Series Review: The Alienist

I discovered this new television drama by accident. Using IMDb (International Movie Data base) to look up an actor who used to be in the comedy Monk, I found him scheduled to appear in an intriguing sounding limited series on TNT called The Alienist.

The premiere was Monday. Thanks to the ability to record shows, I got to enjoy this story last night.

The Alienist stars Daniel Bruhl, Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning, Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear, Ted Levine, and Brian Geraghty. Based on the novel “The Alienist”, by Caleb Carr, this serial mystery will run for 10 episodes, each lasting an hour. It is rated MA, mature audiences, for depicted violence, gruesome crime details and brief nudity.

The Alienist is set in 1896 New York, at a time when Theodore Roosevelt (Geraghty) was the police commissioner. Yes, the same Teddy Roosevelt who later becomes president of the United States.

Commissioner Roosevelt enlists the help of alienist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Bruhl) and newspaper illustrator John Moore (Evans), to solve a series of grisly murders in the city. Someone is preying on young male prostitutes, leaving their bodies to be discovered. Dr. Kreizler in turns asks for assistance from Sara Howard (Fanning), a secretary at the New York City Police Department, and Marcus and Lucius Isaacson (Smith and Shear), brothers who use innovative scientific methods to study the bodies of the deceased.

An alienist is a criminal psychologist, one who studies those who are alienated from themselves and society resulting in deviant behavior. Dr. Kreizler, a brilliant man of science with views that are considered controversial, finds himself a bit of a pariah as well. Some consider him a quack and his methods of investigation fraudulent. But he understands what can drive a man, or break him, and with his team of outsiders, all living on the fringes of acceptable New York City society, he intends to track down the killer.

I liked the premier episode, The Boy on the Bridge, for several reasons. It is historical in nature, with extravagant sets, props, costumes and characters. I loved getting a peek at the City as it might have existed at the end of the 1800s. Teddy Roosevelt, five years away from becoming president, really was the police commissioner at this time. And he did indeed hire a female secretary who would go on to become NYC’s first female detective.

The story reminds me of a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, American style, with Dr. Kreizler as the eccentric detective and Moore playing the part of his sidekick Watson. Kreizler also uses deduction and his analytical mind to sift through information, evidence and clues. Moore provides balance for his colleague, while using his artistic abilities to sketch crime scenes.

And, while the plot of the story is dark…I cringe over crimes against youth…the series lends itself well to the audience playing detective along with the characters. I feel like I should be taking notes so that I can figure out what’s going on and who the perpetrator is, along with the team.

The actors are still finding their places within their roles, in episode one. However, I am a fan of Bruhl, Evans and Fanning, and I look forward to character development in future episodes. The story is fast paced and captivating. And the series, which is listed as the most expensive one that TNT has ever done, has a richness to the quality of filming that allows it to play like a theatrical movie…something I appreciate.

The Alienist airs Monday nights at 8:00 Central time, on TNT. I will be watching. I am still waiting for actor Ted Levine’s character to step up into a larger role!