Clever writing, tight plotting, and a more than capable cast elevate CBS’ new supernatural drama Evil above its rather hackneyed premise.
Bowing Sept. 26, this new series sees Luke Cage’s Mike Coulter teaming up with Katja Herbers (Westworld, The Leftovers) to investigate the Church’s backlog of unexplained mysteries — possessions, miracles, hauntings, and all manner of things that appear to go bump in the night.
He’s David Acosta, a (hot) priest in training, open to the mysteries of the universe. She’s mother of 4 Kristen Bouchard, a natural skeptic and psychologist, determined to find a sound psychological explanation to the dark shapes under the surface of the new waters she suddenly finds herself navigating.
A la Mulder and Scully, this investigative duo argue the finer points of faith vs science, facts vs miracles, and logic vs magic, as they open a new red folder from the Vatican containing a fresh case each week.
Not quite the lofty “psychological mystery” plugged by CBS, the show is essentially a weekly supernatural drama, albeit a little more violent than most, with many elements seen in one form or another in everything from the CW’s Supernatural to the aforementioned X-Files.
What makes Evil feel fresh, and at times even superior, is a strict avoidance of cliche. The set up may feel familiar — is the serial killer just bad, or might he be possessed? — but the journey to find out, and the resulting payoff always feel earned. To boot, Coulter, and particularly Herbers, lift every scene, regardless of whether their characters are together or working alone.
Evil also stars comedian and Daily Show alum Aasif Mandvi as Ben Shakir, Acosta’s right hand man. Ben is a carpenter, plumber, and all around handyman who serves to bridge the gap between Acosta’s idealism and Bouchard’s pragmatism. Droll and practical Ben is there to let the guys know that weird sound is not a demon (put away those Rosary beads!) but a blocked dishwasher drain. He also serves as Bouchard’s (and our) sounding board when “Churchy” things need further explanation.
Person of Interest’s Michael Emerson also puts in a sinister (although initially brief in the pilot episode) appearance as a mysterious character by the name of Leland Townsend (no one on TV named Leland is ever a good guy) who gives the audience plenty to think about while not on screen.
Despite the potential to lack nuance, neither Leland or Ben ever feel on the nose, and Leland’s tendency to appear at the most unexpected times in subsequent episodes provides an interesting and often darkly humorous touch.
Overall, despite its warmed-over theme, and a truly terrible show title, Evil somehow manages to be much more than the sum of its parts.
If supernatural dramas with religious themes are your thing, you’re going to love Evil this season. And if they aren’t, you may just love Evil anyway.
Evil premieres on Thursday, Sept. 26 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
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