TV: The Alienist - S01 E01 and E02 - Reviewed

As consumers of media, we are fascinated by murder and death. No matter what time or place, we like to try and solve murders and the people who solve them. There are dozens of shows and movies that are about the intricacies of murder, their investigations, and the people around them. There is something about a violent end that makes the audience demand exploration. The stories reveal the dark side of human nature and the world around us. We want to know more about what happened to these peoples. Curiosity drives us. Everything about it calls to us. The how’s, the why’s, the when’s, we want to know what happened because we crave resolution. The new miniseries The Alienist, premiering tonight on TNT, is another series that makes us think about these questions and, based on the two episodes that were screened for us, it is a grand addition to the great American murder mystery canon. 

The Alienist is a sprawling period murder mystery set in 1896, when a series of disturbing and gruesome murders of boy prostitutes has gripped the continually evolving New York City. The gothic and visceral imagery of late nineteenth century New York is a far cry away from the New York we know today. Newly appointed police commissioner and future President of the United States Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) calls upon Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl), a criminal psychologist – aka alienist – and newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) to conduct the investigation in secret. Joining them in the probe is Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), a determined secretary at police headquarters who wants to be something more than just a secretary. The unlikely group work together to find out just what exactly happened to the murdered prostitutes and soon discover that there maybe more to this case than meets the eye. 

The Alienist is a top-notch quality show in all of the above the line and below the line aspects that focuses on both the character and the story. The performances are captivating and interesting. While the cast is exceptional, Daniel Bruhl gives a standout performance in this show. This is a performance that reveals a compelling and fascinating character, one that I would love to know more about. The way he tries to get into the head of the killer is one that feels like the distant predecessor to the characters in Mindhunter

The production design itself is also incredible. The score is haunting to the bone, just like the visuals that the characters see. It lingers on brutal close ups of corpses and the atmosphere around New York is tense and ugly, using the naturally dark and gritty architecture of Budapest to serve as the world of 1896 New York. I felt reminded of another period piece show in recent years, The Knick. Both this and The Knick build their world and make it feel realistic while also being engaging shows. After the end of the second episode of this series, I wanted to watch more. I needed to know what happens next and where the series takes us. I imagine that come Monday night, you will all feel the same way. 

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Liam S. O'Connor