"The Outsider" (HBO) Series Talkback (Spoilers)

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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Jan 19, 2004
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Framingham, MA
The Outsider "Fish In A Barrel"

It's interesting that Jason Bateman directed this. Seems kind of outside of his wheelhouse.

I was not overly impressed with the Pilot. Before we get into the episode's failings I need to point out that The Outsider by Stephen King is an incredibly flawed book. There are definite good points (Holly Gibney and the Dark Tower connections spring immediately to mind) but to be blunt, it is probably the worst constructed mystery I have ever read or seen. The "culprit" is an even bigger cheat than the killer gorilla in The Murders In The Rue Morgue or Jack the Ripper's disembodied immortal spirit in Star Trek's "Wolf In The Fold." What I think happened was Stephen King concocted an airtight case against a person, gave the suspect an equal amount of witnesses and credibility, and couldn't reconcile those two things, so made the solution out of nowhere and supernatural instead. King notes he did a lot of research on El Cucuy in the afterward to the book, but if the book started OUT as being about El Cucuy I'd be shocked. There are no hints of that at the beginning of the book, which leads me to believe King wrote himself into a corner with the mystery, and instead of going back and streamlining things to make them fit, decided instead to say that a monster who can shapeshift did it. I was a bit insulted to be honest.

Don't get me wrong. King is usually a pretty great writer. But that is NOT the first book to ever have gotten away from him. His massive novel "It" is a master class in utterly missing any possible interesting point a story like that could make. King does not do as much sloppy writing as he did during the 1980's when he was coked out of his gourd. But I always felt like The Outsider would have gone back to the drawing board if he had gotten stuck earlier in the novel, instead of writing just enough of it to feel pressured to finish it.

Let's talk about the TV series. The lighting sucks. That is my first and biggest complaint. The show barely ever gives you clear shots of the characters' faces. You can argue that's a stylistic choice, but in a Stephen King story, which are always overloaded with characters, that just makes things unbearably confusing.

I also am very concerned that they seem to have blown through about a good third of the entire book in just the first episode. It leads me to believe there is going to be a bit of meandering down the line, and whatever else you could accuse the novel of being, meandering wasn't one of those things.

I'm not optimistic about the series being all that good. About the best thing I'll say for the Pilot is that they didn't veer too far from the source material. But they are pretty much going to have to going forward because the series is 10 episodes long. That was a pretty rough first episode all things considered. **1/2.

The Outsider "Roanoke"

I really liked the scene where Terry told Ralph how he taught his son to bunt. Very well-acted on Jason Bateman's part.

Speaking of Bateman, I was trying to place where I saw the therapist before, and I might be crazy, but I think he used to play Jason Bateman's nerdy friend on The Hogan Family. I remember that kid because he also got his nose bitten off by the Penguin in Batman Returns. I'm pretty sure that was the same guy, which says Bateman is the kind of producer who rewards old friends. That's nice.

I still think the lighting on the show sucks, but that was a much more solid episode than the first. ***1/2.

The Outsider "Dark Uncle"

Interesting take on Holly Gibney although she's not as preternaturally gifted as this version in the book. Cool nonetheless.

What isn't cool is the disturbing amount of scenes that take place at the strip club. It's gratuitous and adds nothing. But part of me thinks HBO has done nothing but make TV more degrading and worse. It's just nonstop with that channel, no matter the program.

Holly's cool though. ***1/2.

The Outsider "Que Viene El Coco"

Defining episode of the series for me. I can can safely say the series is a dud. And I couldn't before this one.

I have many complaints about The Outsider as a book. It is many questionable things, but what it is not is boring. That was exceedingly dull. And again the series uses the frustrating decision to transition to people in conservation without showing the characters' faces so we can't actually follow what they are talking about. That actually boils down to poor direction.

Holly is problematic. I understand the need to change her backstory a bit because the producers don't have the license for the rest of the Bill Hodges characters, but they are changing the character much too. Holly hates personal contact and it's hinted she's a virgin. She would never instigate a kiss with a guy.

Also the scene of her naked in the tub seemed to only occur to titillate the audience. HBO nudity is why we aren't allowed to have nice things.

That sucked. *.

The Outsider "Tear-Drinker"

Another super boring episode.

More differences from the book. There Ralph believes his wife about someone breaking into their house and takes the threat seriously. Jack is much less sympathetic (which is actually an improvement on the series' part). And Ralph's son is still alive (but away at camp).

