I’m not especially fond of Robert Kirkman’s work so far to be perfectly honest, but I have to admit that with The Walking Dead, he created a phenomenon from scratch against all odds and that’s impressive. No network or cable executives wanted to bet on a zombie show at the time (and they regret it deeply now…). The zombie genre was nowhere to be found on TV. And he made it, quite beautifully, whatever your opinion is about the show and its recent spin-off. With Outcast for Cinemax, once again based on the comic he co-created himself, he’s trying to give birth to the exorcism drama genre, that doesn’t really exist yet (apart from specific storylines on every fantastic show ever). He’s up to the challenge, but Outcast‘s pilot script is not that strong. That’s probably why AMC surprisingly passed on the project (Preacher is a way better option) and Cinemax jumped on the occasion and wrote a bigger check in a desperate move. They are still looking for what their identity is. Action-oriented dramas like Strike Back and Banshee didn’t prove much. Outcast is entirely something else. And action there is not a lot in there!
Outcast is a character-driven story, and that is what the best pilots (and series?) need to be, so we can care. Sadly, it’s hard to care about Kyle Barnes, at least for now, or even simply root for him. He’s exasperating. He whines a lot. He’s so sad, you know. Life has been hard to him. Robert Kirkman spends too much time insisting on it. It makes the pilot even darker and gloomier than it should be. Don’t look for any fun dialogue or a beacon of hope. Gosh, why so serious? Heavy stuff. Not surprising though: every character from The Walking Dead are such downers (except Carol maybe but I stopped watching).
Anyway, the writer sets up a great deal of conflicts, mostly through flashbacks: with his mother who used to beat him as a child; with his wife and daughter but what happened between them remains a mystery; and with his sister, who’s still trying top help him. She’s a courageous girl, and a character we can relate to. Then there’s the whole town who thinks he’s the demon. And well, maybe he is. One thing’s for sure: he’s possessed since he’s a little boy -some graphic and disgusting scenes help us understand the horrible feeling- and he’s not the only one anymore over there. Something’s spreading and we are supposed to be afraid. We’re not. Yet.
I don’t know about you but the exorcism stories have always bored me to death. And when you’ve seen one such scene -especially if it’s from The Exorcist, the one and only masterpiece- then you’ve seen every one of them. They’re always the same. It’s the same as zombies “running” after humans to eat them. It gets old very fast. One pilot with three exorcism scenes is enough for me. What about some kind of mythology? It is implied that there is one underneath it all. But it’s not clear whether we should be confident about it being huge enough to grab our attention weekly, for more than one season. What about the bigger picture? If it’s just the “demon of the week”, kill me already!
Outcast could be noisier than previous Cinemax’s shows because of its pedigree and originality and that’s probably why they are so high on it. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing in this pilot script that really makes want to be back for a second episode, let alone an entire season. It’s not just that it’s not for me. It’s that it’s not very good, actually. But we’ll see how the audience responds to it. A surprise is always possible…