'The Alienist' adapts grim serial-killer tale on TNT

Grim and atmospheric to the point of dank, "The Alienist" proves so derivative as to blunt its appeal. Adapted from C...

Posted: Jan 22, 2018 5:13 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2018 5:13 PM

Grim and atmospheric to the point of dank, "The Alienist" proves so derivative as to blunt its appeal. Adapted from Caleb Carr's novel, this historical fiction is handsomely produced and smartly cast, but merely delivers the latest twist on a serial-killer yarn -- a particularly nasty one, true, but which at least initially fails to get under your skin.

The story opens in 1896, eight years after Jack the Ripper, and before the word "serial killer" became a common term. Set in New York, the vibe recalls the 1979 movie "Murder by Decree," which hypothesized what would happen if Sherlock Holmes were put on the Ripper case, applying his powers of detection to the crimes.

Carr's Gilded Age version of a master sleuth is Dr. Laszlo Kreisler ("Inglourious Basterds'" Daniel Bruhl), a criminal psychologist who applies nascent scientific techniques -- like profiling and forensics -- to the investigation, which involves the gruesome murder of young male prostitutes.

Kreisler teams with newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), a young secretary in the police department, and police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty), one of the actual figures who passes through this take on late-19th-century Manhattan.

The opening chapters work hard to replicate the period while zeroing in on the mores of the time. Demonstrating issues like the casual sexism that Howard faces in her quest to join the police force, "The Alienist" also makes the not-so-subtle point that the darkest corners of human nature existed long before there was 24-hour cable news to chronicle them.

Still, there's nothing particularly profound about that insight, and the characters, as drawn, largely squander the solid casting. As ghastly as the crimes are, these early stages of the case -- and even the ahead-of-its-time detective work -- don't give the actors much to play, including Geraghty as Roosevelt, who by all rights should be an enormously colorful figure.

Once planned as a feature film, this 10-episode limited series certainly has the texture and producer pedigree of a premium drama -- it's the most expensive TNT has produced, and looks like it -- reflecting how the network has veered from less-demanding procedurals toward fare closer in tone to FX and AMC. (Like CNN, TNT is an arm of Time Warner.)

Even so, there's a flatness to the execution that makes "The Alienist" play like another tepid Ripper copycat, leaving this series featuring the famous Rough Rider delivering, at least initially, a pretty uninspired ride.

"The Alienist" premieres Jan. 22 at 9 p.m. on TNT.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 401706

Reported Deaths: 32350
CountyConfirmedDeaths
New York City21905123283
Nassau423072190
Suffolk420281993
Westchester352971435
Rockland13716670
Orange10835484
Erie7742644
Dutchess4276152
Monroe4177277
Onondaga3124190
Albany2219121
Ulster185986
Oneida1823104
Sullivan146548
Putnam136163
Niagara134094
Schenectady86437
Broome82060
Rensselaer61630
Saratoga60217
Columbia48637
Madison37417
Ontario30033
Orleans28754
Warren27733
Steuben27441
Greene26618
Fulton26524
Genesee2505
Washington24914
St. Lawrence2302
Oswego2203
Wayne2053
Herkimer1924
Tompkins1860
Chautauqua1707
Chenango1666
Tioga16124
Chemung1482
Livingston1478
Cattaraugus1386
Montgomery1324
Cayuga1262
Clinton1094
Wyoming1015
Jefferson970
Delaware924
Otsego895
Seneca740
Allegany661
Schoharie620
Cortland580
Essex510
Yates486
Franklin360
Lewis310
Schuyler150
Hamilton60
Unassigned00
Utica
Broken Clouds
63° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 63°
Oneonta
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 59°
Herkimer
Broken Clouds
63° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 63°
Thendara
Broken Clouds
63° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 63°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Click here to learn more about A Healthier Mohawk Valley
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve
Senior Send-Off brought to you by Herkimer College
Menu 2 Go list of takeout dinners & fish fries
WKTV Golf Card - Under 150 left