The episode and the series are extremely dull. **.

The Outsider "The One About The Yiddish Vampire"

Yeah, this is FAR inferior to the book. And the book half-sucks.

I'll tell you what I hate. Everyone's reaction to Holly laying out her admittedly crazy "evidence". She is outright humiliated here and treated with open contempt by everyone except Jeanie (and Jack for a different reason). I like the way the book did it much better. Everyone, EVERYONE even Ralph is immediately charmed by Holly, and wants to hear her crazy theory out. Mrs. Maitland takes an immediate shine to her in fact. I'm not saying they all believed her in the book when she came up with the El Cucuy theory. What I am saying is that they half-loved her for it, which is the entire selling point of Holly Gibney. They are taking away the most lovable thing about the character to stretch the story to ten episodes. That's a bad idea.

In the book the only one who outright denies Holly's theory is Ralph. And yet he is so fond of her that when she tells him before the final confrontation that she wants him to believe her just for the next five hours, because if he doesn't he'll die, he does it with no objections. And the Ralph in the book was never visited himself by a spirit, and was supportive and believing of his wife when she told him she was threatened in the middle of the night. One of the cool things about heroes in Stephen King books, at least in the ones from the latter half of his career, is that they may not believe things at first, but They Quickly Get With The Program. In the book Ralph really likes and is protective of Holly. I don't like hearing the ugly things he says about and to her here pass from his lips. Same goes for Mrs. Maitland

I also am very unhappy with the idea that Holly's presentation makes Glory (why did they change her name for THAT name?) actually question whether Terry actually did it. That is utterly wrong for Mrs. Maitland. She is supposed to be the one character in the story unwavering in her correct belief about her husband's innocence. The show is relatively faithful to book, especially compared to most Stephen King TV adaptations. But everything it DID decide to change was for the worse and always the MUCH worse.

Any good things? Denny Dillon as the apparition of Jack's mother freaked me the eff out. But that specific actress has always freaked me out in general so it's no surprise.

But I think the show is absolutely doing wrong by Holly, Ralph, and Mrs. Maitland by wanting to stretch things out to ten episodes. I'm not happy. *1/2.

The Outsider "In The Pines, In The Pines"

Ending the episode on Holly's scream was pretty great but I had some other problems. That being said, I also didn't have as many objections as previous episodes.

I think it's interesting that Jack is so conflicted here. In the book he's just turned into a monster. Unlike here Book Jack doesn't have any friends, and he actually deserves every inch of his misery. Here he half wants to believe Holly and that she can defeat this thing. It's an open question as to whether she could have actually convinced him to spare her (his gunfire was very much last second and spur of the moment) but I like the fact that it's not out of the realm of possibility either.

Holly's trick in breaking the window was great. Impressed with that.

I like Jeanie reaming Ralph over basically being the current stumbling block in the investigation. She had a similar perspective in the book, but since Ralph wasn't actually hindering anything with his disbelief there, it was done in a much more loving capacity. This Ralph needed and deserved to be clocked over the head.

I always thought it was interesting that the show explored in much greater detail over what a pariah Mrs. Maitland became in the town. But I have to say I've had enough of it. They're just piling it on and punishing the character because they can. That's not cool. It leading to her decision to sue the pants off everybody was nice but I don't like that that's the thing that got her there.

That was all right. ***1/2.

The Outsider "Foxhead"

I really like how Holly was portrayed this episode (for the most part).

I love that Holly knows the puzzle is an elephant and the puzzle genius who doesn't even look at the box is shocked to find out she's right. Suddenly her crazy story has some credibility.

But my favorite Holly moment was something I don't know if people who don't know the character would have been unsurprised by. My biggest regret that the series is unconnected to Mr. Mercedes is that I think people who have never seen that series or read these books will get the wrong idea about the character. But my favorite moment was Ralph trying to meet her halfway in the car, and telling her the spooky story of his mother and that song, and asking for her take on it. Her verdict: It sounds like a coincidence! And that's 100% Holly Gibney, which I don't know if people who haven't read the books would really understand.

