A different kind of possession drama
Reviewing the first season of the strange supernatural drama.
UK Broadcast Fox, finished US Broadcast Cinemax, finished Episodes Reviewed 1.01-1.10
Outcast is a problematic show to review, because the one truly brilliant thing it has to offer is also a bloody great spoiler. Not so much in the sense of a plot twist; it’s not a series that hinges on some big final WTF final revelation. Instead there’s something really clever and intriguing inherent in its very format; something that slowly becomes clear as the episodes progress and which gives the show a thought-provoking USP. And it’s more fun discovering it for yourself.
So what is safe to discuss? Well, Outcast is a possession drama, crafted for screen by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman from his own comic. The intention is clear: how do you put a new twist on a genre that has been dominated by The Exorcist for so long? Outcast achieves this in a number of ways; some of which are quickly evident, the others, not so much.
Kyle Barnes is a wreck of man, living alone in his hovel of a house in Rome, a small, rural town in West Virginia. His marriage is over and he has a restraining order forbidding him from seeing his wife and daughter. He is, apparently, a wife beater. The truth is more complicated. Rome is full of people possessed by… something. The local reverend thinks they’re demons, of course. Kyle’s not so sure. He has the power to exorcise these demons, and that exorcism needs extreme violence to work. In the pilot he literally beats the “demon” out of a small boy. It’s deeply unsettling to watch.
So immediately Outcast has something different to offer from the usual possession drama. This isn’t one exorcist vs one victim. These possessions are rife, and they’ve been embedded in the town for a very long time. The
Nobody talks about what’s going on
“violent” nature of the exorcisms also raise questions of morality, questions which deepen as the season goes on and we learn more about the nature of the “demons”.
This is all gripping stuff, and the central mystery at the heart of Outcast is compelling. The show also has a very impressive cast. Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) is excellent as the raw, emotionally burnt but resolute Barnes while Philip Glenister escapes the shadow of Gene Hunt as the pokerplaying reverend with a near monomaniacal need to rid Rome of its demons (his US accent is a darn sight better than it was in Demons too). Reg E Cathey is a delight as the jocular but no-nonsense sheriff, while the women – Wrenn Schmidt as Kyle’s sister and Kate Lyn Sheil as his wife – make the most of thinly written roles.
Because for all that Outcast strives to do something original with its concept, it seems wearyingly content to go with clichés for its characters and plotting. The Rev and Kyle bicker about the same faith-versus-proof guff week after week. The main women are all abuse victims (either of supernatural or real world variety). Nobody talks to each other about what’s going on. The “demons” talk in riddles until it’s big revelation time. Brent Spiner turns up as a mysterious man in black to act as the voice of the demons. It’s all rather predictable drama mechanics.
Relentlessly dour and unashamedly slow-paced, the show also never quite delivers on the pilot’s promise of boundarypushing horror until the season finale. In-between it’s pretty standard-issue TV shocks.
Having said all that, by the finale, you’re still desperate to learn more about these “demons” and what Kyle’s next move will be. So the show’s doing something right. Dave Golder
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