First off, some advice for reviewers that should be obvious but apparently is not. There are at least four reviews of “The Outsider” posted by individuals who haven’t watched the entire movie. To paraphrase one, “I’ve only watched the first two episodes, and they're great. Look forward to the next eight.” While another accurately states “First two episodes were exciting; the next two dragged. Hope the remaining six are better.” At least two other reviews contain comments that suggest the reviewers haven’t watched the entire movie.
Here’s the advice to would-be reviewers: if you’re going to review a movie or book, watch it or read it in its entirety first. Otherwise those of us contemplating a purchase will likely someday read “Only watched the first ten minutes, which were exciting. I only hope the next 9 hours and 50 minutes are as good.” Or “Just read the first two pages of King’s latest; hope the next 600 pages are just as fantastic!” Your initial impression of a fraction of the product is of interest and value to nobody. If you're part-way through a book or movie and it's a dud to you, cut your losses, but refrain from reviewing it based on the portion you're familiar with.
The Stephen King novel upon which this TV series is based is a solid ghost story of ~560 pages. The novel is one of many of the longer King tales that starts off very strong, and falters in both pace and quality prior to a reasonably interesting ending. Reading “Outsider,” the thought creeps in around page 200 that this is an exceptionally long, drawn-out treatment of a fairly simple, straight-forward, and potentially exciting story. Thoughts I have had around the one-third mark of numerous King novels: “When will something happen?” “Should I speed-read to the detriment of retention, or should I simply skip ahead?” I believe this recurring problem with King’s longer novels is why many of his short stories and novellas generate such consistently high praise, relative to his longer novels.
I mention these attributes of the novel, because this made for TV series falls into the same pattern, perhaps made even less bearable because of the medium. This story would have made a tightly-scripted movie of approximately 90 to 120 minutes length.
First, the positives:
It’s a solid, interesting ghost story. Those who object to King’s overly simplistic and recurring “boogeyman” approach should be reading and viewing material by others.
The mystery that’s the focal point of the first two episodes is of exceptional interest and ingenuity.
The acting is decent, especially when the plot is advancing. When it is not, the acting alone cannot sustain interest.
The negatives are plentiful:
Holly explains how various murders in which "the suspect has a strong alibi yet all evidence points to him" form a pattern, and everybody immediately rejects her proposed explanation of a boogeyman. Nobody affords her the slightest benefit of the doubt. Hence, given Hollywood cliches, the viewers knows she’s correct.
And speaking of cliches we've seen countless times, does everyone in Hollywood wake up from a nightmare by sitting up in bed and gasping for breath? It's never been my reaction, and I've had my share.
The soundtrack is dreary. The thudding bass notes are meant to increase tension, and though yet another cinematic cliche, they work in moderation. Here, they intrude in all episodes whenever the smallest hint of menace or revelation surfaces. They are recorded so loud, so intrusive, that I found myself turning down the volume and subsequently being unable to hear the dialogue.
The cinematography is troublesome. Almost everything, including actors who are speaking, is out of focus much of the time. Again, selective focus can be useful in isolating individuals from busy backgrounds (just as “deep focus” can place an entire, detailed cinematic world on your screen), and is effective when used in moderation. But blobs of unfocused colors delivering dialogue, repeatedly, is tedious rather than interesting. It’s as if the cameraman and director found their cameras frozen on a wide-open aperture of f1.4 or f2, and decided to make a go of it nevertheless.
Endless close-ups of Holly, almost always with exactly the same neutral expression on her face, seem a trite and overwrought attempt at conveying...what?…mysticism, intelligence, depth? After about the twentieth such extended close-up, they serve to convey ennui.
The Detective at the center of this movie comes across as rather dull-witted. This is not so in the novel. The police would never try to deliver a suspected murderer to a courthouse through an angry mob. This contrived situation has the effect of producing a memorable scene, but contrived and fabricated it remains.
Holly comes across in the movie as some sort of occult, enigmatic genius, capable of repeatedly providing explanations and understanding mysterious occurrences that none of the other characters are capable of imagining or care to believe. She is not so in the novel; she is a much more sympathetic character.
By far the most serious flaw in this production is the length. Numerous other reviews comment about the weakness of the middle episodes, and I agree. Edit out about an hour of vacuous close-ups of Holly, another hour of dialogue like “Well, I just thought….”, an hour of endless repeated explanations of the supernatural that nobody understands, cares about, or is willing to accept, 30 minutes of close-ups of “the neck rash,” an hour of couples riding in cars in which one or the other is always out of focus, and about three hours of anything that doesn’t serve to move the plot forward, and you’ve got the makings of a tight drama.