Finding the Lower East Side in TNT’s ‘The Alienist’

Posted on: January 26th, 2018 at 5:14 am by

The Alienist on TNT

An Alienist. That person you see once every two weeks to regulate your NYC-driven anxiety medication, aka the 19th century nickname for doctors who studied mental health. (Mental health patients felt alienated from those with tangible illnesses and generally were alienated, forced to live in institutions and asylums.)

TNT took one of my all time favorite books set in 1896 New York City and turned it into a television show. I waited and waited and waited. Then finally, this week, clutching my Caleb Carr novel tightly, I waited no more.

Less than 10 minutes in, the Pilot has us up on and under construction of the Williamsburg Bridge. Swooning. Be still my heart. It’s a murder scene and a gory one at that, in the book and in the show. And? It was So. Well. Done.

Williamsburg under constructions

TNT, you outdid yourself with the scenery. To be able to see this outside of my imagination. Thank you. I have included some excerpts from Carr’s book.

Excerpt from the book

The Belgian blocks, the horses, the elevated trains, the hansom cabs, the soot and shit, the corsets and lapels, it is all so overwhelming spot on that you almost forget (and maybe forgive) that The Alienist was filmed entirely outside of NYC, and the U.S. for that matter. 19th century NYC in Budapest, Hungary.

The Alienist on TNT

The Alienist on TNT

Excerpt from the book

Institute = Bellevue you’ll come to find. The City’s first morgue is still there. Creepy and fantastic.

Bellevue 1890s

Bellevue 1890s

Regrettably, nothing is perfect. I abated my scenery overload enthusiasm and focused on the characters. Mainly, the three protagonists.

The Alienist on TNT

First, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (above photo center) and nope. He’s giving it all away in Episode 1.

Only if I become him—if I cut the child’s throat myself, if I run my knife through the helpless body and pluck innocent eyes from the horrified face, only then will I come to truly understand what I am…I must see life as he sees it, feel pain as he feels it, take the same path he takes. Yes, I must follow this wherever it goes, even if it leads me to the darkest pit of hell.

Kreizler! You have time and in the book you took it.

John Moore (above photo right), an illustrator for the New York Times and Kreizler’s partner in crime (solving). Sorry, I had to. He is average at best so far. A little more sex obsessed than in the book, alas, though sex does sells (clearly as he is first seen at a brothel).

Dakota Fanning (above photo left) as the groundbreaking and unwavering Sara Howard (a fictional character based on Isabella Goodwin, the first police matron and first female detective). Sadly, no. Not yet.

To the basement boy brothels of the Bowery (though Paresis Hall was in the Cooper Union area, The Alienist shows it on the Bowery; that gets a pass because most were on the Bowery). That Paul Kelly’s Five Points gang is given their just screen time, that the coppers are already taking bribes…

Paul Kelly (left) and company


Excerpt from the book

It’s all leading me to believe that this will get better; that The Alienist will survive on costume and scenery if the dialogue fails.

Other NYC time period pieces like Copper bombed and The Knick disappointed, so here’s hoping the cast and crew Gangs of New York the crap out of this series; a movie so spectacularly done, it deserves its own adjective.

(If they get Delmonico‘s wrong – I’m done. TBH & TBD.)



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