Hit or Miss: 'The Alienist'
What’s it about?: Based on a novel by Caleb Carr, the series is set in New York during 1896 and follows a criminal psychologist (Daniel Brühl), a journalist (Luke Evans), and a secretary at the police headquarters (Dakota Fanning), who team up to investigate the gruesome murders of boy prostitutes in the city.
Why this might be good: On a surface level, The Alienist looks like a combination of two excellent series from the last couple of years; Mindhunter and The Knick. Obviously the Mindhunter comparisons will be made considering both series deal with both criminal psychology and the understanding of serial killers. Where The Knick comparison comes in is the setting. Arguably the most fascinating aspect of the Steven Soderbergh helmed medical series was the rich detail and craftsmanship that went into re-creating the world of New York at that period in time. There’s an excellent contrast between the decadence of Manhattan’s upper class and the grimy streets in which much of the city’s poor live. Also intriguing is the cast. I can’t remember the last time I saw Dakota Fanning in something, so it’s nice to see she’s getting work. Brühl is definately the kind of actor who excels at playing the smartest person in the room, as evidence by his excellent performance in the movie Rush, while Evans may actually be underrated. He’s got plenty of charm and charisma that unfortunately has only been given a chance to shine in more recent years. Here he looks like a movie star, not someone who’s trying too hard to be brooding. Finally, it is important to note the show’s creator; Cary Fukanaga. The forty-year-old director was seen as one of the hot new filmmaking talents a few years ago, when he won an Emmy for directing the entire first season of HBO’s True Detective. Since then, he’s made one film with Netflix (Beasts of No Nation), was at one point working on the IT movie adaptation, until leaving the project, and has another Netflix project in the works. While Fukunaga did give up directing credits on The Alienist to focus on the upcoming Maniac, his involvement nonetheless is a massive selling point.
Why this might be bad: At the very worst, this series could simply play out like an episode of Masterpiece Classic. I’m more interested in this series as a close companion to Mindhunter than a show like Sherlock. It will also be interesting to see how much of an audience this series gets on TNT. The network is not at the moment seen as a juggernaut of prestige TV. However, there have been plenty examples recently of networks taking chances on projects that might be a little outside their usual brand. Just think of how strange it was to see something as wild and complex as Mr. Robot on a network like USA. This could be TNT making a move to stake their claim in the growing battle for an audience. With The Alienist simply being a limited series, there is likely not as much risk as if this was a future investment.
Hit or Miss: My gut feeling is that the show will at the very least be extremely well-made and feed the appetite for a television audience seeking a good crime thriller.