The Alienist Pilot Reviewed at Script Shadow

A review of the pilot for The Alienist appeared on Script Shadow earlier today. Unfortunately, I do not have good news to report from this. It suggests the character changes for John that I reported on a few days ago have indeed made it into the adaptation. After reading the review, I suspect that whether one is going to enjoy this series ultimately comes down to a matter of taste. While the reviewer was enthusiastic about the script, I don’t get the impression they have read (at least recently) the source material, so inconsistencies clearly don’t bother them. However, from what they have described, this show will not be representative of The Alienist that I know and love. For example, it has been confirmed that John enjoys playing “games” with prostitutes that sound like they correspond to the “twisted role playing” that was mentioned in the press release for the character of Flora.

We meet John Moore with a prostitute and, as he’s having sex with her, he’s angry because she’s telling him that she’s in love with another man. At that moment, the madame bursts in and the girl “drops the act.” It was all a little game they were playing.

In addition, it appears that the character changes are not restricted to John. The review also makes mention that Kreizler keeps fetuses in his office. Where on Earth did this come from? Yes, the book mentions that he keeps brains in specimen jars, but that makes sense. He is a psychiatrist. More than this, the reviewer’s comment that Kreizler is “into some really dark disturbing shit” is enough to convince me that the script will not be loyal to the book. Kreizler is a workaholic who is passionate about saving children from abuse. In his free time, he enjoys relaxing at the opera, dining at fine restaurants, collecting antique furniture and fine art. When has Kreizler ever done anything that would suggest that he is “into some really dark disturbing shit”? I first became concerned about this when I read Daniel Bruhl’s recent comment “I’m playing a nice guy in The Alienist, too. More or less, I would say.” Why would he suggest that Kreizler is “more or less” a nice guy? Kreizler is a nice guy — there should be absolutely no debate about it.

Given this troubling turn of events, I feel that I should be open. I fully understand that we all have our own degree of changes from source material that we can accept in adaptations and there will undoubtedly be fans of the books who won’t be concerned about these changes. However, my loyalty lies with the books and the books alone. I started 17th Street as a resource for the books, and that is what the website is going to remain. Consequently, unless there is some drastic turnaround with what is being revealed through these script leaks, I won’t be watching. The are better things to watch, and I would rather keep my memory of the books and characters unspoiled.

7 comments on “The Alienist Pilot Reviewed at Script Shadow

  1. After having read through this analysis again at Script Shadow, I am thinking I will have to leave this show to my close friends to watch first, those who have read the book and like it, but don’t mind drastic changes, and they can tell me if they think I will be able to tolerate what has changed. My friends know how passionate I am about this novel and will know what I will tolerate and what I won’t. Because ‘The Alienist’ is, and always will be, my favourite novel ever written and, as much as I want to be supportive of this show and am glad some people out there think it’s well written, I can’t get on board with what I am learning from these reveals.

    I can only hope that the show is popular enough to get people who like the show to want to read Mr. Carr’s novel. Of course, those who do discover The book through the TV series will be in for a huge shock at how much has been changed (assuming these reveals online are authentic). But at least that would mean more fans for Mr. Carr’s work, as I suspect the majority of those who do read the book after seeing the series will come to realize the book is the better story (Again, assuming here what we are learning in advance has all been accurate).

  2. Well, Kim, this is deeply disheartening. Once we saw those leaked audition tapes, my hope that the TV adaptation would be faithful to the book pretty much vanished. Like you, I am loyal to the book. I’ll watch the first episode–maybe even the second. But, if they stray to far from the essence of the book, that will be all. I’ve been impressed with the adaptations of many books. Unfortunately, with The Alienist, it appears they learned nothing from their consultations with the author and simply disemboweled it for the sake of salaciousness.

  3. I agree Kim. A screen adaptation that is loyal to the characters as portrayed in the book would be great, not only for those of us who have read and enjoyed the novel but also for those who have not. The main characters should be our relief from the book’s already dark subject matter. I don’t understand this trend to cater to the baser side of human nature, quite frankly it’s just boring and makes me want to turn the television off
    and read a good book.

