TV fans are used to Jason Bateman filling nice-guy roles. Like Michael Bluth in comedy series Arrested Development, which Jason has won critical acclaim for since it started airing in 2003. Jason has great comic timing, and a dry wit to his delivery second to none, combined with an Average Joe dad-next-door appearance. But he has transformed as accused killer Terry Maitland in horror writer Stephen King’s latest TV adaptation The Outsider, which starts Thursday, 23 April on M-Net (101) at 22:00. “I am not a fan of horror or scare jumps, gore or slashers,” reveals Jason. “But I really love dread, thrillers, tension and all that stuff that’s present in The Outsider.”

Guilty on suspicion

Despite his protests of innocence, which viewers will actually believe, Terry is arrested for the rape and murder of a young boy. There’s compelling evidence driving detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn): blood in a van, as well as a young eye-witness who saw Terry covered in blood. And Ralph has his own guilty axe to grind. Ever since his own son died, he hasn’t forgiven himself for not doing more to protect his child. The more Ralph digs and the more convinced he is that he has his man, the more viewers will question whether Terry did it. Terry never veers from his story. And even after the unsettling flashback in which a girl sees a somewhat dazed, blood-soaked Terry at the car park, we’ll still be asking if it was really him?

Different men, same liar

Terry is as unremarkable as Jason appears to be. He looks like the kind of guy you’d bump into at the grocery store. But as the first episode shows more of Terry, both covered in blood and then with his wife and small kids at the breakfast table, there is a sense that he isn’t being honest with someone. Even when Ralph reviews video footage that gives Terry a watertight alibi, something isn’t right.

A witness at a bar/strip club claims to have seen Terry on the night of the murder with a face full of blood, which flashbacks show Terry blaming on a broken nose – the same story that we see Terry tell the little girl in the parking lot. Thing is, Terry’s nose isn’t broken. Nor was he at the strip club that night. So who was? The security footage from outside doesn’t make it easier. Yes, it’s grainy, but you can see that it’s Terry. Or so it seems.

Ralph says, “Something’s off. I don’t understand – it’s like he’s trying to get caught” as the screen cuts to CCTV footage of Terry looking straight into the camera with a grin on his face. Squint and you’ll see what looks like Terry even making a crude hand gesture, knowing that he is being watched. Yet at the same time, Ralph has footage of Terry at a teachers’ conference 125km away in a different city speaking about Shakespeare novels as prescribed reading. It’s almost like there are two Terrys. But as far as we know, and as far as Terry knows, he doesn’t have a twin.

Mr Cool & Calm

Jason’s delivery as both versions of Terry, who switch as the scenes alternate, is what makes the man and the monster. “Bateman can be just unsettling enough to give him [Terry] the aura of a guilty party, but at the same time affable enough to create doubt around that guilt,” says TV critic Charles Bramesco. “Bateman is neither the next-door neighbour nor the monster in the closet; he’s something halfway between the two, and the more troubling for it.”

The Outsider is not suitable for anyone younger than 16. There is graphic violence and scenes that will disturb sensitive viewers.

The Outsider starts Thursday, 23 April on M-Net (101) at 22:00

Watch The Outsider online

Sign up for DStv Now. It’s no extra cost for DStv subscribers! With DStv Now, the same channels you watch on your decoder at home are available for you to stream online, or using the DStv Now app on your phone.