Let’s face it. From the moment Stephen King started writing, the world has never been the same. A master of blending suspense and horror with the supernatural in terrifyingly realistic ways, Mr King has given us at least 97 books up to date. It doesn’t look like he’s stopping any time soon, either—not that we mind.

His numerous bestsellers have become movie and TV rights darlings. Production studios continue to wrestle each other for a chance to put his stories onto the screen. Most of Mr King’s books have been adapted in one form or another: feature films (classics such as ‘The Shining’ of 1980 or ‘Carrie’ of 1976, as well as more modern takes like ‘It’ and ‘It: Chapter Two’ of 2017 and 2019, respectively); TV series (see Audience’s ‘Mr Mercedes’ featuring Brendan Gleeson and Harry Treadaway, or Hulu’s Stephen King-inspired ‘Castle Rock’ with Bill Skarsgård and Lizzy Caplan); and plenty of mini-series (remember the original ‘It’ of 1990, ‘Rose Red’, or ‘The Dead Zone’?).


He has written so much and so well that it’s a task and a pleasure to keep up. Not all of his book adaptations have been stellar, however. ‘The Mist’ (2017) was an absolute flop, while the earlier film from 10 years earlier, directed by King-aficionado Frank Darabont did noticeably better. The original ‘Pet Sematary’ of 1989 became a cult classic, but the remake of 2019 left much to be desired. ‘The Tommyknockers’ (1993) was dismal, yet John Carpenter’s take on ‘Christine’ (1983) brought the horror genre to a whole new level. Despite the risk of utter failure, the remakes and adaptations of Mr Kind’s source material keep coming. ‘The Stand’ (1994) was a moderate success for its time, starring Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, and Molly Ringwald. It, too, is getting a remake this year, via CBS and featuring James Marsden, Jovan Adepo, and Whoopi Goldberg. We’ll see how that one turns out. The point is, Stephen King is a master storyteller, but his books are not always the easiest to transform for the screen. It’s a hit-and-miss game with his tales of the dreadful and the unbelievable.


Enter ‘The Outsider’ (2020), HBO’s first foray into his world. Plenty of networks and hordes of more than capable producers have taken on his works, though few were able to reach the level of this most recent Stephen King adaptation. Based on the eponymous book published in 2018, ‘The Outsider’ follows a seasoned cop and a peculiar investigator as they try to make sense of a seemingly straightforward murder investigation that turns out to be anything but.

From the very first episode, we’re confronted with a difficult premise: how can someone be in two places at once?

Created by Oscar-nominated Richard Price of ‘The Wire’ (2003-2009) and ‘The Deuce’ (2017-2019) fame, ‘The Outsider’ offers a supernatural answer to the above question. The best part? It is so well put together, that we actually believe the unbelievable.


The series is written by Mr Price and Mr King, with three directors at its helm: Andrew Bernstein, better known for ‘The West Wing’ (2000-2006), ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’ (2019), and ‘Ozark’ (2017-2018); Charlotte Brändström, of ‘The Witcher’ (2019) and ‘Counterpart’ (2019); and Jason Bateman, actor and director most famous for his work on ‘Arrested Development’ (2003-2019), ‘Bad Words’ (2013), and ‘Juno’ (2007). HBO has put together a truly exceptional team for this project, and it shows right off the bat.

As soon as episode 1, aptly titled ‘Fish in a Barrel’ opens up, we’re vehemently absorbed into the story. Terry Maitland of Flint City, Oklahoma—all-around good guy/dad/baseball coach for the local boys’ team, is arrested for the horrific murder of little Frankie Peterson. The evidence and a slew of credible witnesses are against him, while he insists on his innocence. His reputation is obliterated, his family torn apart, and then compelling proof and witnesses putting him miles away from Flint City at the time of the murder emerge. The mystery is set. How could Terry Maitland have raped, murdered and mutilated an innocent kid, when he was all the way in Cap City at a teacher’s conference? By the end of this episode, we’re left baffled, asking the same question, over and over. How is this possible? How is there solid and indisputable evidence and testimony both incriminating and clearing of Terry Maitland?


This brings back one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most memorable quotes: ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.’ It would be safe to assume that ‘The Outsider’ boldly spins the impossible and twists it into the truth. 

The HBO series is, at its core, a gruesome crime drama. The classic jump-style horror is swapped for a mood of pure dread. The characters are shaken out of their regular lives, their rhythms disrupted by this terrible murder—everyone is involved in it and in its aftermath, one way or another, and the series does an exquisite job of following them all.


