It’s Another Great King-Sized Show
Robert and Michelle King are among the greatest writers to work for television this decade. Rather than work in the confines of cable or streaming, they seem most comfortable in the broadcast venue, pushing the limits of the network, satirizing the more critically acclaimed series that constantly get nominated over them at Emmy season, always trying to see what they can get away with. Those who recognize them solely for their extraordinary drama The Good Wife (and its equally powerful spinoff The Good Fight) probably would have pegged them to go into supernatural territory with their next work, Evil. But they’ve always had a taste for the bizarre: in 2016, almost as if in preparation for the insanity that was to come, they created Braindead, a stunning satire which put the blame on partisan gridlock on parasitic aliens burrowed into our lawmakers brains. It couldn’t gain traction on the Tiffany network, and was canceled after one season.
If anything, they seem willing to delve deeper into in Evil. Katja Herbers plays Kristen Bouchard, a clinical psychologist who works for the district attorney, testing the sanity of serial killers. She gets called in by David Acosta (Mike Colter, Lamont Bishop in The Good-verse) a priest-in-training for archdiocese on a case where it seems that one of her killers might be possessed. Things spiral, and she gets fired, and in order to pay the bills (she has four daughter, and her husband is out of the country mountain climbing, she starts to work with Acosta, and his tech expert Ben (Aasif Mandvi, tweaking his comic persona just enough) to try and prove that there are possessions or miracles out there.
If you’ve been watching TV for any amount of time, you’re no doubt thinking ‘X-Files ripoff.’ But there are very distinct differences. First of all, all the people involved, even David, are inclined to be skeptical. For another, the series is far more ambiguous about the paranormal than the X-Files ever was. In that series, the biggest obstacle was why Scully wouldn’t believe what she was seeing; in this one, everything that has happened so far, can be explained by science and social media.
Most importantly, there is the religious aspect. Any long time viewer of The X-Files knows that any time the series even mentioned ‘God’, it was a grind to get through. In Evil, much of the best part comes from the back and forth between David and Kristen. Kristen has a daughter who has a heart defect, who might die before she’s twenty, and she tells David, if she thought prayer worked, she’d be doing it all day long. But when she asks him why good things happen to bad people, David doesn’t even pretend to have all the answers. He offers to pray, but its clear he has his own doubts.
Now, lest you think Evil is somber going, let me assure you this series is really funny. Kristen is being visited by a demon named George who seems determined to torture her, partly with violence, and partly with psychological back and forth. (The series also plays this with ambiguity; it could be a demon visit, or it could just be a recurring nightmare.) Mandvi is also very good as a tech expert, who is clearly working for the church just to pay the bills. But if there’s someone whose presence alone makes this series worth watching, it’s Michael Emerson. Ever since we first became aware of him playing a serial killer on The Practice, almost all of his character he’s played on TV are either outright villains or characters with darkness in the souls. Here, playing Leland, Emerson may literally be the devil, someone who even if he isn’t demonic is clearly a sociopath. Emerson’s characters have all had restraints before; Leland has none, and whenever he’s on the screen, no scenery is safe. I know it’s early, but I think there’s a good chance he’ll be on the shortlist for Supporting Actor this year.
Evil is by far one of the most engaging broadcast series I’ve seen in a very long time. It looks at theological questions in a way that most cable and streaming still won’t touch, and it plays on the madness in the world in a way that will frighten some and strengthen others. Will it last on CBS, a network that prefers the safe procedural to the groundbreaking series? I don’t know. But then again, this is a show where miracles may happen.
My score: 4.5 stars.