Recurring Cast: Patrick Fugit, Philip Glenister, Wrenn Schmidt, David Denham, Brent Spiner, Kate Lyn Sheil and Reg. E. Cathey
Perhaps the name tag of Robert Kirkman hurts Outcast more than it helps it. True, an audience was ready and waiting to receive this one, a luxury not common amongst fledgling series. But it also raised the bar rather high. And how could Outcast beat the Walking Dead? True, its horror and true, the opening credits sequence mirror the Walking Dead’s so closely, you can guarantee someone had a lazy day at the office, but other than that, this is a very different beast. The pace is consistently slow-burning, rather than the Walking Dead’s style of constantly slowing and speeding down the tension, sometimes abandoning it altogether for character study. Even when Outcast discusses the tormented character arc of Wrenn Schmidt or the back story of its villain, the burning horror elements are buzzing away in the background, the horror angle never quite leaving the corner of the screen. However, demons are not quite zombies. My main problem with exorcism stories is that there never struck me that there was more to add after the Exorcism Movie. And Outcast, for a long time, sees to prove my point. Kyle Barnes plays the outsider of the town, a man scorned by the locals for hitting his wife in front of his young daughter. However, he stumbles across an exorcism being performed by Reverend Anderson and realises he has the power to purge demonic presence from people with his touch. Cue several episodes of the pair of them forming a demon-fighting partnership. And as I thought, other than the unique characters, it is the case of the same exorcism routine I have seen before. A lot of bible-quoting and freakish demonic possessions that give us some gripping spooky images, but all of the terror is diluted seeing as the monsters cannot actually hurt the heroes. Therefore, losing faith in the central thrills of the series, the slow character discussion becomes a hindrance rather than the draw the writers want it to be.
It’s not all bad. For one, later on in the series (too late, in all honesty, but it bodes well for Season 2), a plot development finally breaks it free of the stock exorcism plot details and we hit exciting new territory. The final three episodes, in particular, finally show us a series we could sink our teeth into. Also, the performances are spot-on. Patrick Fugit makes for a great hero, a man hiding from the world on a misunderstanding and haunted by his new demonic powers. Wrenn Schmidt provides good support as the sister with problems of her own. Her story isn’t quite as exciting as the main plot, but we cannot fault the actress. Meanwhile Philip Glenister and Brent Spiner have the kind of roles you feel the two actors have deserved for quite some time now. There is also some nice discussions at play with Outcast. The Church (and perhaps the police force as well, to a lesser degree), are battling for relevance in a modern age. Philip Glenister’s Reverend constantly strikes the audience as the kind of guy fighting for a town that doesn’t even want him. Even by the end of this season, Glenister is already the mentor to a hero who doesn’t really need a mentor anymore, putting his character in an interesting position, which fuels a lot of Glenister’s performance and story. Another interesting message appears when demons start possessing horrible people. Who is the more demonic? The demon trying to exist in the new world, or the paedophile serial killer who he has deleted from existence? By the end of the series, you begin wondering if the Church is the true evil here. I also loved how the writers played with Barnes’ ex-wife and kid. We are never sure if one of them is possessed, their actions and personality off, yet understandable given the circumstances. Every character beat teases suggestion, yet refuses to confirm anything. It is a fun part of the series that has you tuning into the next episode, desperate to learn the conclusion of that arc. So yes, Outcast is a little disappointing with a stale start and horror that doesn’t quite hit as hard as you want it to, but the flickering in the distance suggests that it is still a show with a lot of promise.
Final Verdict: It is nothing on the Walking Dead, but Kirkman’s new project has its place, even if it takes half a season to figure out where.