The Alienist Forgets Its History, Which Is All It Has Going For It :: TV …

Caleb Carr’s 1994 crime novel The Alienist, set in Gilded Age New York, operates on the assumption that readers are willing to check their modern knowledge of its subject at the door, eager to learn of the techniques used by cutting-edge crimefighters of the day. Its milquetoast televised adaptation jettisons this hook for the sake of safety, choosing instead to treat these techniques as they are today, at a moment when serial killers are all over the airwaves: as so familiar as to be almost unworthy of mention. TNT knows drama, but here TNT presumes we all know drama too well.

We do know it, which is why if a criminal psychology show is going to be good, it needs to either be the best of what we know (The Silence of the Lambs) or somehow different. Countless entries in the genre—books, TV shows, or films—have charismatic leads that

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