The Alienist is the latest from Paramount Television, a gripping psychological thriller set in 1896, just before the turn of the century. When a boy prostitute is found dead, mutilated and dressed in women’s clothing, the newly appointed police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, attempts to leave a good impression by framing the crime on a mental patient. Dr. Laszlo Kreisler, a criminal psychologist, investigates like a cat waiting to pounce on prey — the game is afoot and to locate the guilty party he will need to think just like the madman. Known among society as an Alienist — a psychiatrist who evaluates the mentally ill in an effort to determine their competency to stand trial — Kreisler imposes modern-day liberal standings that today is commonplace in society. Women’s independence, sexual freedom, and racial injustice are debated by Kreisler, not common parlance of the late 1800s. The gruesome murders are depicted with a $5 million-per-episode budget, shot stylish and artistically, something one expects from PBS’s Masterpiece Theater.
Joining Kreisler’s crusade is a newspaper illustrator, John Moore, who lies, cheats, steals and sleeps with whores in the first episode alone, played by Luke Evans. Dakota Fanning plays the role of Sara Howard, a headstrong secretary to the police chief, determined to play a role in catching the madman while proving a woman’s place in the police station. Roosevelt is not prone to accepting outside help, nor confessing to the press that his department got the wrong man, but additional murders in the same vein give him ample reason to employ — unofficially — to allow the Alienist to investigate in the shadows.
Based on the novel of the same name by Caleb Carr, first published in 1994, this ten-episode mini-series is expected to be a faithful adaptation. It has taken more than 20 years for the novel to transition to film and the finished product is worthy of the wait. While the graphic sex and gruesome scenes are not required for story continuity, it seems television producers insist on sex and violence as the meat and potatoes of today’s productions, it can be out of place without an impact of character behavior. Review of the first two episodes does not provide anything more than establishing John Moore as a rogue who can shelve his good resources for pleasurable vices.
As a psychological thriller and mini-series, The Alienist will be worthy of ten weeks’ viewing — set your Tivo or cable box to record each of the broadcasts and binge watch when enough stockpiles.
See also: TRAILER: New TNT Drama ‘The Alienist’