In an elegant set of parallels, Terry, superbly played by Jason Bateman, struggles to prove his innocence, while his wife, Glory, portrayed by Julianne Nicholson, juggles a suddenly chaotic existence—her husband in jail, her daughters scared and confused, and the whole town scowling in their general direction for the awful crime that Terry is blamed for. At the same time, Detective Ralph Anderson, brilliantly brought to life by Ben Mendelsohn (Danny Rayburn in Netflix’s ‘Bloodline’, Talos in ‘Captain Marvel’, and King George VI in ‘Darkest Hour’), tries to make sense of what was supposed to be a dead-to-rights arrest. His main suspect appears guilty and innocent at the same time. Meanwhile, the Petersons are falling apart in their grief, one by one, until none are left standing.

The writers do a stellar job of infusing fear and realism into what is basically a heart-breaking tragedy, neatly wrapped up in layers of the supernatural. When talking about ‘The Outsider’, Stephen King said: ‘I write stories that are supposed to be fun and scary and make readers believe the unbelievable.’ That can be easily observed throughout the series’ first few episodes. By the time we meet Cynthia Erivo’s Holly Gibney, that’s it. We’re hooked. Terry Maitland had to be innocent. Something else happened. We have to know the truth. Take us to the truth, Mr King, no matter how weird and unexplainable it is!


In terms of performance, each of the actors manage to stand out, breathing life into their characters like few other thespians can. Jason Bateman completely sells us this baffled version of Terry Maitland, a guy whose worse crime was that cowboy-style belt buckle. Glory Maitland is absolutely fierce, the lioness who must protect her cubs at all costs, as they’re now living in a town that has basically turned on them. 

Yul Vasquez of ‘Russian Doll’ (2019), ‘I Am the Night’ (2019), and ‘Captain Phillips’ (2013) as Yunis Sablo of the GBI brings a certain flavour of his own—the moderate bridge between Detective Anderson’s empiricism and Holly Gibney’s strangeness. A favourite scene so far is when these three characters meet in the diner to discuss a partnership aimed at finding Frankie Peterson’s real killer. ‘I have no tolerance for the unexplainable,’ Ralph tells Holly. ‘Well then, sir, you have no tolerance for me,” says Holly before she goes on to briefly but eloquently explain why she is different and definitely the right person to investigate the glaring mystery behind the kid’s murder.


Referring to Ben Mendelsohn’s character, Stephen King said: ‘I had the idea of writing about a guy who was in two places at once, and what really turned my dial, […] I thought to myself, I’d like to have a protagonist here who has skin in the game.’ 

And Ralph Anderson certainly has that. He’s a father who lost a child of his own to cancer—coincidentally, Derek was also part of Terry Maitland’s baseball team, just like the Peterson boy. If anyone has what it takes to make this truly personal, it’s this weathered detective. But as we begin to peel away at the inconsistencies, we begin to understand that nothing is what it seems. 

Where storytelling is concerned, ‘The Outsider’ has not only succeeded in bringing Mr King’s tale to life, it has exceeded all expectations and elevated the standard once more for the crime and horror genres worldwide. An ample degree of insight and finesse are required for a writer to be able to show us how a person copes with the unbelievable, when nothing else explains what is right there, in front of his eyes.


Of course, ‘The Outsider’ would be nowhere near as effective without its prolific cinematography. Kevin McKnight, Zak Mulligan and Rasmus Heise were brought on to help Mr King’s vision reach its full potential. Worth noting here are the image compositions, not only where the characters are involved in terms of on-camera position, but also where lighting and the establishing shots are concerned. There is a certain intensity that comes into each frame, as well as a nagging feeling that something worse has yet to happen. In an interview with IMDb, Stephen King said that he learned his ‘chops’ from some of the writers behind ‘The Twilight Zone’ (1959-1964), a fact which becomes obvious once you read one or more of his books. The cinematographers thus had the task of setting that mood across the board, inviting viewers to accept the fantastic in order to justify the horror that has befallen Flint City. 

Art directors Jason Perrine and Justin O’Neal Miller do a marvelous job of enhancing the story through its set designs and impressive detail work. One particularly memorable scene is when Yunis Sablo enters the barn to investigate the bloodied clothes. The ensemble of cobwebs and old wood against the forensic spotlight leaves an impression onto the viewer’s mind, further following the show’s overall visual patterns. Aiding in the rendering of this frightening realism, the editing team, comprised of Tad Dennis, Leo Trombetta, Dorian Harris, and Daniel James Scott, proceed with great care as they weave the scenes together, delivering a smooth selection of haunting and petrifying moments. Frank Peterson’s suicide scene continues to haunt us, even now.


In case you’re wondering why we’re going to such lengths to applaud each and every member of this production and post-production team, it’s because they all had a part to play in making ‘The Outsider’ a tour-de-force of modern television. 

They deserve a standing ovation, for it is truly rare and surprising for an adaptation to surpass the book’s original craft. It takes talent and visionaries behind and in front of the camera. 

Fortunately, when HBO gambled on this series, they understood its potential and assembled the right team to take on the project. Not only is ‘The Outsider’ loyal to its source material, it goes that extra mile of adding more, of seamlessly reproducing and magnifying that Stephen King vibe which is so difficult to attain.