Now Is the Perfect Time to Catch Up on The Outsider , 2020's First Great Horror Series

James Grebey

The Outsider shouldn't have worked this way. January is typically not a great month for TV. It’s a month-long lull between end-of-year prestige and the (fingers crossed) exciting new premieres spring has in store. Movies occupy that same nebulous, mostly garbage space too—it’s typically just a bad time of year for good entertainment, a vortex of suckage. So, you’d be forgiven for not paying too much attention to what’s been on TV for the past month or so, but perhaps it’s fitting that what's become, traditionally, a dead zone has given us an incredible Stephen King adaptation. With just three episodes to go before its finale, now’s a perfect time to catch up on The Outsider, the first great show of the year.

Based on King’s 2018 novel of the same name, The Outsider is a murder-mystery with a dark, supernatural twist. Police discover a young boy’s mutilated body in a Georgia community, and right away they find lots of credible eyewitnesses and video evidence pointing to the culprit—Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), the town's beloved little league coach. Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) arrests Terry, but soon, equally compelling video evidence places him in a totally different city during the time of the murder. The same man can’t be in two places at once... right? If Terry didn’t kill that boy, then who (or what) did, and how did it look exactly like him?

As the mystery deepens and the tragedy spreads, Ralph employs Holly Gibney (an excellent Cynthia Erivo), an eccentric but undeniably brilliant private detective, to try to learn more. What she finds is very dark—and dangerous.

Think It, but instead of a group of lovable kids investigating a supernatural evil, the police are attempting to solve a deeply confounding mystery. The Outsider works so well because it’s both a sharp horror show and a well-paced detective drama all at once. The series’ executive producer and primary writer is Richard Price, a renowned crime novelist who also created the HBO series The Night Of. That show, which starred Riz Ahmed as a college student implicated in a murder he didn’t commit, was horrifying without the need for any monsters beyond the real-life terrors of Rikers Island and our flawed justice system. The Outsider takes Price’s mastery of crime fiction’s mundane scares and seamlessly blends them with Stephen King’s trademark brand of skin-crawling horror.

As Ralph, Mendelsohn feels extremely human, which is important given the inhuman force lurking in the nearby woods. You can see introspection ripple on the actor's face; his quiet, ever-gurgling fury and nagging doubts make him a compelling if flawed hero. Erivo, a recent Oscar-nominee, makes Holly three-dimensional, deftly avoiding what could have been a Rain Man-like caricature of a quirky savant. Bateman has less to do (it’s really Ralph and Holly’s story) but he’s believable both as a family man and little league coach and as a blood-covered murderer.

The series is 10 episodes long, with Episode 8 premiering this weekend, so now's exactly the right time to binge the show's first batch of episodes in the ramp up to its endgame. If The Outsider has a weakness, it’s been in the past episode or two, but it’s a necessary one. There’s a part of every monster movie or supernatural thriller in which reasonable people struggle to accept that unexplainable, unreasonable things are happening. The mixture of black-and-white detective fiction with Stephen King "so horrifying it can't be real... or can it?" panache requires that all the characters eventually get on the same page, and while it’s crucial that we see them grapple with their disbelief, it’s not as immediately exciting to watch as what came before—or, presumably, after.

With three episodes left, the pieces are all in place for a thrilling conclusion and a showdown of good versus evil—a classic King concept, but one that feels more grounded than usual in the TV adaptation of The Outsider. It’s time to catch up with a show that's proving everything we thought we knew about early-in-the-year entertainment wrong.

Photo Illustration by Gabe Conte

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Originally Appeared on GQ