If you're looking for a dark and dark drama with at least one dead baby, you're better off with "Perry Mason".
Lookalike TV shows happen all the time. Series with similar setups, themes or storylines compete against each other and sometimes only one survives – as in 2006, when two shows about the creation of a fictional "SNL" were squared and "30 rock" came under pressure "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. " Other duel dualities thrive, like "ER" and "Chicago Hope", and even more bombs like "Cashmere Mafia" and "Lipstick Jungle" in 2008 or "Do Over" and "That Was Then" in 2002.
It's not always crucial to be the first, but if you're the second dark drama about a dead baby – no less in the midst of a global pandemic – you start in a pretty deep hole. And "The Alienist: Angel of Darkness" simply digs on and builds most of its mystery out of eight episodes about murdered, kidnapped or otherwise tortured children. Such a gruesome preference should be familiar to anyone who has seen HBO's recent restart of “Perry Mason,” but while this graphic detective story offered an endearing lead, impressive images, and a rebellious spirit right now, TNT's sequel to its needlessly dark year Faded in 2018 on all fronts.
"Angel of Darkness" works much more like the second season of "The Alienist" than like an independent entry in the so-called anthology series. Sara (Dakota Fanning) runs her own detective agency after becoming the NYPD's first female employee during the original set of episodes. Sara's small business is staffed by women and survives unnecessary investigations (many rich types of society pay good money to find out if their servants steal them). She has spent much of her resources trying to save a woman on death row after she has been convicted of murdering a child whose body has not yet been found.
Her accusers are as cartoonistic as bad guys, not that anyone but Sara seems to notice. Modern juries would immediately condemn those caricatures with raised eyebrows, but perhaps such obvious devilishness felt more bizarre at the turn of the century. The doctor spends his days in crowded lecture halls and combines loose morals as a scientific study, while his nights consist of sloppy operations on patients who may be of less interest to him. His main accomplice is a particularly nuanced nurse ratched guy who trembles with anger when women give birth to their soon-to-be-stolen babies and spit out contempt in a three-word phrase: Oh, those "stupid, stupid, stupid" girls! Dark and dirty hospital can also be an evil laboratory, perched on a mountain and flashing from the pitch-black sky, and the thunder overshadows the screams from within.
Kata Vermes / TNT
This place and the people in it mark the tip of a nasty, misogynist iceberg that serves as one of the few unique themes from season two of "The Alienist". "Angel of Darkness" extends Sara's role not only by giving her (in the truest sense of the word) her own agency), but by positioning her struggle, her bow and the season herself as unheard women against a world of no worries. Sara listens to these mothers when nobody else does and then fights for them. She does the same for herself as the NYPD and various politicians mock a detective, and there are a couple of clever gender reversals in the season when it comes to who saves whom from a fight, who marries whom for money, and a few Moments of unexpected empowerment are more welcome.
Unfortunately, fans of sleepy, blank facial expressions aren't fit to carry the weight of an eight-hour drama, and many of the series' crucial moments are still stripped from Prestige TV's Dark and Gritty playbook. Even though it's nice that Sara saves the day instead of the tall and stocky John Moore (Luke Evans), her arrival is no surprise and her fate is never questioned. Similarly, in Season 2, the few quirks that were present in the investigative techniques of the eponymous alienist are almost banished when Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) withdraws to safer areas with regard to his behavior, his bullish attitude and his general antics. Where once a man stood to name a series, there is now a character that Sherlock Holmes concluded with a mocking grin. (His main story is about a love interest that, believe it or not, does the same job! It's like there are two! How remarkable!)
Outside of its privileged, white cast of characters, "The Alienist" also makes fleeting efforts to be more inclusive and address new perspectives. One of the victims who played on the verge of the Spanish-American War in 1897 is a recently immigrant immigrant who has become suspicious of racially motivated headlines and suspicious looks in the park. But her story is never internalized and her point of view is never fully explored – it is as if she has forgotten when the focus is turned back to the detectives who are trying to help. The same goes for a Brooklyn bar and its black owners, who are becoming a little more important to the process, but the father-daughter duo of Robert Wisdom and Brittany Marie Batchelder (returning from season one) are shockingly signed as if they were one bigger story was cut out during post production. (Maybe there was a 10-episode plan that was reduced to eight at some point?)
The shortcomings in the second season of "The Alienist" are only compounded by the premiere near "Perry Mason". Storylines feel pre-calculated and overwhelmed, be it the will-they-will-not-be romance between Sara and John, or the increasingly intricate way our team doesn't capture the killer. (The finale is a ridiculous attempt to delay the inevitable.) Supporting characters are added and then dropped on a whim, as if their arches were always a bridge to nowhere. And while the apparent misogyny of 1897 is still a frustrating part of modern America, little about Sara's search, decision, or endpoint sheds new light on the struggle or magnifies certain problems. "The Alienist" maintains its high production values - costumes by Rudy Mance and Ruth Ammon's production design help maintain the meticulous elegance of the series – but it's still an empty, pointless exercise in dramatic drudgery.
At a time when light, airy television is enjoyed, prestige series that are hard to see have to earn their time. They have to stand out for the right reasons, and "The Alienist" – which was originally criticized for feeling behind the times and being overly familiar – still plays like the worse version of so many other dramas, not just "Perry Mason" .
The premiere of "The Alienist: Angel of Darkness" will take place on Sunday, July 19th at 9pm. ET with two new episodes on TNT.