A solid pilot sets the pieces in play for a hopefully crackling period serial killer drama.

Dirty things happen in dirty cities, don't they? And make no mistake about it, gorgeous as it is...The Alienist is a dirty, dirty show at its core. Shit, the series basically starts with a push-in on a murdered little boy, dressed like a girl to serve the sexual needs of unwashed, 19th-century older men. The Alienist is not going to be shy about its exploration of the deepest depths of human fucked-uppitude, and it makes sure to let you know within its opening few minutes.

And what an engrossing opening few minutes it is. "The Boy on the Bridge" sets up the pieces for this limited series' mystery cannily (and c'mon, there's no way this thing doesn't get a second season), introducing us in short order to its principal players and the mystery they'll set about solving. Alienist (old-timey word for a psychologist) Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and New York Times illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) team up with Sarah Howard (a fantastic Elle Fanning) to figure out who's killing little boys that like to dress like girls after an underage sex worker is found murdered in a way that resembles another case Kreizler recently encountered. The police establishment, of course, hate Kreizler and scoff summarily at his methods, but the dude gets results and seems to have found the favor of just the right people.

The Alienist is rich in its production values and thorough in its commitment to establishing the tapestry of 19th Century society in which it takes place. "The Boy on the Bridge" doesn't just set up the principal trio; it also paints broader strokes that show us the ins and outs of organized crime in the area, its relationship with the police force, and what kind of impact that might have on the disenfranchised parts of the community that happen to keep turning up murdered.

Feeling less like a period-piece procedural and more like a slow-burn detective yarn, The Alienist pretty much nails everything it sets out to do in its outset. It's at turns amusing and horrifying, introducing the stakes and the complexities of the world in which they're to be appreciated with smart choices and an even hand. It might be one of the more disturbing things on TV at the moment (seriously, we get sautéed kidneys and boiled eyeballs just in the pilot), but it's going to be tough to keep from coming back every week if the quality continues apace.

Oh, and also...

  • Elle Fanning unquestionably steals the episode. Her put-upon, sick-of-this-dude-bullshit Sarah Howard is easily the part of the show I'm most excited about moving forward.
  • Hell of a taunt at the end, there.
  • I was already pretty happy with how things were set up, but the introduction of the Isaacson brothers has me looking forward to more.