Before that moment she is sort of the second coming of Fox Mulder in believing and trying to prove kooky things. That's not the reason Holly came to that theory in the book, and having this be an audience's first introduction to the character, they might read her all wrong just based on that theory. The truth is Holly is exceedingly rational. Much more-so than the other characters. She came to that crazy theory for two reasons: 1. She had experienced something supernatural in the Bill Hodges books herself. And 2. It was the only explanation she could come up with that explained all of the contradictions in the mystery. Holly did not deduce it was El Cucuy because she's a believer in crazy things. She was actually using Occam's Razor, which is why everyone reacting so badly a few episodes ago rankled me so much. So the actual explanation for Ralph's mom and the song is that it's a coincidence. And that would always be her first guess in the books. She only goes to the paranormal when there is no other explanation. She's a good "regular" detective too.

I like that they found a way to make The Outsider active without killing that poor kid. That makes me happy. Especially because Frankie Peterson WAS El Cucuy's last child victim in the book. Ralph and Holly stopped him before he could do it again. The series has him killing a lot more people (and Jack being involved with that), but that's probably only because it's television.

My one complaint for Holly is her snuggling up on the outdoor couch with Andy. Holly HATES personal contact and I think the show is trying to make her more relatable to the audience than she is. She's never definitively stated to have Asperger's or autism in the books, but that's almost certainly what she has. The series trying to pin her in a more traditional romantic role so as not to make the audience overly uncomfortable with her "weirdness" doesn't sit right with me, especially as a person with Asperger's myself.

But other than that one thing I really enjoyed most of the episode. ****.

The Outsider "Tigers And Bears"

For someone who has never read the book that ending must have been scary and shocking. It was also 100% the right ending, so kudos to the show.

I like Howie explaining the reasons to Claude that him not remembering him is a compliment.

I also really like Jeanie's scene with Glory. Jeanie said something amazingly self-aware and lacking pretense. She said she did not feel like giving Glory the details of the current El Coco investigation because she didn't have the strength to deal with Glory's reaction. And I have to say that was a smart, true, and honest thing to say to somebody who has regularly been flying off the handle at the other characters at the drop of the hat. Her framing it as not having the strength for that reaction really gets across what a trial Glory has been to the other characters.

While I did like Jeanie for that observation, I don't like the show for making it necessary for her to make it. Mrs. Maitland is nothing but sympathetic in the book, and any rage she demonstrates there is actually justified. Glory has been completely and totally unfair to everyone who wants to clear her husband's name. So much so that she's actually hindering them doing that. That is the antithesis of the Mrs. Maitland in the book, and even if the show was allowed to make Jeanie extra sympathetic for a scene, I think it probably made the story as a whole worse. We'll see how the last episode does.

I was very glad to hear Holly's movie-buff nature come into the episode, because that's a defining characteristic. But the episode is dumb in having her say she's never actually seen the movie she knows everything about. Holly Gibney watches EVERYTHING. And brings it up at the most annoying times. That's her shtick.

I liked most of it, but I had severe reservations about a lot of it too. ***1/2.

The Outsider "Must/Can't"

That was passable but not great. Just like the series. So it's a fitting end.

The shoot-out was more of a bloodbath here than in the book because there were fewer characters involved in the novel. Claude had nothing to do with the climax in the book, and they added two extra characters besides him to the trip to the cave, and while Claude himself survived, the extra characters made decent shock-value cannon fodder. I especially am grateful Andy died because I would not have wanted his romance with Holly followed up on at all.

The tag was confusing and utterly unhelpful. Bad place to leave the series off.

I am disappointed in no Dark Tower references. Why? Because they wouldn't have hurt anything or confused anything, and they would have made Stephen King fans happy. So it's a bummer they seem to be absent for no good reason whatsoever.

The Outsider completely having Claude's form in the cave feels like an utter rip-off just when we wanna see a real-live monster. We've been building towards it, never got a good look before this, and by the time we get to it it looks completely ordinary. I don't think that's fair. The Outsider is a tough book to like and enjoy because the supernatural elements seem tacked on and barely there. The series couldn't even give us THAT much.

I'll tell you what I did like. They didn't actually redeem Jack Hoskins here, but I like the idea that the rampage stops because he refuses to kill Holly and decides to commit suicide instead. To be blunt, Jack's arc is the ONLY thing on the series that was more interesting than the book. But it was for sure interesting.

As far as Stephen King adaptations go this was more faithful than most, especially compared to the other TV shows. But it's missing a great deal of the heart of his writing, and the series is in no way as watchable as the book is readable. The book is exciting enough to want to finish it in one or two sittings. The series is so dull it is hardly something upon which you'll binge till you drop.

So-so finale to a so-so series. ***.
 

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