In a summer full of exciting new series, Cinemax’s latest outing is definitely picking up some serious buzz. Outcast, a supernatural horror with a decidedly dark premise, is the latest in a series of high-profile comic book adaptations to hit our television screens. It offers up plenty for fans of the genre, but with captivating characters and an all-American backdrop, it could entice fans of good old-fashioned drama as well. It’s also earning rave reviews from critics, who have praised its terrifying storytelling methods.
The first episode of Outcast premiered earlier this year at SXSW, where it thrilled audiences. Now the rest of us have a chance to watch it -- it’s already up on YouTube, and will air June 3 on Cinemax. If you’re not sure whether or not it’s up your alley, don’t worry -- we’ve got the lowdown for you. Here are 12 Things You Need to Know About Outcast.
Not many people can lay claim to creating one of the most talked about series in television history. Robert Kirkman is one of them. His comic series The Walking Dead already had a loyal following when AMC picked it up as a drama in 2010. Since the first season aired, TWD has become a juggernaut franchise, spawning a (kind of) successful spin-off and legions of incredibly devoted fans.
Kirkman, by extension, has helped reignite interest in TV horror and up the ante for gore on basic cable. So when he announced in 2013 that he was creating a new horror series, fans were understandably intrigued. Given his penchant for the undead, we could only assume he had something equally macabre up his sleeve -- and though we were right on that front, Kirkman has some surprises up his sleeve as far as Outcast is concerned.
Robert Kirkman calls his new series “an epic horror,” one designed to truly frighten readers and viewers alike. Where The Walking Dead focuses heavily on an immediate and obvious physical threat to its characters in a vast and evolving landscape, Outcast is much more reflective in its approach to horror -- and limits it to a single small town.
Instead of introducing a large ensemble of characters, Outcast offers up a small core group of fascinating individuals and lets a more intimate story unfold. It also involves approximately zero zombies. Rather, it invites us into a deeply supernatural world that is in many ways way more sinister than the monsters that TWD crew will ever face. In short, other than being classified as horror and sharing a writer, the two series are incredibly different animals.
The premise behind Outcast is both chilling and invitingly simple: a young man, Kyle Barnes teams up with the beleaguered Reverend Johnson to put a stop to the demonic forces that seem to permeate his West Virginia hometown. Barnes, it turns out, has been haunted by demons most of his life, but he also holds the key to stop them. The duo’s experiences put them face-to-face with pure evil, and force both of them to confront deep-rooted questions about their purpose in life; in other words, they have a fair share of personal demons all their own.
Outcast isn’t the first television series to tackle demonic possession and exorcism -- but if early reviews of its first season are correct, it’s quickly shaping up to be one of the best.
Usually, when a TV show is adapted from a book or comic series, it’s years after the source material first hit shelves. Outcast breaks the mold there, because Robert Kirkman conceived of it as a television show and a comic series at the same time. In fact, Cinemax’s adaptation of Outcast was already in development when the first issue hit shelves in June 2014.
When Outcast premieres on June 3, only 17 issues of the comic will be available in print. That’s good news for newcomers to the series who might be hesitant to jump on board because they hate getting spoiled by eager early adopters, or they feel like they’re so far behind the comic’s storyline. More than likely, the TV version could easily catch up pretty quickly to its source material.
The first episode of Outcast follows the first issue of the comic pretty closely -- but that doesn’t mean the entire series will be a direct page-to-screen adaptation. Robert Kirkman has said the TV series will both expand upon and alter some of its source material.
According to him, some minor characters in the comic book series, like Police Chief Brian Giles, will become much bigger players in the television adaptation. Executive Producer Chris Black also hinted that the creative team at Cinemax plans to expand the Outcast universe. That means we’ll see some brand new characters emerge, and new or extremely revised storylines, too.
These days, it’s not uncommon to see major movie stars take up roles in high-profile TV series. That’s not the case with Outcast, which gets most of its star power from Kirkman. Still, its ensemble of actors is wildly impressive, even without any A-listers on the roster.
