The Watchman: ‘Alienist’ at Long Last Adapted, And It’s Not the First Rodeo for ‘Baskets’

Deputy editor Michael Malone’s weekly look at the programming scene
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IT Represents one of the toughest books to bring to screen, but 24 years after it was published, The Alienist debuts on TNT Jan. 22. Caleb Carr’s novel was a wholly compelling Manhattan murder mystery set in 1896, with Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a psychiatrist — or alienist, as they were known — tracking the perp.

Executive producer Jakob Verbruggen thinks the ambitious project has a chance to shine. “I read the script and thought, there’s something amazing there,” he said. “It’s a dark psychological thriller, but I think it’s more than that.”

The Watchman invited Verbruggen to do a little free association. What words come to mind when watching The Alienist? “Scary, intriguing, entertaining,” he said. “Dark, but there’s a sense of hope.”

The show built turn-of-the-century Manhattan in Budapest. Verbruggen says rows of “majestic mansions” in Hungary’s capital were constructed around the same time similar abodes went up in New York. Blocks of tenements were built from scratch for the production.

“It’s the most impressive set I’ve ever seen,” Verbruggen said. “It allows the actors to just be there — they don’t have to imagine anything.”

Daniel Bruhl plays Kreizler. Dakota Fanning and Luke Evans are in the cast, too. Their chemistry, said Verbruggen, “really pulls you into the story.”

And season three of Baskets starts on FX Jan. 23. Executive producer Jonathan Krisel mentions a “huge contingent of French clowns” turning up in Bakersfield. The Baskets are operating a rodeo, and the family in business together wreaks a hint of havoc.

“The season is about, can the family survive when they work together?” Krisel said. “Money and family don’t mix. It’s a lot about how you navigate all that.”

Running a rodeo, with all that hay and cattle and those French clowns, is a tough task. “It’s not like running an Arby’s franchise,” said Krisel.

Baskets is without Louis C.K. after he and FX parted ways following C.K.’s sexual misconduct allegations. While C.K. co-created Baskets, Krisel said he wasn’t all that involved in the day to day. “If we got him for an hour or so, that was great,” he said.

Baskets fans generally fall into two categories, said Krisel: People who really connect with Zach Galifianakis’ Chip, the starving artist type, and those who love his mother Christine, played by Louie Anderson, who hovers over the vexed virtuoso. “Louie is tough and vulnerable, all in one,” said Krisel.

Krisel calls it a “season of awakening” for Christine. “You see her take some big swings,” he said. “Of course, it all doesn’t end up well.”

IT Represents one of the toughest books to bring to screen, but 24 years after it was published, The Alienist debuts on TNT Jan. 22. Caleb Carr’s novel was a wholly compelling Manhattan murder mystery set in 1896, with Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a psychiatrist — or alienist, as they were known — tracking the perp.

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