CBS’s Evil was not immediately appealing to me, until I saw that it comes from Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife, its spin-off The Good Fight, and BrainDead), at which point I knew there was probably more to the series than the premise and trailer portended. I was right: Evil is delightfully fun and even occasionally scary.
Essentially, Evil is The X-Files, only instead of investigating paranormal activity, the two leads, Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) — a forensic psychologist — and David Acosta (Mike Colter), a former journalist and a believer, investigate the existence of demons and other supernatural phenomena. Unlike in The X-Files, it appears that in some cases, supernatural occurrences will occasionally be explained away by science and Ben Shroff (Aasif Mandvi), the team’s “technical expert” and inflexible skeptic.
It’s a promising set-up, and in the pilot at least, it plays it right down the middle with a serial killer on trial for murdering multiple people. The killer’s wife thinks her husband has been demonically possessed, so Acosta — a believer in the supernatural — brings in Dr. Bouchard — another skeptic — to help him determine whether the killer on trial was demonically possessed or a psychopath.
During the course of the investigation, however, Dr. Bouchard is visited in her sleep by her own shadow demon, George, who literally looks like the goth version of the Night King from Game of Thrones. There’s some question about whether it’s just a dream, or if she’s actually being haunted by an evil spirit. In typical Scully and Mulder fashion, Dr. Bouchard also has a crush on Acosta, although he’s training to be a priest and she’s got four daughters and is married to an absent husband, so a romantic relationship seems off the table. For now.
Where the pilot makes the leap from an entertaining cop drama with demons to a delightfully terrifying series with real potential is the introduction of Leland Townsend, played deliciously by Michael Emerson. I don’t know what he is, but apparently, he’s taken on several forms and has trailed Acosta for years. He’s the show’s true evil, doing his best Kevin Spacey from Se7en impression as he throws chaos into the proceedings. We don’t yet understand how he plays into the rest of the series, but we do know he belongs to a shadowy organization called The 60, a group of regular people — teachers, stockbrokers, etc. — who toe the line between demon and psychopath, but who all have a common goal: Commit evil acts and encourage others to do so. “The 60” are clearly who Bouchard and Acosta will be investigating on behalf of the Catholic Church, which — if I know Robert and Michelle King — probably has its own nefarious agenda.
As with any series of this nature — particularly one involving faith and/or the supernatural — it comes down to the writing and the performances. Colter, Emerson, Herbers, and Mandvi bring a lot of acting talent to the table, which makes it easy to commit to their perspectives, while Robert and Michelle King continue to provide terrific material (they also have a relationship with Colter from The Good Wife and presumably Emerson, through his wife, Carrie Preston, who plays the scene-stealing recurring character, Elsbeth Tascioni, on both The Good Wife and The Good Fight). With strong direction, a great score, and a few well-placed jump scares, Evil masterfully mixes The Excorcist with cop procedural.
In addition to Evil, fall premiere week has already produced three other good-to-great new dramas (Prodigal Son, Emergence, and Stumptown). At least a couple of those will probably flame out after a few episodes (Emergence) or hobble toward a finale before being unceremoniously cancelled (Prodigal Son). I can’t say for sure which will stick around long enough to warrant an investment from viewers, but if I were a gambling man, I’d back the one that mixes laughs with scares, contains a flexible premise, a series-long mythology, and was created by Robert and Michelle King, who have a proven track record when it comes to combining the comfort and familiarity of network procedural with biting social commentary, humor, and some terrific guest stars.
Header Image Source: CBS