TNT’s The Alienist premieres on January 22 and I’m not sure what to make of it. The 10-episode series adapts Caleb Carr’s 1994 novel of the same name, which I have not read, and is the end result of twenty years of development hell. Daniel Brühl stars as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, the titular Alienist – so-called because at the time, 1896, those suffering from mental illness were said to be “alienated from their own true natures,” thus those who treated them were Alienists – and Luke Evans is illustrator John Moore. Dakota Fanning rounds out the leads as Sara Howard, the first woman to be hired by the New York Police Department, and that’s about as glamorous as it sounds. Together, the three of them investigate what turns out to be a string of murders after a boy prostitute is found mutilated in the opening minutes of the first episode. Where The Alienist will have to prove itself is in the meat of its storytelling, and in the first two episodes the storytelling is solid, if overly familiar. Brühl and Fanning are excellent. Brühl’s Kreizler is complex and interesting, especially in his willingness to confront social and religious attitudes that do damage to the children in his care. And Fanning brings a fresh naturalism to the role of Sara Howard, dealing with the rampant sexism and blatant misogyny in 1898 New York. Sometimes, however, the writing is a bit too on-the-nose in its defense of trans and feminist issues. This becomes especially noticeable when it comes to the character of John Moore. Luke Evans does what he can with the role, but there’s just not a lot there. He’s a privileged white dude who likes to bang prostitutes. There’s a bit of mystery about why he has the prostitute wear a wedding ring, but it’s barely interesting. He mainly serves as a straight-man for Kreizler’s arrogance and as a prude about what Howard is capable of. This general uselessness eventually serves as motivation for a major plot point in episode 2, so it’s not something that the creators are oblivious to, but after two episodes, Moore is definitely the weak link in the overall narrative. Matthew Shear and Douglas Smith arrive on the scene as medical pathologists Lucius and Marcus Isaacson, also on the fringe of the mainstream as they are Jewish brothers who, if that weren’t enough to ostracize them from the almost completely corrupt police department, are all up in the most modern technological advances – they want to solve crimes, instead of just taking bribes and abusing people. Their characters are a welcome addition since not only are both actors very good, they allow the narrative to expand to a world outside of that of rich white folk as they experiment on pig carcasses and attend socialist rallies (which is a great place to get laid, apparently). They added a more playful element that reminded me, favorably, of the supporting cast of Hannibal. Rounding out the all-white main cast is Brian Geraghty as Theodore Roosevelt as the police commissioner. Yes, that Teddy Roosevelt. So far, Geraghty isn’t playing him with the dynamic quality that one would expect. He’s quiet, but firm as apparently the only clean cop in New York. He doesn’t like Kreizler, but he does like results. All in all, his character, like Evans’, is relegated to the background, limited by their privilege and inability, for now, to think outside the box. This is set, of course, before his time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and his time in Cuba with the Rough Riders, so I guess it’s understandable. The first two episodes were directed by Jakob Verbruggen and the series was filmed in Budapest, which serves as a beautiful stand-in for turn of the century New York. Verbruggen has a great eye for detail and there’s not a lot to complain about with the look and feel of The Alienist. In fact, I’m a little surprised this is going to be airing on TNT. There’s a cinematic quality to the filmmaking and the show definitely embraces the Prestige Television format. The violence is brutal and gory, the sex is fairly graphic, and the subject matter is like nothing you would have found on television when the novel was originally written. However, that’s part of the problem with the show. In 1994, this was fresh material. A film or series made then could have been groundbreaking if they’d had the guts to stick even half as close to the source material. But it’s 2018 and we’ve had Hannibal, True Detective, The Knick, Peaky Blinders, Ripper Street, Mindhunter, and countless other shows either about hunting serial killers or telling tales in similar time periods. It takes until about halfway through the second episode for the show to really start taking some chances, as Evans’ Moore takes it upon himself to actually bring something to the table. His unprompted decision to explore the seedy underworld of boy prostitutes is a daring move for TNT, who’s previous highest-rated original show was Major Crimes and is home to the friendly playfulness of The Librarians. But there’s a new regime at the network and they’re determined to stake out territory in the modern television landscape where AMC, FX, NETFLIX, and even SYFY, have made bold advances in what can be done with the medium. My question is just how daring will TNT be with The Alienist? It’s going to take some work to make this series more than just gorgeous settings, brutal murders, and scantily clad boy prostitutes. See larger image The Alienist (TNT Tie-in Edition): A Novel NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW A TNT ORIGINAL SERIES “A first-rate tale of crime and punishment that will keep readers guessing until the final pages.”—Entertainment Weekly “Caleb Carr’s rich period thriller takes us back to the moment in history when the modern idea of the serial killer became available to us.”—The Detroit News When The Alienist was first published in 1994, it was a major phenomenon, spending six months on the New York Times bestseller list, receiving critical acclaim, and selling millions of copies. This modern classic continues to be a touchstone of historical suspense fiction for readers everywhere. The year is 1896. The city is New York. Newspaper reporter John Schuyler Moore is summoned by his friend Dr. Laszlo Kreizler—a psychologist, or “alienist”—to view the horribly mutilated body of an adolescent boy abandoned on the unfinished Williamsburg Bridge. From there the two embark on a revolutionary effort in criminology: creating a psychological profile of the perpetrator based on the details of his crimes. Their dangerous quest takes them into the tortured past and twisted mind of a murderer who will kill again before their hunt is over. Fast-paced and riveting, infused with historical detail, The Alienist conjures up Gilded Age New York, with its tenements and mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills. It is an age in which questioning society’s belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and fatal consequences. Praise for The Alienist “[A] delicious premise . . . Its settings and characterizations are much more sophisticated than the run-of-the-mill thrillers that line the shelves in bookstores.”—The Washington Post Book World “Mesmerizing.”—Detroit Free Press “The method of the hunt and the disparate team of hunters lift the tale beyond the level of a good thriller—way beyond. . . . A remarkable combination of historical novel and psychological thriller.”—The Buffalo News “Engrossing.”—Newsweek “A ripsnorter of a plot . . . a fine dark ride.”—The Arizona Daily Star “Remarkable . . . The reader is taken on a whirlwind tour of the Gilded Age metropolis, climbing up tenement stairs, scrambling across rooftops, and witnessing midnight autopsies. . . . A breathtaking, finely crafted mystery.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch “Gripping, atmospheric . . . intelligent and entertaining.”—USA Today “A high-spirited, charged-up and unfailingly smart thriller.”—Los Angeles Times “Keeps readers turning pages well past their bedtime.”—San Francisco Chronicle “Harrowing, fascinating . . . will please fans of Ragtime and The Silence of the Lambs.”—The Flint Journal New From: $10.49 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.