Patrick Fugit, best known as Almost Famous’ teenage journalist William Miller, makes a compelling lead as Ryan Barnes. His partner-in-exorcism, Reverend Johnson, is played by veteran British actor Philip Glenister, who earned beaucoups fans abroad when he appeared on the BBC series Life on Mars. Reg E. Cathey, who plays Chief Giles, has made a career out of outstanding supporting performances in series like The Wire, Oz and House of Cards. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data, aka Brent Spiner has a recurring role as the sinister Sidney, and he's probably the closest the series has to a bonafide star. Nevertheless, it sounds like the entire ensemble could easily enjoy some breakout attention thanks to their across-the-board stellar performances.
A lot of TV series promise to bring the terror. Very few of them actually deliver. Outcast is most decidedly an exception. We’re talking children contorting their bodies and levitating off of their beds; black, evil projectile vomit stretching across a ceiling; and characters that unleash otherworldly screams whilst in the throws of possession.
With its paranormal quotient firmly in place, and a town full of people that could potentially become possessed, Outcast dishes out terror in a number of ways. While it offers up plenty of terrifying imagery, it also serves as a brilliantly plotted psychological horror; one that grabs ahold of you and won’t easily let go.
This may sound like a no-brainer -- after all, exorcism and religion go together like milk and cookies. But Outcast’s take on the role that religion plays in combatting evil is in many ways multi-faceted. Kyle seems to hold the key to ridding those around him from possession -- and he definitely isn’t the church-going type. He butts heads on more than one occasion with Reverend Johnson, who struggles to understand why his church-sanctioned methods aren’t enough to expel the evil from those he’s trying to save.
Still, while they stand at the intersection of faith and supernatural prowess, they’re still firmly on the side of good. The forces they’re battling, on the other hand? They came to play hard. So a tried-and-true battle between extremes emerges -- and makes for one hell of a story.
Outcast is set in the small fictional town of Rome, a sleepy rural West Virginia town that gives off a vibe as damaged as it looks. Kyle’s ramshackle home -- full of unpacked boxes and broken windows -- stands under the same kind of naked, snarled trees as Joshua’s seemingly idyllic plantation-style home.
Even places that seem like they should feel warm and inviting are cold and lifeless. Outcast’s southern setting isn’t a coincidence; it feels firmly ensconced in the gothic storytelling tradition. It’s dark, somber aesthetic feeds the uneasy tension that follows Kyle around -- and sets it both firmly within a timeless gothic storytelling tradition and apart from many other supernatural TV series.
If prospective Outcast fans had any doubts about its freak-out factor, the opening moments alone should set them straight. That’s where we meet Joshua, a child that spends his free time bashing his head against a wall, chomping on bugs and devouring his own finger. Later in the episode, he gets punched multiple times by the man trying to free him from the demon that’s overtaken his body.
Yeah, kids aren’t safe in this world, and neither are the adults that are likewise possessed by demons. In other words, Outcast is not for the faint of heart -- it’s visceral and rarely holds back, no matter how much blood is spilt in its quest to tell a compelling story.
Whenever an exciting new series starts, there’s always the possibility that its momentum will fizzle out long before it’s over. Luckily, Robert Kirkman has indicated that there’s little chance that Outcast will suffer the same fate.
The writer and co-creator already knows how the story will unfold, including how it will end. He’s even said he doesn’t expect the comic series to run much past 100 issues. If Outcast proves to be a hit for Cinemax, it’s hard to say how many seasons they’ll be able to pull out from the source material, but it’s safe to say we won’t be waiting for ten years to find out whether Kyle will be able to overcome the demons he’s battling for good...unlike some shows.
Cinemax is so sure that Outcast will appeal to fans that they’re doubling down on their support for the series. In March, nearly three whole months before the first episode even aired, the network announced that they’d ordered an additional season.
It’s a move that networks rarely make -- though Cinemax did the same for the medical drama The Knick. While it’s too early to know for sure whether Outcast will live up to its hype, this extra vote of confidence could entice some potential viewers who are reticent to start watching series until they know they’ll have a conclusion -- and it should instill confidence in anyone doubting whether the series holds up after it’s notably strong pilot episode.
Do you think Outcast will be the supernatural hit of the summer? Let us know below in the comments!