TNT’s ‘The Alienist’ is Primed to be a Fantastic Period Crime Drama

The new TNT period drama series, The Alienist, takes place in the late 19th century New York City.  The series has nothing to do with aliens, as the meaning of the series title derives from those who study people with a mental illness.  Back then, those who had a mental illness “were thought to be alienated from their own true nature.”  The publicity level for this series is enormous.  Driving around Dallas, Texas, advertisements can be seen all over the city.  There seems to be a lot riding on this series and hope the piqued interest is rewarded.

The Alienist is a crime drama, centering on finding the murderer of a young boy dressed as a girl.  The boy was found brutally attacked with his eyes missing.  An Alienist (or psychiatrist) of adolescents, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) learns of the murder and sends his friend, and society page illustrator, John Moore (Luke Evans) to sketch the body.  This is no ordinary murder for Dr. Kreizler as he ties the murder to another one whose victim was a patient of his.  Needing more information, Dr. Kreizler and Moore visit the police station and the commissioner who just happens to be a young Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty).  There they find his secretary is the first female employee of the police department, Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), who is ever the endeavoring young lady eager to help out but with a tough exterior. Along the way, Dr. Kreizler seeks the help of two other police department employees, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson (Douglas Smith and Matthew Shear), to be the investigative coroners on his continuing unofficial investigation.

With only two episodes seen of the ten in the series, what has been depicted so far is only the beginning of the search for the killer.  The meat of the story has not been broached yet, and the characters are still being introduced.  There may be three main characters, Dr. Kreizler, Moore, and Howard, but only the first and the last have been in enough scenes to warrant a guess at their background and motivation.  John Moore is an enigma still, as he seems to the guy playing second fiddle to Dr. Kreizler.   Moore has no skin in the game as he has no interest in solving any crime, yet he continues to come at Dr. Kreizler’s behest.  However, by the end of the second episode, the possibilities have lured him to an odd house of ill repute, one made of young boys wearing women’s clothing.  We know he is somewhat wealthy and has an untold story of lost love, as he has the prostitute wear the same diamond ring of his every time he is with her.

Another character that holds interest is the housekeeper of Dr. Kreizler, Mary Palmer (Q’orianka Kilcher).  As of episode two, she could be a love interest of doctor.  She gave off hints of being emotionally affected by what is being said in her presence so she might be a bit psychic or emotionally sensitive.  Her background has yet to told, and her character may play an important part in the unfolding story.

The introduction of a historical figure into the series is an interesting approach.  While it is grounded in the reality of New York City at that time, inserting a young Teddy Roosevelt, someone who is destined to be President, presents a problem for the writers to stick to a story already written for this character. The majority of us are ignorant of what Teddy Roosevelt was like or what he did during this period, so artistic license may be seen as an interpretation of the truth, whether it truly is or not.

Going back in time with a drama such as this will bring comparisons other shows.  The character of Dr. Kreizler may be unique to this show, but he is like a dog with a bone much like others before him.  Penny Dreadful, Ripper Street, and Copper all come to mind, and The Alienist has yet to set itself apart from these others in two episodes.  The production value is high with its costume design and settings, it is shot theatrically and beautifully, and it has A-list stars attached to it which will indeed amplify viewer interest in sticking with the series as the story progresses. There is excitement brewing and good storytelling coming (hopefully) in the eight episodes that will follow.  The foundation has been laid for The Alienist in what is hopefully a fantastic, period crime drama with unexpected twists and turns.