful way that makes your stomach sink. Overall, the audio mix is a fantastic part of the package.
- Invitation To The Set: A minute-long tease for the series that introduces the basic premise with the cast and crew.
- Jason Bateman On The Outsider: A minute-long talk with star and director Jason Bateman on his experience working on the show and what excites him about the project.
- The Outsider – Inside Episode 1 & 2: A nearly five-minute look at the first two episodes of the series with the cast and crew. This entry features discussions about the great Ben Mendelsohn, the Stephen King influences of the story, special effects work and Jason Bateman’s directing.
- The Outsider – Inside Episode 3 & 4: A seven-minute look at the next two episodes, which features a deep dive into the cinematography, adapting the character of Holly Gibney for this universe, the character of Jack Hoskins, and the origin stories of monsters.
- Stephen King & The Outsider: A two-and-a-half minute featurette discussing the legendary Stephen King with the cast and crew.
- Adapting The Outsider: A nearly three-minute look at how Richard Price went about adapting the novel by leaning into the police procedural elements he is comfortable with, while playing in the horror elements of which he is a fan.
- The Outsider – Inside Episode 5, 6 & 7: A six-and-a-half minute look at the next three episodes, which features discussions on embracing the supernatural elements, the ramifications of Holly presenting her El Cuco theory, Jack’s demons and the intensity of a car scene.
- El Cuco. The Baba Yaga. The Outsider: A thirteen-minute examination of the central villain of the story and its origins in different cultures. The cast and crew discuss all of the core elements of the being, the subtlety in actually showing him in his various forms, the actors that portray him and more.
- Analyzing Holly Gibney: A three-minute look at our hero and what makes her special within the context of the story. The cast and crew discuss how they developed the character for the screen, her various layers and more.
- The Outsider – Inside Episode 8, 9 & 10: A nine-minute look at the final three episodes of the season, which features tracking down El Cuco, the ruthlessness of the final episodes, the final confrontation and the possibility of continuing the story.
The Outsider is a thrilling series that keeps you wanting to press the play button after the end of each episode. There are some pacing issues that could have made the season even more effective, but that does not take away anything from the goosebumps it provides or the packed cast of all-star character actors. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provides the show with a wonderful A/V presentation on Blu-Ray, along with some nifty special features that only enhance the experience. The story may end up slightly away from what you envision in the initial episode, but the journey to the end is quite a fun ride. Recommended
The Outsider: The Complete First Season is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.