We all know the quality of network television has been falling consistently over the last several years (decades). Not that the bar was so high to begin with. Certainly, given my tastes and interests, I lean toward a particular type of televised entertainment. Shows like The X-Files, Fringe, and Supernatural top my list of favorites. This season, a new show has come along to upset that little trinity. Evil, in my mind, is the best new show to arrive on television, not only of its kind, but as a whole.
Evil involves a team of three individuals who are tasked by the Catholic Church to assess the validity of phenomena within the Church’s purview and sphere of interest. The team, made up of a man studying to become a priest, another who is adept at discerning where fact or fiction is merely subject to the influence of technology, and a woman whose expertise as a forensic psychologist brings to bear an eye toward clinical explanations of observable behaviors.
While each has his or her bias, none have cut themselves off to explanations that may conflict with their established beliefs. This isn’t a show of believer and skeptic. All three are believers. All three are skeptics. And the cases they encounter test their beliefs and skepticism, as they test the audiences. Nothing that happens is really what it seems, and I can’t help but hope the series is building toward some deep mythology of its own that will begin to set in greater, more inexplicable context the themes thus far explored.
Evil has begun to pull back the veil covering phenomena that present, at least initially, as occurrences of miracles and of diabolic manifestation and infestation, oppression, and even full possession. There are struggles among the main players to reconcile all that they witness with the beliefs they hold as their own or whether to open up to alternative explanations. We’ve had an inmate who presses his innocence of murder due to his alleged possession by a demon—he knows things about one of the principal characters of which he shouldn’t have any knowledge; an electronic office assistant (think Alexa) is seemingly possessed and driving an artist mad—while debunked as a hoax, the AI continues to display inexplicable knowledge of the main characters’ lives, leaving them and the audience to question the veracity of the explanation provided; and the most recent episode explored exorcism and the potential medical and psychological explanations of behavior that mirrors that of demonic possession, while at the same time giving us a parallel story of a Halloween party hosted by one of the main character’s daughters and the arrival of a young girl who is not who she claims and may not be what she seems.
However, Evil is not all doom and gloom. There is a playfulness to it, a recognition and humble acknowledgment of the sandbox in which the creators are playing. If you’ve seen The Exorcist, you will not miss the brief homage to the arrival of Max von Sydow’s character, Father Merrin, at the home of the MacNeil’s. Evil is quirky without being ridiculous or Lynchian. It is tongue in cheek without diminishing the terror (or marvel) inherent in the cases explored. And then there is the nemesis, played by Michael Emerson, of Lost fame. His character does not pretend to be anything less than evil, but he is playing at a game, one that is undoubtedly diabolical, moving the others around like chess pieces on a chessboard. The audience knows nothing of who or what he is…but we surmise, and the danger for the characters of Evil would be both to under- or over-estimate the damage he means to cause in his endgame.
Evil stars Mike Colter (Luke Cage) as David Acosta, a former war correspondent who has turned to the Catholic Church and dedicated himself to becoming a priest; Katja Herbers (The Americans, The Leftovers, Westworld) as Kristen Bouchard, a forensic psychologist who originally acted as expert counsel for the District Attorney’s office before joining Acosta and his eclectic pursuit of truth; Ben Shakir (The Daily Show, A Series of Unfortunate Events) as Aasif Mandavi, a skeptic by way of the power of technology to deceive; and Michael Emerson as Leland Townsend, who may or may not be the opposing forensic psychologist he claims to be and who has a disturbing interest in the work that done by Kristen and the others—he has an agenda, but it has yet to be made clear beyond sowing discord among the others.