'The Outsider': How the HBO Series Is Different From the Stephen King Novel

The latest Stephen King novel to be made into a TV series is The Outsider, based on the 2018 detective horror novel that sees police detective Ralph Anderson (played in the HBO series by Ben Mendelsohn) investigating a grisly rape and murder of a child where the potential culprit seems to have been in two places at once.

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the first two episodes of The Outsider

Though the main plot of the novel survives intact in the HBO series, the first episode has already changed some of the backstories of the characters so as to make the motivations of the central characters clearer. In The Outsider, Anderson has a child, Derek, who was formerly a player in the Little League team that prime suspect Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) coaches. However, in the book, he is away at summer camp, while the HBO show made the more dramatic decision to have him die of cancer before the events of the series, with Anderson grieving his death at the start of the show.

Per Esquire, this helps the show fix an inconsistency in the plot of the novel—why Anderson, usually a professional, by-the-book kind of detective, decided to arrest Maitland in front of the entire town, creating a public scandal that leads to a series of whispers and vile speculation about him that eventually leads Maitland himself to be murdered.

the outsider stephen king
Cynthia Erivo's character in "The Outsider" was white in the Stephen King novel HBO

Why Anderson would arrest Maitland in public like this, causing potentially dangerous ramifications for this innocent-until-proven-guilty suspect is made clearer in the series by having Derek dead, leaving a grieving Anderson doing everything he can to maintain his memory of his son. So when the possibility emerges that Maitland could have touched his son, he wildly overreacts.

This change is not the only one made to the book. For example, Salon points out that black actor Cynthia Erivo, nominated for an Oscar in 2020 for her role in Harriet, has been cast in the role of Holly Gibney, the private investigator who is written as white in The Outsider as well as King's Mr. Mercedes, when the character made his first appearance.

However, this color-blind casting has given the show one of its greatest assets, with Erivo gaining plaudits for her work in the role. In a mostly negative review, for example, Time said of her performance, "Erivo...injects energy into the plodding scripts, giving viewers a unique, multifaceted second lead who's worthy of our fascination."

Erivo's role as Gibney has also changed the structure of the series. In the novel, Gibney is introduced about halfway through, whereas in the show she is introduced in the first two episodes, so as to bring Erivo into the show earlier.

Early reviewers have noted a few other minor differences between the book and the series. The makers of the HBO show, for example, have boosted the role a local strip club plays in the narrative, while the suicide of the father of the murder victim is shown in grisly detail when it was only referred to in passing in the book.

The Outsider airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.