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How is it that both HBO and Stephen King TV adaptations been around since the 1970s, yet 2020 marks the first time the two mega-powers have joined forces? That question could probably keep me up at night if I thought about it long enough, and I could say the same thing for the network's ongoing miniseries based on King's 2018 novel The Outsider.
After getting off to a pretty slow start for its two-episode premiere – the live audience dipped from 724,000 viewers to just over 600,000 for the second episode – The Outsider has seen its audience rise to just under 1 million viewers for the fourth episode. That lift indicates good word-of-mouth, beyond the acclaim that's already out there, and I'm here to keep that "Watch This Show" train chugging along. So below, you'll find five big reasons why fans of Stephen King's Outsider novel, and even those who never heard of it, will love HBO's adaptation.
The Outsider Is Basically Stephen King's True Detective
True crime has seemingly never been more popular, and that influence is evident in certain fictional crime dramas, with True Detective drawing up the blueprint for such methodically disturbing investigations. For the first chunk of King's The Outsider, the narrative alternates between interrogation questionings and traditional storytelling that centers on the mutilation and death of a child in a Southern town. It's an open-and-shut case for brusque Detective Ralph Anderson until seemingly impossible evidence appears that points to the only possible suspect's evidence.
The TV series doesn't ape the exact same approach (since that would hew pretty close to True Detective in live-action), but it's still imbued with the same balance between Ralph's unwavering belief system and the outside world that's trying to dismantle that belief system. However, where Nic Pizzolatto only took viewers to the edge of occult-y supernatural shenanigans with True Detective, The Outsider dives face-first into dread-filled insanity, both on the page and on the screen.
Cynthia Erivo Excels As Stephen King Fan-Favorite Holly Gibney
First getting her offbeat introduction smack in the middle of Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes novel, Holly Gibney was immediately a force to be reckoned with, and the character was so deep and firmly grounded that King used her across four total books (so far). Naturally, spinning a live-action performance out of the character would be a challenge, considering she's not only on the autism spectrum, but also suffers from sensory perception issues, synesthesia and OCD. And yet Harriet star Cynthia Erivo isn't even the first actress to play her.
For Audience Network's Mr. Mercedes series, Holly is played by Justine Lupe, who delivers a solid and engaging performance, but there's something about Cynthia Erivo's portrayal that evokes so much of what was there on the page and then some. (Even if she doesn't share all of the character's tics, such as smoking.) In a show where almost every character lives stark black-and-white existences, Erivo's Holly upends everything by dropkicking a rainbow of new and different ideas into everyone's heads, even if they're not exactly life-affirming notions. Her strength isn't so much abundant confidence as it is not realizing that confidence is what gives most people their strength; Holly just does the damned thing, and Erivo's captivating performance builds up the character's layers throughout.
Ben Mendelsohn Is The Perfect (Male) Stephen King Protagonist
Stephen King's bibliography is long and historied, with an abundance of iconic characters scattered among a plethora of novels and short stories. And over the years, plenty of talented and high-profile actors have stepped in to portray some of those familiar leads. Such examples include Tom Hanks in The Green Mile, Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone to Brendan Gleeson in the aforementioned Mr. Mercedes, and the list definitely doesn't stop there. But where I can't necessarily see any of those actors playing each of the other respective roles (e.g. Gleeson as Johnny Smith), I can easily picture Ben Mendelsohn as just about every protagonist that King has ever conceived.
The Outsider confirms that suspicion as much as it can, with Ben Mendelsohn perfectly filling the shoes of a fractured detective who largely follows the rules of the law until the point when his fists reach beyond it. The actor is so good at playing characters who swim in morally ambiguous waters while earning others' dependence and loyalty. Sticking out in the ocean of TV crime drama detectives isn't the easiest thing to pull off, but Mendelsohn hits all the complex notes while maintaining the small-town simplicity (so to speak) that's also inherent to Stephen King ensembles.
Even Stephen King Knows Its The Rare Top-Tier Adaptation Of His Work
Ask a million Stephen King fans about their thoughts on the film and TV adaptations of his books and stories, and you'll hear a million slightly different opinions ranging from adoration to abhorrence. At this point, judging the adaptations is arguably an organic part of being a King fan, and it's largely understood that only a vaunted selection of those projects are reserved for the top of the mountain. The Outsider is an A+ adaptation deserving of inclusion in that group without a doubt.
Even Stephen King himself gave it his blue ribbon of approval, as evidenced below.
Written for TV by the great Richard Price, whose career as a novelist (The Wanderers, Clockers) led him to a side career in film and television, co-writing the Clockers screenplay with Spike Lee and working with David Simon on the Clockers-inspired The Wire. (He also wrote the extended music video for Michael Jackson's "Bad," co-wrote Ransom, and co-created The Night Of, to name a few others.) For The Outsider, Price worked with E.P./actor/director Jason Bateman and the rest of the creative team to deliver a perfectly moody, dread-laced haunt of a series that hits the same contemplative ebbs and harrowing flows of Stephen King's novel.
Be sure to catch up with The Outsider and tune into live episodes Sunday nights on HBO at 9:00 p.m. ET.