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The Outsider: 5 big ways the HBO series differs from Stephen King’s book

The Outsider (2020): Official Trailer | HBO

HBO’s horror crime drama miniseries The Outsider has captivated viewers since debuting in January 2020. The series stars Jason Bateman as Terry Maitland, a small-town high school baseball coach who is suddenly arrested for the brutal murder of a young boy. Maitland is puzzled about the accusations and police are just as mystified when they find video footage and witness testimony that proves Maitland is guilty… followed by just as reputable evidence, including video footage, that he’s innocent.

The series is based on the 2018 Stephen King novel of the same name. And while the premise, and many of the characters, are identical, HBO took some creative liberties.

Here are some of the most significant ways that the series differs from the book. (Note: This article contains spoilers.)

The introduction of El Cuco

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The series makes it pretty clear from the beginning that there might be a mythical force behind what’s going on, evidenced by the hooded, malformed creature/man seen lurking in the background in the first episodes, along with the musical score that suggests something sinister and likely inhuman. In the book, it takes a while before you really understand that there’s something supernatural behind what’s going on and to explain how Terry could be in two places at once. This eliminates any preconceived notion that this show is your typical detective mystery; there’s far more at play here.

What’s more, the idea of El Cuco is presented to private investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) in the series by a Latina woman who overhears her conversation with a prisoner, Maria Caneles. The woman invites Holly to her home to discuss the folklore. In the book, it’s actually detective Yunis Sablo (Yul Vasquez), who suggests the myth and that it might be responsible for the multiple child homicides. Yunis is familiar with El Cuco in the series and seems to be on board with Holly and her theory from the get-go. But he isn’t the one to introduce it.

Ralph Anderson’s son

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One of the biggest changes from book to series is that of detective Ralph Anderson’s son. In the series, his son Derek died of cancer, presumably not long before the murder. Throughout the series, we see Ralph and his wife Jeannie still dealing with their grief. At one point, Derek appears to Ralph in a presumed dream, telling him to let go. In the book, King took a less emotional approach to explain away the high schooler: He was at summer camp.

This doesn’t really impact the main plot of the miniseries, though it does provide another level of depth to the character of Ralph, who is portrayed wonderfully by Ben Mendelsohn. It’s a catalyst to explain why he might be so fixated on the case, knowing that while his own son has passed, Terry used to coach him. He is tortured by the thought that Terry could have hurt Derek, even asking him at one point if he ever did. Ralph’s fixation on taking Terry down, then, seems more like a subconscious way to deal with his son’s death in the series versus anger knowing his still living son could have been the victim in the book.

What’s more, the deep grief Ralph and Jeannie feel due to the loss of their son adds another dimension to the nail-biting story for the series: Will the “grief eater” at some point come after them?

Holly Gibney’s appearance and quirks

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The character of Holly is integral to the plot in both the book and the series as the eccentric private investigator with a special set of skills, who is tasked with helping the police. In the book, along with King’s Bill Hodges trilogy that includes Mr. Mercedes (adapted into the Audience Network series of the same name), Finders Keepers, and End of Watch, she is described as being pale with gray bangs and is presumed to be much older. In the series, the character is beautifully played by Academy Award-nominated actor Cynthia Erivo, who is black and much younger than the book suggests.

In the series, Holly appears to have some form of autism, is able to recall an incredible amount of information, and can even do things like look at buildings and tell you instantly how tall they are. In her opening scene, she is staring out a window naming every car that passes by, including make, model, year, and many other seemingly insignificant details about them. In the book, Holly’s quirks aren’t quite as intense. Her main obsession is with movies, having amassed a collection of more than 9,000 DVDs in her collection.

Andy doesn’t exist in the books

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While conducting her investigation in Ohio, Holly meets a mall security guard and former police officer named Andy Katcavage (Derek Cecil, House of Cards) who takes a liking to her. While enthusiastically helping her with the investigation, using his connections on the police force, they spark up a romantic relationship.

In the book, Andy does not exist. He was added to the series to seemingly provide another layer for Holly, a bit of outside help for the case, and someone Holly can confide in rather than rely on her internal monologue, which is featured heavily in the book.

Terry’s death

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Terry’s death plays out in a similar fashion in series as it does in the book, but there is one key difference. In the series, as Terry is lying on the ground dying from a fatal gunshot wound to his neck, he offers up his final words, pleading with Ralph to believe him that he didn’t hurt that boy.

In the book, it’s Ralph who urges Terry, after a second fatal gunshot wound to the stomach, to confess before he dies. Terry still proclaims his innocence, having the same impact on Ralph. But he doesn’t do it without being prompted first.

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Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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