What Makes ‘The Outsider’ the ‘Stranger Things’ For Adults (And the Most Addictive New Show on TV)
If you’re not into The Outsider, the HBO series adapted from the bestselling Stephen King novel of the same name, you’re missing out on the best TV show currently streaming right now. The mystery-sci-fi storyline kicks off with the murder of an 11-year-old boy in a small town. Police detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) fingers teacher, baseball coach, and all-around good guy Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman, who also directs) as the murderer, though Maitland vehemently denies any involvement and mounting evidence backs him up. To go into much further detail would spoil all the twists, but as the narrative unfurls, Detective Anderson realizes that this senseless killing wasn’t an isolated event, and that a strange force may be responsible for the rising death toll. The Outsider is gripping and addictive entertainment; we dare say it’s as bingeable and irresistible a series as Stranger Things – but for adults – and here’s why. Warning: spoilers ahead!
Cover Photo: HBO
It's just dark and violent enough.
While Stephen King is notorious in the horror world, The Outsider is hair-raising without being so gory as to turn viewers off. It leaves enough to the imagination that you still get spooked without feeling like your eyes just got violated, much in the same way Stranger Things scared the bejesus out of us at times without giving us nightmares.
We don't know what the killer is.
A hooded man with a disfigured face looms ominously around the murder sites and victims’ families, but what is he exactly? A ghost? An evil spirit? A boogeyman? El coco? We don’t know yet. But we can’t wait to find out exactly what this monster is and how to annihilate it. Similar to Stranger Things, viewers learned right along with the characters what the demon beast otherwise known as a Demogorgon was.
The characters are unconventional.
Holly Gibney (played to perfection by Cynthia Erivo) is the most captivating character on the small screen right now. Yup, we said it. The private investigator who also seems to be an autistic savant is the voice piece for theories that straight-laced Detective Anderson wouldn’t otherwise consider. She has an unparalleled memory, an insatiable curiosity, and is unlike any other television character to date. She reminds us of the richly-drawn characters we loved in Stranger Things, like Dustin, Erica, and of course, Jim Hopper.
Characters are haunted by more than one thing.
The characters on The Outsider aren’t only consumed with the current crime wave they find themselves in. They also have painful backstories, some of which haven’t been fully revealed yet. Most prominently is Detective Anderson and his wife’s devastating loss of their son to cancer, a source of grief that was not in Stephen King’s book but that adds depth to Detective Anderson’s search for the killer and a tangible grief visible on his face.
We care about the characters.
None of the characters on The Outsider are cookie-cutter. They are deeply human and helplessly flawed but we root for them anyway, even the ones who’ve been overtaken by the killer force and have committed heinous acts of crime.
Adults rally around the kids.
As in Stranger Things, The Outsider hinges on adults trying to protect kids from danger. It’s reassuring to see grown-ups actively advocating for and protecting young people’s safety onscreen. Somehow, this seems rare in real-life society today (how many adults do you know who are allies of kids in a non-creepy way?) and it makes us nostalgic for a time when youth had more adults beyond their family members invested in their well-being, whether in the form of teachers, coaches, cops, or neighbors.
It's full of surprises.
The plot twists in The Outsider are completely unexpected and spectacularly original. Just when you think the killer has done the most damage imaginable, characters turn the violence on themselves or others. The Outsider isn’t afraid to put your favorite cast members on the chopping block, either, just like Stranger Things killed off Bob Newby, Dr. Alexei, and possibly Jim Hopper.
It appeals to viewers who don't usually like sci-fi.
There’s a strong sci-fi element to The Outsider in terms of the killer, who may or may not be a human being. But this isn’t a sci-fi series, per se, and it appeals to viewers who might not otherwise watch a show with an otherworldly element to it. Like Stranger Things, it’s not so much about far-out science fiction as it is about relationships and the ways that challenging circumstances can either bond people together or tear them apart.
It keeps us guessing.
So many TV shows these days are predictable; you can see where the characters will end up long before the season finale. Unless you’ve read the book, The Outsider will keep you guessing, and so far there’s no telling who is responsible for the carnage. Like Stranger Things, this series could keep on going indefinitely, as long as the killer continues to find new hosts and remains elusive. We can only hope it lasts beyond one season.