If you’ve been following the marketing campaign for Outcast, chances are that you’re most likely to have seen the title prefixed by something along the lines of ‘from the creator of The Walking Dead‘. While such association is understandable (you’re trying to sell a TV show: why not mention of the most long-running and successful of its ilk in recent memory), Robert Kirkman’s new series is a very different beast entirely – or entity, if we’re hewing close to the world of the show.
Right from the opening scene, which has a young (spoiler: and also possessed) child headbutting an insect against a wall and smearing blood all over his face before proceeding downstairs to pick apart his own finger in front of his horrified mother, the show seems at pains to draw parallels with classic cinema rather than cable TV. The opening is straight out of The Exorcist, and the subsequent depictions of suspicion and small-town paranoia are quintessential Hollywood.
Amid all this is Kyle Barnes (played by Almost Famous‘s cherubic Patrick Fugit), who seems to be aiming squarely at the visual (and metaphorical) definition of ‘haunted’. He lives alone in squalor in his former childhood home, ignoring knocks on the door unless he absolutely has to (usually from his adoptive sister Megan, played by Wrenn Schmidt), keeping himself isolated from the world as much as possible. And judging by the catcall from Megan’s daughter that sends him running from a forced social engagement (“You hurt your little girl, and now you’re not her daddy anymore”), his estrangement becomes understandable.
By contrast, there’s Reverend Anderson (Life On Mars‘ Philip Glenister), a bombastic man of God who throws himself into dealing with the case of exorcism that has landed on his doorstep. The two couldn’t be more different, yet they are thrust together once again (a shared history is vaguely hinted at, but remains mostly unspoken) to battle this evil. Which is where Kyle finally comes into his own.
Right down to the scene-setting and introduction of the characters, the opening episode gets near enough everything right. Just enough is explained to keep us watching while hinting at far more lying beyond the scenes, and near enough all the main characters are given layers to pick through. Those who haven’t yet (Reg E Cathey’s laid-pack police chief, and The Office star David Denman’s abrasive brother in law) are personified by decent actors, making their current enigma less of an issue.
If we have to make one Walking Dead comparison, it’s the atmosphere of unease that is pervaded throughout. Just like Kirkman’s other show has the propensity to turn things on its head in an instant, so too does Outcast, whether it’s through a pleasant chat being derailed by an off-kilter comment, snatched whispers by busybody locals in a supermarket or the shock factor of seeing a small child having the shit beaten out of him, this is TV you will remember.
Granted, it won’t always have the excellent Adam Wingard in the director’s chair, but it will have Kirkman. So all in all, solid opening episode. Looking forward to next time.