TV: Evil (Seasons 2 & 3)

Evil didn’t start out my favorite Michelle and Robert King project, but its stock is rising. It’s developed into something delightfully peculiar, its conventional rhythms delivering a steady stream of laughs, shocks, quirks, and what-the-fuck moments. At its core, Evil is a supernatural procedural, with predictable monster-of-the-week beats that make it feel like a King-flavored descendant of Angel, Fringe, or The X-Files. After season two and three…well, that’s still an accurate description, but it steadily adds a cheeky, creeping strangeness that provides tactical doses of Lynchian surreality. The result is a show that nicely straddles the line between the comfortable and the unsettling, while plying the terrain with Kingian commentary about the unique evils of our time.

The show features an intrepid trio of experts who investigate the paranormal on behalf of the Catholic church, responding to reports of possessions and demonic infestations. On one end of the spectrum is David Acosta (Mike Colter), a recovering sex and drug addict who has turned to God, and looks into each mystery with an open-minded spiritual eye. On the other is the cynical Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi), who brings the scientific method to bear on each case. Hovering somewhere in between is Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), a psychologist with her own share of psychological issues, mostly revolving around her chaotic homelife. Kristen has also acquired a nemesis in Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson), another psychologist who has taken an unwelcome interest in her life and family—and also happens to dabble sociopathically in the dark arts.

Evil’s uneven but addictive first season sets a decent stage, securing its bona fides as a team-based procedural with three charismatic stars in Herbers, Colter, and Mandvi. The subsequent years continue in much the same vein, but ladle in judicious dark conspiracy vibes thanks to Leland’s constant, nebulous scheming. For a while, the show risks over-using Emerson’s devious persona, shoehorning his character inauthentically into the team’s path, but later the writers treat him with a lighter touch, allowing the inexplicable weirdness of his actions to add mysteries both baffling and unnerving to the mix. These escapades run along like demented background radiation, spawning mischievous subplots for Kristen’s feisty mother Sheryl (Christine Lahti) and Kristen’s psychologist, Dr. Kurt Boggs (Kurt Fuller), both of whom spin up into scene-stealing presences. Is there too much mystery-box randomness to the conspiratorial lore bubbling along beneath the weekly caseload? Time will tell, but for now it’s working nicely. Anyway, there are other flaws the show might be better served to work on, such as reining in the peanut-gallery babbling of Kristen’s four children (an overplayed joke) and improving its integration of technology (its handling of the internet and video gaming, for example, isn’t terribly sophisticated). But it’s a rare show that doesn’t have problems, and Evil‘s are relatively minor. It remains compulsively watchable, particularly for the inventive ways its continues to test the faiths of its leading trio.

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