Cast: Ben Mendelsohn (“Ready Player One,” “Rogue One: A Stars Wars Story”), Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development” “Ozark”), Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”), Bill Camp (“The Night Of”), Mare Winningham (“St. Elmo’s Fire”), Julianne Nicholson (“August: Osage County”)
Airs: The 10-episode series premieres Sunday on HBO.
The premise: Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) is dispatched to the Georgia woods when the body of an 11-year-old boy is found. With plenty of eyewitnesses and physical evidence pointing to local teacher and baseball coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), Ralph makes a very public arrest, though Terry maintains his innocence. After Terry’s wife, Glory (Julianne Nicholson), calls their attorney Howie (Bill Camp), Terry produces a confirmed alibi during interrogation, leaving investigators baffled by the conflicting evidence.
“The Outsider” is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. The series is written by Richard Price (“The Wire,” “The Night Of”).
Highs: “The Outsider” keeps you on your toes with a continuous sense of foreboding. The music, camera angles and lighting are all masterfully manipulated to provide viewers with a familiar environment, while still giving the impression that whatever is going on isn’t quite right. The mood of “The Outsider” fits perfectly with its mysterious and intense plot.
At first, Ralph Anderson feels like he has a slam dunk case against Terry Maitland. When it comes to homicide cases, it couldn’t be any clearer that he arrested the right man. And as a father who has lost his only child, Ralph takes the case personally. However, when another tragedy strikes, Ralph begins to realize he could be wrong.
Unsatisfied with having to live with unanswerable questions, Ralph decides to expand his team and hires a private investigator to cover ground out of state, which is where the case is leading. This is when we meet Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo).
Holly is not your typical investigator. Hyper intelligent, fastidious and a bit odd, she can tell the height of a building just by looking at it. She says “cheers” in Lithuanian and has a unique ability to recall obscure facts, such as who was pitching in a Cubs/Mets game from September 1985. But ask her how tall she is or what the date is and she doesn’t know the answer.
Ralph and Holly are after the same goal but go about solving crimes in completely different ways. Ralph has no tolerance for the unexplainable while Holly, with her unique abilities, considers herself exactly that. Despite their differences, they make a formidable team that’s fascinating to watch.
This might sound like the formula for a typical cop drama, but the series’ initial “True Detective” vibe doesn’t last long. While Ralph and Holly work, we’ll see secondary characters doing or experiencing things that are completely weird and, at times, downright frightening.
Writer Price does a brilliant job of balancing a crime story with the perfect amount of supernatural tension. Viewers are given enough clues and kept at just the right level of anticipation to keep you wanting more.
Lows: “The Outsider” is a dark series that won’t be for everyone. Its intense subject matter and mood-setting ambiance are extremely effective, but they also can make the series incredibly heavy and morose. This is not the type of program you’ll want to binge- watch. This is sipping television.
Grade: (A-): HBO provided screeners for the first six episodes of “The Outsider,” but I never truly felt like I had a grasp on the series until episode three, when Holly first appears. Puzzle pieces start to come together and I was completely hooked after that. A riveting series that will keep you on the edge of your seat, “The Outsider” is a must-watch show.
Gazette TV critic Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.