Evil

4 out of 5

Created by: Robert and Michelle King

Covers season 1

‘Evil’ creators Robert and Michelle King have a style.  It’s not the catch-all flash of Shondaland or Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Tim Minear, but it’s got its own particular touches that definitely slot them in the “if you liked this, you’ll like that” category.  From The Good Wife to The Good Fight – the latter a spin-off of the former but absolutely its own thing – one could assume law and politics were the duo’s bag, something that wasn’t dismissed by the sci-fi dusting of BrainDead, which was still, by and large, very political.

And yes, “if you liked one…” you liked the other.  BrainDead was ambitious and flawed, but still filled that need.  The Good Wife was frequently surprisingly brilliant for a major network show, through its entire run, and The Good Fight has been one of the most strikingly direct and sharp series ever, given apparent leeway on CBS’ streaming platform to deliver some sharp, thought-provoking writing and fantastic performances.  All of this is to say: an announcement of a new Kings series had me rarin’ to watch, and I went in blind, with faith that I’d be entertained and perhaps brought to do some thinkin’.

Evil has the King telltale signs, but this is not what I was expecting.  Law is there, but as a background; politics – in the sense of tackling modern day issues – is there as well, but Evil might not exactly fall into the RIYL category… and it’s all the more gripping and brilliant as a result.

Forensic psychologist Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is hired by the Catholic church to, essentially, investigate miracles.  Or, y’know, possessions.  She’s part of a team involving tech expert Ben (Aasif Mandvi) and priest in training David (Mike Colter), and if this sounds like a kitschy case-a-week setup, you’re partially right – the show leans in to Kristen’s and Ben’s skepticism; there are cases each week – but you’re so wonderfully wrong as well.  In a byzantine structure that I can’t quite puzzle out but somehow works, a lot of their cases seem to be indirectly affected by some recurrent themes; things tie together but not really; there are “conspiracies” which are quickly dismissed, and simple solutions which then give way to question marks which seem to recall other question marks.  The show keeps referencing itself fascinatingly, and keeps kicking us back to Michael Emerson’s Leland, a demonic doctor who is straight up frightening and menacing as fuck, while also juggling Kristen’s absent husband and flirtations with David; David’s drug-induced ‘visions’ which seem coded with further mysteries; Ben’s doubting Thomas routine which butts up against oddities in his personal life…  Law certainly takes a back seat; politically, the show pushes hard on questioning faith, which may be even a trickier topic than the issues of gender and race that factored into Good Wife / Good Fight, though we have a female lead and a black lead and Leland as a seeming advocate for the devil, encouraging the worst in his proteges, so the show can encompass all things…

But I think what’s most intriguing about the series is that it’s actually scary.  It plumbs the unknown with some fantastically off images and concepts, and because its agenda is rather inscrutable, there’s a very Lovecrafty sense of the unknown which heightens the experience.  Most scary shows just go for jumps and threats; Evil actually seems like its questioning What’s Beyond, then chancing to put a fearsome face on that, kept just enough in the background to be out of our focus but certainly present.

That said, this tone – where we don’t really get payoffs, episode to episode – is certainly a gamble, and for all of the pluses it brings, it can make the series feel stalled at certain points.  I was never uninterested in the case-of-the-week, or intrigued by the creepy subplots winding in and out, but as I’ve expressed above, I often found I wasn’t sure whether something was intended to be relevant or just set dressing.  Over all, I’m very pro this set up, as it feels unique and rare for how a lot of TV handholds us, but it gets more and more difficult to maintain as episodes tick by, especially now that a second season is confirmed.

But I’m floored.  The Kings chose to ‘zag’ in their TV career at just the right point to keep us on our toes.  And instead of feeling like an experiment, like BrainDead, Evil feels fully considered, never doubting itself, and successfully giving the shivers to a seasoned scary movie / TV viewer like m’self.