Seasons one and three of True Detective are among my favorite television stories of all time. It’s rare that I find a show that has just the right blend of horror and mystery for me. But I found another one, and it’s The Outsider, the new HBO show based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name. I haven’t read the novel, so I have no idea whether or not the adaptation is faithful, but I will tell you this–it’s expertly crafted as a TV series. Halfway through the ten-episode series, the pacing has been perfect, and the way this mystery is unfolding is so, so good.
Ben Mendelsohn stars as a detective investigating a child murder that seems open and shut. His suspect is a local teacher (played superbly by Jason Bateman) who is well-known and liked in the community. But the evidence is overwhelming. That is, until seemingly impossible conflicting evidence turns up.
And then things get weird.
For me, the closest parallel between True Detective and The Outsider is the pacing. So many stories on TV are poorly paced, that it’s actually the default. There’s such a fine line between the perfect unraveling of a mystery and overly padding a story to fill episodes. The Outsider is navigating this really well. And as the mystery unfolds, the horror grows, which I also love. The first two episodes in particular are just superb. Both were written by Richard Price and directed by Jason Bateman.
The real main character in this show so far is grief. The ripple effects of tragic loss and the different ways people cope with those losses are their own smaller stories within the larger narrative. This show has some truly heart-wrenching moments that will stay with you.
The Outsider is a great example of why novel adaptations are best suited for TV. Had this story been crammed into a two-hour (or even three-hour) movie, it would have been a mess. As a ten-episode series, it’s been near perfect so far. Go watch it.