The typical fall television season has to be the worst time to release a new series because it’s often so hard to break through with so many other shows premiering. For consumers, it’s also easy to get overwhelmed trying to keep up with all the new shows, fall behind, and tell yourself, “I’ll catch up later!”
I say that about a lot of series. CBS’s Evil — now on Netflix — is the rare time I meant it. It’s a show that I knew I’d circle back around to watch because it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the first four or five episodes I watched when the series premiered in the fall of 2019. It worked impeccably well as a case-of-the-week kind of series. However, it takes five or six episodes for the bigger arc to gel, and that’s when Evil transforms from an amusing procedural into an engrossing, can’t-stop-watching series.
I knew it’d get there eventually. It comes from Michelle and Robert King, arguably the best dramatic showrunners on network television. They’re the team behind the terrific The Good Wife, the even better The Good Fight, and the too-good-for-network-television political horror-comedy BrainDead (I miss BrainDead). There was no doubt that the Kings could make Evil work, especially with such a strong cast, which includes Katja Herbers, Mike Colter, Aasif Mandvi, Christine Lahti, Michael Emerson, and of course, their always excellent rotating cast of guest actors. (Speaking of, Carrie Preston — who played the terrific, Emmy-winning Elsbeth Tascioni on The Good Wife — is married to Michael Emerson, which makes me think that the Kings are good friends with Emerson and Preston and that they all sit around in front of the fire on the weekends and drink wine and bitch about politics, and I can think of no place I’d rather be). The Kings are also very good at creating talented, diverse writers’ rooms, and pulling from sometimes nontraditional backgrounds (it seems like they like playwrights and lawyers), and mixing in the odd song or two from Jonathan Coulton (there’s a terrific episode this season about mass hysteria and an earworm that got caught in my head for days).
In Evil, Katja Herbers plays Dr. Kristen Bouchard, a forensic psychologist, who joins forces with Colter’s David Acosta, a journalist who is studying to become a Catholic priest. Their investigations are like The X-Files, only instead of extraterrestrials, they study miracles, demons, and possessions. Bouchard and Acosta essentially try to determine if the subject of their investigation is possessed by a demon or if the subject is suffering from a mental health disorder. Mandvi’s Ben Shakir is the equipment handler, but he’s also an additional skeptic who believes that science is behind every case.
If Evil were just a case-of-the-week procedural, it’d be a solid show. Michael Emerson’s character, however, adds an entirely new dimension to the series. He plays Dr. Leland Townsend, an expert in the occult who is also obsessed with encouraging others to commit acts of evil. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, he’s also obsessed with Dr. Bouchard, and there is some question about whether Leland is a demon himself or just a sick and twisted individual. It gets even more complicated when he begins dating Kristen’s mom, Sheryl (Christine Lahti), and tries to worm himself inside of Bouchard’s family.
The series also features a few other demons, and it’s not always clear if they are real or if they are hallucinations, but what does seem apparent is that there is a grand conspiracy at work orchestrated by either a very evil person or by Satan him or herself.
It’s a lot more fun than it might sound on paper, in part because the Kings have impeccable senses of humor. It’s also very smart, contains trace amounts of cultural commentary, and it is catnip for Redditors. There are clues — in the form of episode titles and actual puzzle pieces — but I haven’t yet cracked the code on it myself (it’s supposed to point toward the subject of the second season, which has already been picked up by CBS).
It’s a terrifically captivating series, and an easy one to binge, because the characters are fun to hang with, the cases are interesting, and the overarching mystery is compelling as all hell. Anyone who loves The Good Wife should love Evil, but I think it’s also tailored to those who love Person of Interest or The Exorcist, as well, or to those who just like looking at Mike Colter because that man is fine.
Header Image Source: CBS/Netflix