The concept of the slow-burn on television is one of a tricky business. Often, the idea is viewed as an excuse to be overly esoteric and “artsy” so as to show off how not like TV the show is. But, every once in a while, we get a show that exemplifies how great a slow-burn can be when done right. And the latest entrant to do just that is HBO’s new miniseries, The Outsider.
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, The Outsider follows the small town aftermath of a child’s brutal murder and the arrest that rocks a community to its core… but, as is usual in the works of King, not all is as it seems.
The Outsider is a wonderful return to form for HBO after the one-two genre punch of Game of Thrones and Watchmen. This is a series without dragons, without super-powered beings and without falling squids. It’s a show about normal people dealing with one of the worst things imaginable. And what makes it better is the backing of a tone that lends every minute of its screen time to the dread that comes with such a scenario.
So many slow-burns like The Outsider fail because there’s simply nothing going on. When the audience starts asking “can we move this along please,” it means you’ve failed to give them enough of a reason to remain engaged in the quiet moments of reflection. But, it’s in these moments where The Outsider shines.
While the series takes its time and often spends far longer with a moment that some others would, it never feels like it’s dragging. The show does such a masterful job of keeping the audience in the uncertainty and anguish it’s going for that one can’t help but be mesmerized by what’s taking place. It’s quite simply one of the best King related things to be released in a good minute.
Overall, The Outsider is a masterclass on how to do the slow-burn right. It never drags but most certainly milks its moments for all they’re worth. It’s not True Detective season one, but it’s very much a show audiences are going to sink their teeth into over the next few weeks. Ben Mendelsohn is in top form and Jason Bateman rocks the house with the first two episodes he got behind the camera for. Those elements paired with a wonderful script by The Night Of’s Richard Price make this one a must-watch for the new year.
The Outsider premieres this Sunday at 9/8c on HBO