Fellow TV/film writer Evan Northrup and I are kicking off our new series: "Evan & Evan". On "Evan & Evan," we will take a look at some of our favorite shows & movies and analyze them together.
To start off, we decided to digest the recently-completed The Outsider, HBO's latest horror/crime drama and one of 2020's biggest shows thus far.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers; proceed at your own discretion.
How did your attachment to the story and the characters evolve over the course of the season? Who was your favorite character from the jump, and who was your favorite when it was all said and done?
Linden: Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the show at first, but I was reeled in by episode 5. I felt like the show started off way too heavy, and then lulled for too long before getting exciting again. Episodes 6—9, however, had my full and unwavering attention. The last episode was fairly mid, but we’ll get into that later.
I liked Terry before shit hit the fan, but that was just minutes into the first episode. I rooted for Ralph, even though he was a little bitch 80% of the time. But all in all, Holly was by far the best character on the show. Her eccentric, savant-like personality added valuable depth to the group of otherwise run-of-the-mill feds. Without her, they would’ve never come close to uncovering the truth.
Northrup: The show really grabbed me at first. Ralph, Terry and Glory Maitland and Holly, the artistic camera work and the glimmers of something supernatural lingering around the edges all pulled me in. However, like Linden said, the show really hit a lull for the middle stretch. The characters' emotional arc’s seemed to all be tossed aside, the shots from weird angles focused in on random inanimate objects started to get tedious and once we knew the killer was a shapeshifting monster the supernatural aspect lost it’s mystique. It did pick back up at the end but I’m not sure if it was enough to redeem the show in my eyes.
Earlier this year I watched Starred Up, a 2013 British prison movie that co-stars Ben Mendelsohn as a off-kilter, anger prone inmate who is serving a life sentence at a high security English prison. It was one of the best movies I had seen in a long time and Ben Mendelsohn’s performance was incredible, which was part of the reason I was so excited for The Outsider. I thought his performance as Ralph was great, but to be honest, without the introduction of Holly in the third episode the show would’ve lost all momentum and flopped. So I gotta go with Cynthia Erivo’s Holly Gibney as my favorite character.
Before Holly came in and revitalized the investigation, who did you think was guilty?
Linden: By the end of the first episode, I was 100% sold on Terry. But after he got blasted in episode 2, I began to realize that the case was way deeper than anyone could’ve imagined. After reminding myself that the show was adapted from a Stephen King novel, I started to put the paranormal pieces together in my head.
Northrup: I had heard a little about the story beforehand, so going in, I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be Terry. However, that is why Jason Bateman was so good for the role of Terry. He played Terry Maitland as ever so slightly off, or like he had a secret, which left a little sliver of my mind thinking he may have actually done it.
How did you feel about Jason Bateman’s character dying in the second episode? Were you disappointed when he didn’t return?
Linden: I was disappointed, but I was shocked more than anything. I felt like this death didn’t add any value to the narrative aside from making the show more of a headache.
Northrup: In all honesty I felt like it lowered the stakes of the show, since Terry’s freedom was no longer hanging in the balance. However, adding Holly later made up for his absence and by the end I practically forgot he had ever existed. Which is a good thing, I guess?
A 10-episode season is pretty long for a limited series nowadays. Do you think The Outsider was a good show to be 10 episodes or should it have been shorter or longer?
Linden: Honestly, I think they could’ve kept the show to 4—6 episodes. I even remember thinking to myself multiple times throughout the season that The Outsider might have been better as a movie.
Northrup: I feel like The Outsider could have solved most of its problems by shortening the length of the season. Ten episodes was just too long for this plot, it felt like we knew all the characters and who the killer was midway through the show. They tension ebbed away and the emotional intensity we felt after Terry’s arrest and death also dissipated by the end.
What are your thoughts on “El Coco” as an antagonist?
