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'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 4:13 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2018 4:13 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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
Simpson4448116
Yazoo444887
Wayne440072
Covington429094
Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
Grenada3711108
Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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