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‘Outsider’ Difficult, Interesting, & Worth the Effort

Welcome again to Copeland’s Stream, a monthly discussion of what’s worth watching on “Streaming TV” — which includes any TV series which streams via network, cable or elsewhere on the internet. Last month’s column covered the first three episodes of HBO’s The Outsider, based on a Stephen King novel with Richard Price serving as head writer and show runner. Since then, there have been four more episodes, the last one written by Dennis Lehane, a novelist closely identified with noirish mysteries such as Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Caution: While this column isn’t entirely spoiler-free, it leaves most of the mystery intact and shouldn’t spoil the show. The first three episodes of The Outsider felt like a small-town police procedural, albeit one with (to repeat the phrase I used last month) a “whiff of the supernatural.” Okay, so forget about that whiff stuff. This is Stephen King, after all, and it turns out that semi-psychic PI Holly Gibney has come to the conclusion that there is only one way to explain three separate child-murders committed in three separate cities with DNA pointing to three alleged murderers, each of whom was in fact somewhere else when the kids were killed. That explanation? Well, to quote one character, it’s the effing boogeyman. Let me confess that by the fifth episode, I was struggling with The Outsider. I’m not a big fan of horror; I don’t actually like regressing to my younger self putting my hands over my eyes while watching Poltergeist in a dark theater. But by the sixth episode, I began to understand what King and Price are trying to pull off here. At bottom, The Outsider is a story about the limits of logical deduction (think Sherlock Holmes) in decoding the mysteries of life. It’s no accident that when the time comes to investigate the possibility that the real murderer may be a demonic entity, the three local police officers include one who refuses to believe, one who (as a child) used to believe, and one who may be, uh, possessed. In sum, The Outsider is worth watching, but it’s not easy to watch. Those who make it through Episode 7 should watch the post-credits feature in which King, Price and Lehane and others offer interesting insights on this unusual series. (And for an off-the-wall cameo, check out SNL alum Denny Dillon in Episode 6 channeling Kathy Bates in Misery). So what else is out there? For those who still like the stand-alone episodes which used to dominate TV in the days before TiVo, check out “Ephemera,” Episode 16 of this season’s NCIS, in which retired ME Ducky, played by 86 yo David McCallum (86!), and the current NCIS team dig through boxes of old letters to unravel an unsolved mystery from the Vietnam era. Ephemera (which aired on February 18) can be watched for free on the CBS app, or commercial-free (along with other shows like the new Star Trek Picard) if you sign up for CBS All Access.

David Copeland lives in Tobyhanna. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and now, The Boro*.

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