Perhaps the two entertainment genres that I love the most are crime and history, so when I learned about TNT's The Alienist, a show about a team of turn-of-the-century detectives hunting down a serial killer, I knew that this was my jam. And as with any serial killer story, I want to know how much of this is true. For example, what's the real story behind the main characters? Is John Moore from The Alienist based on a real person? Luke Evans plays the indolent newspaperman on the hunt for a dangerous New York City killer.
The Alienist show is based on a novel of the same name by Caleb Carr. And while Carr is a historian and does write nonfiction, the book is purely fictional, as are most of the characters, though a couple of them are drawn right from the history books. Notably, President Teddy Roosevelt, who was chief of police in New York City at the time the story is set, plays a part in the story. But it looks like John Moore, the sort of "bad boy" of the three leads in the story, isn't based on any sort of historical figure. But that doesn't mean he's not an intriguing guy.
Based on the novel by Caleb Carr, The Alienist tells the story of three people trying to catch a serial killer who has been brutally murdering young male prostitutes. In the late 19th century in which the story is set, psychologists were called alienists. The titular alienist of this show is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, who's trying to catch a serial killer in New York City by attempting to figure out how the killer thinks (a bold idea at the time). Sarah Howard works for the police department and is determined to become a detective. Meanwhile, John Moore is a sketch artist formerly of The New York Times who's brought on to capture the images of the victims. Though, like most people, he doesn't exactly relish the images.
Evans opened up about his character during a TNT promotional interview. "When you meet John Moore, you immediately see that he's a broken man," Evans said. The show opens with John doing broken man things, like drinking excessively and hanging out at brothels with a few of his favorite prostitutes. He's a little wary of Laszlo's methods, but agrees to help out because it's better than doing boring sketches for the society pages. He is also an old friend and classmate of Laszlo's. He may be a bit rakish, but it's clear that he and the prim Sarah have some history together.
Though neither the characters in the book or the show are based in reality, it is still pretty historically accurate. Delmonico's, where the characters are seen to have dinner one night, is a real restaurant in New York City. And of course serial killers are all too real. The story is set just a few years after Jack the Ripper killed his last victim, which means that people must be aware of the phenomenon of serial killers, though they don't have a word for it yet.
At the time, gathering physical evidence from a crime scene was still in its infancy, with people just starting to learn to take fingerprints, for example. I'm excited to see what detective work looked like at the turn of the 20th century, and to find out more about what makes John Moore so broken in the first place. Although let's be honest, I'm most excited to see more of Dakota Fanning's gorgeous costumes.
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