TV: Evil (Season 1)

While their mastery of legal drama (The Good Wife, The Good Fight) has proven more adept than their grasp of speculative fiction (BrainDead), Michelle and Robert King are still exceptional writer/showrunners whose work is always worth watching. Their energetic projects tend to feature strong ensemble casts navigating taut dramatic situations with a mixture of idealistic verve and witty humor. Evil, which does for supernatural horror what BrainDead did for campy, humorous science fiction, isn’t their most accomplished work, but even so it’s a likable feather in their cap with creepy, memorable flourishes.

Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is a clinical psychologist whose career as an expert witness goes sideways, forcing her into an unusual new job: working for the Catholic church, together with priest-in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter) and freelance tech expert Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi). At the church’s direction, the team investigates demonic possessions and infestations, with the goal of debunking fraudulent claims…and confirming real ones. While Kristen is skeptical of the supernatural, she quickly takes to the challenging work of bringing her psychological expertise to these unique, mysterious situations. But when she herself becomes plagued by phenomena that straddle the supernatural/psychological divide, she finds her perspective landing somewhere in between David’s open-minded belief and Ben’s hardline cynicism. Meanwhile, she makes an enemy of the psychologist who takes over her old job, Dr. Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson), whose sinister omniscience hints at the existence of true evil in the world.

Evil possesses most of the earmarks of a good King series: a compelling and accessible female protagonist, a contentious but winning ensemble dynamic, and see-saw battles between ideologically opposed factions. Most of all, perhaps, it’s thematically similar to their earlier shows in its focus on complex ethical conflict that forces its characters to constantly make judgement calls and choose sides. The Good Wife begins this trend in a mundane way, in the form of professional and legal ethics; the focus gets more baldly political in The Good Fight (an inventive, unapologetic legal-drama response to the Trump era) and BrainDead (a Body Snatchers-like, science fictional satire of D.C. politics). Evil’s angle of approach is supernatural horror, but it’s definitely follows the same pattern. In terms of sheer horror, the results are bumpy, ranging from the chillingly effective (the first two episodes, where Kristen’s first-hand experience begins to have terrifying impacts on her life) to the ineffectually cheesy (“Rose390,” wherein Kristen’s gaggle of daughters play a spooky, unrealistic AR game). The show’s attempts at political allegory are similarly varied, from painfully on the nose (Leland’s devious coaching of an incel misogynist) to the chillingly relevant (“Room 320,” in which the real-life horrors of racist health care are terrifyingly given the Twilight Zone treatment).

Taken individually, then, the episodes are wildly uneven. But through it all, Herbers, Colter, and Mandvi maintain a likable team dynamic. The show has a tried-and-true X-Files vibe which lends itself well to a throwback “hybrid” structure, allowing for both a slow-building season arc and contained set-piece episodes. Strategically cast to type, Emerson provides formidable villainy, while Christine Lahti is great fun as Kristen’s care-free, easily distracted mother. It’s not the most original monster-of-the-week series, but it’s generally well executed and benefits greatly from the Kings’ characteristic restless energy. Good stuff.

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