Outcast—premiering June 4 on FX—is the story of Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit. Yeah, the Almost Famous kid. He's this guy now), a man plagued by demonic possession whose tortured past has left him isolated from the rest of the world.
The show is based on the Image comic book of the same title, created by Robert Kirkman (who also wrote the first episode of the show and serves as Executive Producer). Kirkman is also responsible for The Walking Dead, a show that has some things in common with Outcast—moody horror, a supernatural menace, a protagonist with a questionable beard—but has a slightly different approach. The Walking Dead, with its mix of action and gore, wants to make you jump in your seat and yell “EWW! GROSS!” while Outcast, with its stronger emphasis on the supernatural and one man’s tormented psyche, wants to make you shift uncomfortably in your seat and whisper “eewww…gross.”
This mission to unsettle is readily apparent in the first scene of the show, involving a young boy who begins to behave oddly in increasingly scary ways. Without going into spoilery, detail, the show pulls no punches, even when children are involved.
The producers have assembled a supporting cast around Fugit that ranges from solid-enough to hey-it’s-that-guy-boy-am-I-glad-to-see-him. Philip Glenister (Life on Mars) plays Reverend Anderson, a local preacher with his own take on these supernatural goings on, and while Gleniser is a reliable actor the character doesn’t pop as much as he could. An opening scene involving a poker game and a few drinks suggests that this man of God harbours a few sinful indulgences, but a couple of empty beer bottles isn’t enough to keep him from seeming generally helpful and good natured.
Other supporting characters are introduced, including David Denman (Roy from The Office! Hi, Roy! Sorry about all that stuff with Pam) and Reg E Cathey (The Wire) as local cops, but none are given the screen time to become fully fleshed out characters. Which, of course, is standard for first episodes, which are usually occupied with setting up the main characters and storylines. Fingers crossed that the writers are smart enough to use its talented bench of character actors to their advantage.
The brightest spot in the supporting cast is Wrenn Schmidt as Megan Holter, Kyle’s adoptive sister. She provides the only moments of warmth and humour in the episode, and they are welcome. If the show is going to continue being as icky and dark as it starts out, it’s going to need moments of levity, and Megan is well placed to provide them.
The element of Outcast that seems the most fully formed right out of the gate is its visuals. The setting of Rome, West Virginia has a distinct visual identity, full of rundown houses and washed out colours . The scenes where the spookiness is getting properly spooky are effectively unsettling to look at, with more blacks and blues seeping into the colour palette and a mix of textures—viscous blood spattering on peeled paint—triggering our senses and putting us right in the moment.
Where this pilot episode is less effective is in setting up a strong conflict, or story engine capable of generating new conflicts on a weekly basis. The seeds are there, as Kyle’s history of strange incidents and the hints as to his unique ability to handle them are just intriguing enough to warrant checking out another episode, but the ill-defined nature of the antagonistic forces at play gives the impression of a show that might take a few episodes to really demonstrate what it is. Or more importantly, what it’s going to be on a weekly basis.
The show is largely made of moments and hints. Suggestions of dark histories and foreshadowing of conflicts and revelations to come. The real question is whether the show will be able to build on these moments and create something genuinely engaging that will be worth tuning in for on a weekly basis. While this first episode isn’t perfect, it offers just enough to be optimistic on that front.
OUTCAST begins Saturday June 4th at 8:30pm on FX