TNT series ‘The Alienist’ makes murder history

Fanning in her murder-solving hat.

Two and a half stars

The Alienist Mondays, 9 p.m., TNT. Premieres January 22.

Caleb Carr’s bestselling 1994 novel The Alienist has been bouncing around various movie and TV producers since its initial publication, and its final arrival onscreen as a TNT drama series is a bit anticlimactic. The novel is the first of three Carr wrote about Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a practicing psychiatrist before psychiatry was actually invented, when doctors who investigated mental ailments were known as “alienists.” Set in 1896 New York City, the show focuses on Kreizler’s efforts to use his pioneering (but largely dismissed) insights to help solve disturbing crimes.

Like medical drama The Knick, set in the same location and time period, The Alienist examines the way scientific developments were drastically changing a major field; in addition to psychiatry, Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) relies on new techniques like fingerprinting, thanks to the team of associates he builds to help him with his cases. That team (which includes Luke Evans as an illustrator and Dakota Fanning as a proto-feminist police secretary) positions the show as the 19th-century equivalent of a modern procedural about an eccentric expert who consults with the police, and a lot of the narrative beats are familiar, even with their period trappings. Both the tone and the visual style are dark and murky, and while some of the historical details are fascinating, the crime drama around them is tedious and tiresome in any era.

Tags: Film, Television

Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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