Sunday, January 12, 2020

REVIEW: 'The Outsider' - A Gruesome Discovery Leads Ralph to Arrest Terry for Murder in 'Fish in a Barrel'

HBO's The Outsider - Episode 1.01 "Fish in a Barrel"

When the body of an 11-year-old boy is found, detective Ralph Anderson launches an investigation into the gruesome murder. With eyewitnesses and physical evidence pointing to baseball coach Terry Maitland, Ralph makes a very public arrest but is perplexed by Terry's seeming indifference to hiding his crime. After Terry's wife Glory calls their attorney Howie Salomon for assistance, a bewildered Terry produces an ironclad alibi during interrogation. Meanwhile, Howie calls in his P.I. to look into Terry's side of the story.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of HBO's The Outsider.

"Fish in a Barrel" was written by Richard Price and directed by Jason Bateman

This premiere opens with a mystery. Who killed this young boy and left his body horribly disfigured in the woods? It's the basis for the latest prestige season-long mystery show. That's a formula that has attracted quite a lot of success and intrigue over the last few years. This series subverts expectations by pointing out right away that Terry Maitland is the only viable suspect. The first half hour features the central investigation collecting all of the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that paints a damning case against him. It's startling how simple all of this comes across. It's nothing more than a routine investigation. The second half hour introduces a completely separate narrative that Terry also happens to be a part of. It's impossible for him to be in two different places at once. Lead detective Ralph Anderson was always curious why Terry was so indifferent about getting caught leading up to and immediately after the crime. The investigation early on collects all of this evidence rather easily. Terry is seen everywhere he goes. He is caught on video tape. There is a record of him existing in this space and emerging from the forest with blood all over him. It's a horrifying visual. But there is also documented evidence proving he is in a hotel for a conference seventy miles away. It creates a mystery that should propel the narrative forward. It's the twist that makes this a complex case. It may be the only thing of merit in this hourlong premiere though. In fact, it's so unusual and unsettling to see how the narrative depicts its action. There is nothing wrong with grounded, matter-of-fact storytelling. This direction just seems intrigued by alienating the audience by always positioning the camera from afar or behind a corner or without the audio fully clicking in. It shows just how much of life may be entirely up to perception. One's perception of the world is different based on how we experience events. The witnesses can detail the precise time they saw the boy or Terry because of it fitting into their known patterns of life. Meanwhile, Ralph needs to make a public arrest believing that Terry is suddenly this monster who needs to be publicly shamed. That may not be the best impulse that the public should want in their police officers. Terry's lawyer Howie may have a point in saying that the police are extending far beyond the scope to inflict as much pain on Terry as possible. The system does that well enough on its own. Terry is targeted the moment he lands in a holding cell awaiting arraignment. That's what the system wants from him. They want him to suffer punishment for this crime. At first, it seems like the narrative shows him wanting to deal with the repercussions for this action. Everything just seems so minor without rising to a sense of true emotional cost. It is apparent only in the fleeting moments of seeing the victim's family. Even then, it's clear those characters are window dressings to help the story feel more complete while being defined solely by repeated tragedy. It's startling and strange how the show depicts the death of the victim's mother. She is angry one moment and slumps over the next. The action never spells it out to the audience. It makes the viewer work for it. That can be an annoying habit. At times, it can showcase the intellect of the average viewer. But the narrative purposefully isolates everything into feeling as if this isn't a story meant to be seen and experienced. That may make sense eventually. Right now though, it's alienating to anyone hoping to be intrigued by the mystery at the heart of the central premise. These actors are going through the motions in the hopes that the story will pick up some intrigue as it goes along. That's unfortunate. Again, this is a premise that could work with the right execution. There remains the potential for growth as well. The show may simply have to be more upfront with what it actually is trying to achieve instead of being so muted and isolated all the time. Plus, Ralph's own personal tragedy of losing a son feels like a tragic backstory just to give him some credibility - or perhaps an emotional weakness - when it comes to handling this case. However, all of that feels too carefully modulated without making the audience feel like a part of whatever is actually going on. That grief comes in bursts without making it feel like something that should be important even though it clearly is. He still has lingering questions about what happened just like he does with this new case right away.