This Evil review contains no spoilers.
CBS‘s new paranormal investigative series Evil may not be the next X-Files, but it is a solid offering of unstable elements. It bills itself as a psychological mystery series which uses science and religion to explore the origins of evil, but it also promises to give an opened eyed glimpse into divine inspirations. The first episode looks at a serial killer, the second examines a miracle. There is inherent good and evil in both.
The series is about a skeptical psychologist who is recruited by a Roman Catholic priest-in-training to investigate a backlog of unexplained mysteries which have been brought to the church for classification. Petitions for exorcisms alone run into the thousands. Pleas for miracles or intervention threaten to morph into chain mail. The opening installment takes on demonic possessions and hauntings, which they call infestations. The trio of investigators is tasked with determining whether the cases are supernatural of if there are logical explanations for the phenomena. The good news is they don’t always turn out to be otherworldly, even if the setups appear to be real.
Psychologist Dr. Kristen Bouchard, played by Katja Herbers (Westworld) believes all phenomena can be diagnosed. David Acosta, played by Mike Colter (Luke Cage), is a believer. Both characters are former adventurers. Before beginning his five-year program to become a priest, Acosta was a foreign correspondent. In Afghanistan, he found the greatest dangers in the militarized zones weren’t the weapons, but food poisoning. Bouchard was a trophy-winning mountain climber who gave it up to raise her four daughters while her absentee husband continues to scale heights in Tibet as a tour guide for visitors.
The third member of the team Ben Shakir, played by Aasif Mandvi, is a carpenter, just like Jesus’s day job, who is there for the paycheck. He finds things like backed up sinks and bad wiring which are mistaken for disembodied voices and other supernatural phenomena. Mandvi is best known for his work on Blue Bloods, but was a correspondent on The Daily Show. While his low-key humor isn’t quite in evidence in the pilot, it is sure to surface as the series progresses.
Mike Colter’s David Acosta is charismatic. He always appears at least somewhat little amused by even the smallest things. He wears his curiosity and enthusiasm on his sleeves. Dr. Bouchard is an endearing skeptic who brings no cynicism. She believes in miracles, but can explain them. The ones that can’t be explained, she feels science hasn’t caught up with yet. Kristen is a lapsed Catholic who needs to know whether “possessed by demons” is meant to be taken “metaphorically, or clinically.”
The pilot opens on a serial killer who appears to be showing signs of demonic possession. He lapses into Latin and jumps on tables during prayer. This must make saying grace a distracting dinner conversation.
Lost‘s Michael Emerson plays Leland Townsend, who is either the devil incarnate or just someone who is incarnating into people so he can do devilish things. He’s got some of the best lines, as evil characters often do. He also gets Acosta to take a swing at him. Not a big swing. Colter played Luke Cage in Marvel‘s Luke Cage, The Defenders and Jessica Jones, and might have knocked the diminutive-seeming Townsend to kingdom come if he didn’t pull his punch. The interesting thing about it is that it is the only time the clerical detective loses his good-natured front. He turns the cheek on priest-child-abuse-baiting and other provocations, but it is apparent Townsend can get into under his skin.
Just like in The Sopranos, the psychiatrist goes to another mental health professional to keep herself in check. Kristen has her sessions with Dr. Boggs, played by Kurt Fuller. Fuller comes with his own enigmatic bona fides, playing characters on the CW series Supernatural and the films Ghostbusters II (1989) and Scary Movie (2000). At one point during the pilot, we’re not sure which side he’s on, as paranormal paranoia seeps into the proceedings. Like The X-Files, this conspiratorial undertow has the power to draw the series into further darkness than mere killers and martyrs. It will also add suspense between interpersonal relations between the characters and the laws of church and state.
Kristen usually works for the prosecution. But she is an independent contractor, and swears not to let the fight for closed cases to overrule the truth as she can determine it. She is just this side of broke. Her young daughters fend off collection calls and her mother Sheryl Luria (Christine Lahti) bemoans her state of affairs and missing husband. But Kristen still goes up against her own boss at the Queens District Attorney’s office, Lewis Cormier (Danny Burstein), when she feels she is selling justice short. This is not to say she is insubordinate or projects any kind of belligerence. She doesn’t. She wants to do her job. Is not a rebel and believes she has the ability to distance herself from politics, prejudice and mythology to read criminal intent correctly.
The series is written and executive produced by husband and wife team Michelle and Robert King, who also produced the CBS show The Good Wife, which featured Colter as a lethal but likeable drug lord, and its CBS All-Access spin-off The Good Fight. The law series spinoff is informed by the Trump administration’s effect on justice and politics. Evil has the eternal battle of good and evil as its backdrop but keeps it fully contemporary. The team moves through today’s society. TV images show Parkland footage, the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, and the El-Paso Wal-Mart shooting as examples of the modern evils which surround the team. There is a sense even terrorist activities can be explained away as supernatural phenomenon in the social media age, that demons can travel through the internet.
Evil won’t just be a killer-of-the-week, followed by a monster-of-the-week kind of series. It looks like it will attempt new ground within the network framework. I predict the show will leave certain things dangling. The X Files did it. The Sopranos left a Russian out in the Pine Barrens, the lair of the Jersey Devil. Evil may very well provide the mythical beast some therapeutic closure.
Evil premieres on Sept. 26 on CBS.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.