Tuesday, February 13, 2018

TV Tuesday: The Alienist

My husband and I (and my dad, too) enjoyed reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr, shortly after it was published in 1994, amid a flurry of rave reviews. Now TNT has turned this best-selling story of an 1896 serial killer into a TV series.

If you cross the TV show Bones with an FBI psychological profiler and set it in the 1890's, you begin to get an idea of the feel of this dark thriller. In 1896 New York City, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, played by Danial Bruhl, is an alienist. According to the show's intro:
"In the 19th century the mentally ill were thought to be alienated from their own nature. Experts who studied them were known as Alienists."
Kreizler is something of a renegade in showing both interest and compassion toward the mentally ill since the standard practice of that time was to lock them up or try to "cure" them through all kinds of barbaric methods.  When Kreizler hears that a young boy dressed as a girl has been found brutally murdered on top of the just-being-built Brooklyn bridge, he sends his friend, John Moore (played by Luke Evans), to the scene, since Moore sometimes works as a crime reporter, putting his drawing skills to work. Moore brings a drawing of the horrific scene back to Kreizler.

The police - who are mostly corrupt and operate on a bribe system - show little interest in solving the case, even after Kreizler points out that other child prostitutes have been found in similar condition recently. This is a class of people the police would prefer to just brush under the rug. Sara Howard, played by Dakota Fanning, grew up with Moore and now works as an assistant to Police Commissioner Roosevelt, the only woman in the police department. She is also interested in the case, and the three begin to investigate it on their own, along with the help of two Jewish brothers who are budding forensic specialists. Despite the apathy of the rest of the police force, Roosevelt wants to do the right thing and so allows this undercover investigation.

As with the original novel the show is based on, my husband and I are both enjoying The Alienist. If you enjoy modern detective and forensic shows, then it is pretty fascinating to see this turn-of-the-century approach, where fingerprint analysis was a brand-new concept and crime scene investigation cursory at best. The three main characters - and the supporting actors as well - are excellent in their roles, and the growing mystery is captivating. As you might expect from a show of this nature, it is pretty gruesome at times and very, very dark, both in topic and tone. I prefer not to watch this one right before bed! It's engrossing though, and we can't wait to see what happens next - I only wish my dad were still here - he would love this show!

We are three episodes into the new show, and all three episodes are still available On Demand (where we watch it) or on the TNT website. You can also watch The Alienist on Amazon, where the first episode is free and additional episodes start at $1.99 (or $15.99 for the entire season).

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