'Evil': TV Review

Very much a network procedural, but a better-than-average one.
9/26/2019

From the creators of 'The Good Wife,' CBS' new spiritual and supernatural procedural is anchored by stars Katja Herbers, Mike Colter, Aasif Mandvi and Michael Emerson.

CBS' new drama Evil is not, in fact, too good for broadcast TV.

It's an unfair standard to hold anything to, one that we surely don't force upon the new Dick Wolf procedural or the latest city to have its crimes solved by NCIS or CSI teams.

It's not even really a fair standard to hold Evil creators Robert and Michelle King to. Yes, their previous effort The Good Wife cracked the procedural/serialized puzzle as well as any show in the past 15 or 20 years, but even that was more an aspirational idea of what a broadcast show could be and not something that superseded the confines of the format.

Evil also isn't as good as The Good Wife was at its peak, which isn't fair, either, since The Good Wife was only occasionally that good.

This is my way of saying that Evil is decent and, by whatever measuring stick I'm using on this fall's broadcast premieres, probably better than decent. It's a show with some tonal ambition, blending scares and laughs and occasional philosophical and spiritual investigation. It's a show with a limited amount of structural ambition, tackling different cases of the week and layering in just a bit of mythology. It's a show with a great cast and a steady stream of reliable guest stars. And after seeing four episodes, I'm confident that the thing it's trying to do is repeatable, somewhat consistent and, in bits and pieces, hints at something better. So there's that standard I'm holding it to.

Katja Herbers, who has been steadily building a superb supporting résumé from Manhattan to The Leftovers to Westworld, stars as Dr. Kristen Bouchard, a former mountain climber and current forensic psychologist now mostly working on behalf of the D.A.'s office declaring unstable defendants sane. Kristen's latest case proves more complicated when the perp's wife claims that he killed seven people under the influence of demonic possession, a charge that attracts priest-in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter) and professional skeptic Ben (Aasif Mandvi) to investigate on behalf of the Catholic Church.

Soon, Kristen's faith is being challenged, her confidence in scientific certitude is being shaken and her worldview upset. Oh, and there's a new figure moving in on Kristen's diagnostic terrain and he (Michael Emerson's Leland Townsend) just might be an agent of chaos or evil himself.

On the surface, Evil settles into a very familiar framework. Each week involves an investigation into a different potential possession or miracle, with David as the man of faith looking for higher (or lower) faith-based explanations and Ben and Kristen scurrying on behalf of science and rationality. Nothing here is too challenging or iconoclastic. CBS has a core audience to maintain. There's just enough uncertainty, of course, to try to woo the occasional curious X-Files fan.

On some level these first four episodes are a little limited. If the Catholic Church has 500,000 open investigations of this sort, I suppose it stands to reason there would be enough in New York City to keep these three busy without expanding their geographical boundaries much, though maybe it limits the topical variety a little.

The first episode is a good mix of disturbing and truly funny, especially when Kristen begins being visited by a demon named George. There's some humor in a later episode featuring the wonderful John Glover as a malevolent Broadway producer, but some repetitiveness had begun to sink in before the fourth episode returned the show to actual scary footing.

So far, the serialized elements are largely bread-crumbed with several mentions of something conspiratorial called "The 60." I wish the pilot's teasing indictment of social media as a breeding ground for evil was being followed through on more, but I assume the Kings will return to that. I also wish that Emerson's casting weren't so on-the-nose, not that he isn't a master at playing this brand of nebbishy threat. It's just hard to be surprised by that thing he's doing so comfortably.

Still, as weekly procedurals go, these cases are all somewhat interesting and the dynamic between the team is quickly and confidently established. Herbers is emotionally present, amusing and I truly enjoyed the interactions with Kristen and her four daughters (Brooklyn Shuck, Skylar Gray, Maddy Crocco and Dalya Knapp), whose familial cacophony is treated with frequent chaotic, overlapping dialogue that feels completely authentic.

I'm still waiting on Christine Lahti to be significantly used as Kristen's mother, or for there to be a reason for Kristen's absent mountain-climbing husband other than as an impediment to the sexual tension between Kristen and David. His priestly training, two years into a five-year program, hardly counts as a speed bump. A bigger problem might be Colter's tendency to play things too smooth and cool, an instinct that the Kings roughed up nicely in The Good Wife and became a trap that Luke Cage fell into and was about to escape just as it was cancelled. Here, David has some internal torment and some metaphorical demons. Colter could use a few more to work with.

Through these four episodes, Mandvi is being used as too much of a plot device and not enough of a character, though he has a couple scenes with an even-less-developed sister that have some potential and his one scene with Kristen's daughters represents a high point.

I waffled some on Evil after the second and third episodes, not exactly bad and yet rarely expansive in any way. I was locked back in after the fourth episode, which restored some unsettling juice to the world. If it continues that momentum, Evil could evolve into something very good and if it doesn't, it could just be a well-made broadcast procedural. That's not so bad.

Cast: Katja Herbers, Mike Colter, Aasif Mandvi, Michael Emerson, Christine Lahti, Kurt Fuller, Brooklyn Shuck, Skylar Gray, Maddy Crocco, Dalya Knapp
Creators: Robert & Michelle King
Premieres: Thursday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (CBS)