  4. This is a huge disappointment. After waiting 20 years for somebody to take this on, I don’t think I’m even going to watch. I’ll just keep waiting for the next book.

  5. My optimism is waning. I wonder what Mr Carr thinks of the additions to the script.

    Hollywood is known for ruining books. I hope they have received other reviews of the pilot that are in the negative. Maybe they’ll decide to change it.

  6. This is all so disappointing! I was going to watch the series until I was aware of these changes. Now i’m not so sure.
    I’m worried too about my memory of the characters being spoiled if i were to watch the series.

    It’s quite surprising that Mr. Carr would allow such drastic changes to be made. Didn’t previous projects fall through because of creative differences?
    Has he made any comments about the changes?
    If he has it would be great if you could post them on the site, Kim.

    At least we have the next books to look forward to.

  7. For what it’s worth, I’m going to offer another perspective. It will be fairly long-winded, for which I apologise in advance. I’ve thought quite a bit about whether or not to share my opinion on this matter here, because I don’t want it to appear as if I don’t respect others’ frustrations and reservations regarding the adaptation. I can fully understand them. I certainly don’t need to convince you, Kim, of my love for The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. Carr’s novels made an impression on me that I haven’t, in the fifteen-odd years since I first read them, been able to shake. They have influenced my thoughts and imagination in ways that I couldn’t possibly put to words here (and wouldn’t really want to, as they would probably make me seem rather mad). The characters have become so vivid to me that I feel as if I know them, and I am intensely protective of them. You know, Kim, that I have always longed for a screen adaptation of The Alienist, but the thought of it has always been tempered for me by the fear that it wouldn’t be handled properly. So now, here we have one, a fact that is still surreal to me. And I’m nervous. It occupies my thoughts more than I’d care to admit. If they screw it up, and there’s a fair chance that they’ll screw up at least some of it, it will be deeply disappointing.

    All of that said, I’m having some difficulty relating to many of the particular concerns expressed here and elsewhere on the internet by my fellow fans of the novels. I feel as if there has been a lot of honing in on details, because at present all we have are details, available without a sense of context. I’m as guilty as anyone of focusing on them, trying to decipher their meaning. Because I don’t yet have access to anything that would give me a sense of the broader picture. Really, I can’t have that until the series is released and I watch it. Not just the first episode, but the whole thing. I fixate on every new detail I discover. But this is a behaviour I’m tending toward that frustrates me, and I wish I didn’t.

    The reality, all of my personal fears aside, is that there is nothing in the specific details you’ve shared here that strikes me as *necessarily* concerning. Possibly concerning, yes, but not necessarily. I’ll begin with John, the character for whom changes have been most notable and have occupied a great deal of discussion. Although the John in The Alienist doesn’t ‘play games’ with any prostitutes, as far as the reader can tell, I don’t see this as massively out of character. An interesting aspect of the two novels, when taken alongside one another, is how characters shift from one novel to the next. John’s and Stevie’s significantly different perspectives offer the reader a more well-rounded observation of the characters, a window, however small, into what they might *actually* be like, setting aside each narrator’s concerns and biases. This is true of every character (not a single one is entirely consistent from The Alienist to The Angel of Darkness, I’d argue), and it renders a general impression of the narrators’ unreliability and a sense that there is more to each character than the reader is offered in either novel. One aspect of this is the very smart revelation in The Angel of Darkness of the extent to which what we were offered, in The Alienist, was a selective and carefully structured view of events. John Moore is a writer, a Harvard-educated reporter who has written his story with the intent of revealing, to the wider public, the extent of corruption in New York City. He is generally unconcerned with delving deeply into the personal lives and personalities of his friends and colleagues, a matter that Carr gets around by revealing small details to the reader that hint at broader aspects of character. John is concerned with confronting a forgotten piece of history, and as a writer he is very good at structuring his story in a way that not only does so but also emphasises his own reliability as a credible historian and voice of reason. For a narrator in a novel, John reveals remarkably little about himself, a clever choice on Carr’s part. Stevie’s manner of storytelling is motivated not by a sense of justice and desire to reveal the truth but by the fact that he’s agreed to prove that he can do it better than John and, given that he’s dying, by a general desire to explore his own past. As a result, The Angel of Darkness is less structured, less authoritative, less concerned with the inner workings of the investigation or of broader New York society, far more emotive. In this novel, the first time we see John he is in bed with a woman. Although it seems likely that it’s a one-night stand, she could very well be a prostitute. We don’t know what role-playing games he may have been playing with her before Stevie, Sara and Cyrus arrive, but there is no reason to believe he wasn’t engaging in them.