Linden: El Coco might be the most unique TV antagonist that I’ve ever seen. I’m not exactly the biggest sci-fi person, so I suppose that I’m more shook by “entity” characters than most viewers are. However, I thought that El Cuco added an interesting psychological layer to the tension. The mythical aspect of El Cuco added an interesting cultural and historical layer to the narrative.
Northrup: I think that the killer being a supernatural entity was a really nice break from the classic who-done-it show structure. I once again agree with Evan that the historical, myth aspect really drew me in. Also, the different layers of belief amongst the characters really elucidated the tensions and relationships between them and within themselves. However, I wish that the information on El Cuco had been more substantial and paced out evenly. It seemed like we barely learned anything new about this ancient, cannibalistic, child killing monster from episode six until the end.
What were your thoughts on the ending? After the mid-credits scene with Holly, do you think we should expect a follow-up in the near future?
Linden: To be honest, I felt that the ending was a disappointment. We lost a handful of likeable characters only minutes into the episode, just for the surviving characters to discover what they already knew. There was some gratification in Terry’s exoneration, but otherwise, the ending made the whole season feel like a pointless goose chase.
According to sources, it is likely (but not yet confirmed) that there will be another season of The Outsider. Out of curiosity, I would definitely watch another season, but I honestly don’t know if they have enough to sustain another 10 episodes - they barely made it through the first 10.
Northrup: Swing and a miss. The shoot-out was exciting(sort of) but none of the character’s deaths really hit that hard. The confrontation with El Cuco was also a big let down. Like Evan Sr. said, all it did was confirm a bunch of stuff we already knew without adding anything more, which was incredibly disappointing after nine episodes of build up.
What bothered me more than the lack of new information was the show’s failure to create a satisfying conclusion to any of the character’s emotional arc’s. It seemed like they tried with Ralph’s final monologue over El Cuco, plus Ralph and Holly’s and Glory and Jeannie’s final convo’s, respectively, but they ultimately fell short. After the character’s emotional journeys were stagnant for so many of the middle episodes, these final moments just felt awkward afterthoughts.
Whose death hit the hardest?
Linden: Pelley’s death shocked me the most, but I felt the worst for Andy. Not to mention, Frankie Peterson’s entire family dying off in a matter of days was extremely morbid.
Northrup: Damn, I wasn’t even thinking about the Peterson’s deaths, but man, you’re right - those were hard to watch. I would have to go with them or Terry’s death- it was just sad to see an innocent man die with everyone thinking he was a killer.
Where does The Outsider land amongst other Stephen King adaptations you’ve watched?
Linden: I’m gonna expose myself here, but the only other Stephen King adaptations I’ve really watched are The Shining, which is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and In The Tall Grass, which I thought was mid. So, by default, I’d have The Outsider at #2.
Northrup: Although I didn’t love The Outsider, I don’t like most other Stephen King adaptations either (currently praying daily for this new Dark Tower series), so it lands at #3 on my list. #1 & #2 would The Shining and Stand By Me (although I haven’t seen the critically acclaimed The Green Mile).
If you were to rate the show on a scale of 1—10, where do you land?
Linden: The Outsider would land in the 7—8 neighborhood for me; closer to 8 if I were to rate it as a casual fan, and closer to 7 if I were to rate it as an objective critic. Despite its fixable flaws, The Outsider is one of the best new shows I’ve watched this year. The show has a great cast, unique writing, and exemplifies the beauty of HBO television. So at the end of the day, I can’t complain.
Northrup: For me, the show lands a little closer to the 6.5 range. The Outsider had every jigsaw piece it needed to be a great supernatural crime show and character drama, but it just couldn’t figure out how to put them together. I feel like all of its problems, the washed out emotion, diluted tension and bobbled character arcs could have all been solved by telling this story over a shorter number of episodes. Evan L. is right, it has so many of the earmarks of classic HBO television and admittedly I can be too hard on Stephen King adaptations, but it would be a lie to say I wasn’t disappointed when those final credits rolled.