    I have been wondering how the TV adaptation would deal with the reserved, selective style of The Alienist. What this piece of information reveals to me is not necessarily that they have changed John, but that they have opted for a perspective of the characters that is less influenced by John’s concerns and biases. If Laszlo Kreizler were first seen with a prostitute it would suggest an absurdly massive change to the essence of his character, but in the case of John it implies an alternate perspective. This, to be honest, excites me, because it brings something new to The Alienist, allows it to stand on its own and *contribute* to Carr’s world instead of merely offering a play-by-play recap of the novel. Such would be boring and forgettable. Not to mention pointless. It might cater to some fan desires, but likely at the expense of strong, creative television drama. In addition to this, I can’t really see why introducing John in such a context negates the possibility that the series will capture the crux of his character. In another turn-of-the-century series, Ripper Street, which across its five series creates some of the most complex, fascinating and human characters I’ve ever encountered in television, one of the main characters, Homer Jackson, is first seen with a prostitute, his wife in the next room. Implications are made. Yet, the manner in which Jackson, the prostitute and his wife are developed over the next five series makes it almost impossible for a viewer to remember that they were first pictured in this light. Character development in good television occurs slowly and carefully, consistently offering new details that transform a viewer’s initial impressions.

    Then there’s the small tidbit about Laszlo Kreizler. The fetus in a jar. Ha. That’s quite the macabre detail. But I do think that this comment, as well as the suggestion that Laszlo’s into some “dark and disturbing shit,” should be taken in the context of the article’s tone, which is quite funny throughout. It’s evident, as you noted, Kim, that the reviewer is either unfamiliar with the source material. One can imagine that he might have read a description listing several curiosities and that that one, understandably, stood out to him. To the extent that he felt compelled to emphasise it, and came to the conclusion that Kreizler was into some pretty disturbing shit. He’s emphasising it for comedic purposes, but equally notes that Kreizler is well-developed and multifaceted. Which, with reservations, is a good sign. Maybe the TV version of Laszlo has a fetus in a jar (or maybe not, in the end), but this does not mean that on a more comprehensive level, the series does not bring the depth to him that’s so integral to the quality of the novel. Nor am I discouraged by Bruhl’s qualification of Kreizler as a “more or less” nice guy. Yes, Laszlo Kreizler is the kindest of men. But my feeling is that if I were to meet him one day in a pub, my overall impression would not be, ‘That was a nice guy.’ I might think, ‘That man was fascinating, extremely intelligent, complicated, difficult at times to follow, very difficult to read, evidently troubled, deeply kind, committed to goodness.’ Kreizler is good in the deepest, most fundamental kind of way, but over the course of The Alienist he flies off the handle at Sara for questioning his assumptions, treats Mary harshly when she makes them breakfast after a difficult night (and, we can assume, is a generally difficult lover given his workaholism), and is often condescending toward John, just to name a few examples that readily spring to mind. His behaviour is understandable, accounted for by context, and deeply sympathetic, but he is flawed and is not always ‘nice’. This is, obviously, what makes him compelling, as characters who are simply ‘nice guys’ are generally boring. My guess would be that, given that Bruhl cannot reveal the intricacies of his character before the series is released, it’s that fact to which he refers by the phrase ‘more or less’.

    I may be making excuses, and I feel that at least some who read this (if, indeed, anyone has managed to make it to the end) will inevitably feel that I am. And, equally, I could never judge you, Kim, or anyone else here, for feeling unable to watch the series. But even if details come to light that genuinely concern me, I’ll watch. Because it might be great anyhow, albeit different from the novel I fell in love with. And if at the end I decide that it’s terrible, I will, as you quite rightly said, always have the books.

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