- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
[The following interview contains spoilers for Evil and The Good Fight.]
Paramount+ drama Evil finished its second season over the weekend. In addition to layering on a few more bonkers elements to the theological thriller — Christine Lahti’s “cool grandma” character now appears to be in league with cannibalistic Satanists — the series tempted one age-old TV trope by having its two leads (Mike Coulter and Katja Herbers) take a detour outside of the friend zone.
Michelle and Robert King, the married writer-producers behind both Evil and The Good Fight, don’t seem worried about the move having an adverse impact on their show. Speaking with THR, the duo also discussed how they approach storytelling on a series with multiple accurate interpretations, how the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol influenced the recent season of The Good Fight and the appeal in staying put at CBS Studios, where they recently signed a new deal.
There’s a lot of weird stuff on this show — and I suppose I’m referring to the errant blob of corrosive goo that appeared when two characters were having sex earlier in season two. When you introduce things like that, how much do you think about balancing your own interest in resolution with what the audience might expect?
Michelle King We do discuss that in the room every year. It’ll get as prosaic as making lists of what has been left unanswered and what of that we feel would be interesting to delve back into.
Robert King We use the term “hanging chads” for unintentional questions. Sometimes it’s just planned. Sometimes you want to leave a mystery unresolved. Other times, because we’re playing a multi-arc game over several seasons, there are things we know we’re going to answer eventually but want to leave the audience with a good place to pause. And then there are things that we didn’t think would create a mystery, but do, because we’re just pursuing what’s interesting or makes us laugh. We’re not going to answer those, just because they’re funny to us.
Michelle Unless we do. Occasionally, it comes up. “We could circle this back to sex goo…”
Robert A good example of that is the police episode. We knew we wanted to do something about the police. There’s something, all the way from Dragnet to the new procedurals, this fascist element built into the tenor of them. And as we were building the episode, we thought, oh, this is a good way to solve the police aspect of Kristen’s story by making a comment on white privilege. She killed a serial killer, but she was forgiven by the police because she’s a white suburban mom. There’s always these happy accidents of things when you put together a complicated puzzle and suddenly the pieces fit in.
The second season of Evil really kicked up some fantasy elements, supernatural elements, whatever you want to call them, but you don’t seem wed to acknowledging if they are real within the world of the show. Is the audience meant to think one way or another?
Michelle I think how serious you are meant to take it is really about which character you think is on the right side of the question. If you are someone who thinks David understands the world, then absolutely you should be taking it very seriously. If you think Kristen has it figured out, then not so much.
Robert There’s some things you could blame on certain medications. We read this book, The Collected Schizophrenia, which is a lovely book by a woman [Esmé Weijun Wang] who was very much high-functioning in her day job but seeing hallucinations and had trouble with medication. There are scientific and psychological explanations, but again, Michelle and I are on different parallel tracks on this. I do believe in the supernatural. And you still don’t.
Michelle I do not.
Robert You still don’t?
Michelle Even in the third season? Yeah.
Robert We want a show that satisfies both our instincts.
Michelle At least for me, what’s more important than whether people come away from the show believing in the supernatural elements is seeing that people that disagree can speak to each other and listen to each other respectfully. Ted Lasso, as a supernatural series.
Between Evil and The Good Fight, your work has been leaning into the absurd and the surreal of late. What inspired the shift?
Robert Trump’s election. With that, the world went absurd. It was suddenly as if we were all circling the sun in a different orbit. The earth went off-axis, and it felt like Monty Python started becoming kings in parts of the world. It’s the most absurd as Kafka-esque drama, so it’s hard to draw straight lines when the world keeps throwing your lines off. Everybody says how hard it is to satirize. I think the key is that you kind of have to draw with brighter colors. We’re not just creating absurdity. It’s about the psychological states of these characters who have to deal with the absurdity around them. That just felt more interesting to us than to say, “Hey, Trump is bad.”
Michelle The characters are slowly being driven mad, yet they still have to go through their days.
For various reasons, consummating a “will they or won’t they?” storyline often has an adverse effect on a show’s popularity. What do you both think of the idea of a “Moonlighting curse” and did you worry about tempting it by having Mike Colter and Katja Herbers’ characters go there on Evil?
Michelle I think we benefit from the fact that it’s not the absolute focus of the story. There’s a whole lot else going on. If folks were only tuning in for that, I’d be more concerned.
Robert The problem I always have is when it’s used a carnival barker to get you in the tent. It’s a trope, but also it’s an issue of life. You’re in an office, you’re always gossiping, “When are they going to do it?” So I just don’t want it as the end all be all. And I think you should watch next season because things do not go where you think they’re going to go.
Speaking of season three, you’ll be making that specifically for Paramount+ — whereas this season was made to air on CBS. There was some nudity in Evil‘s season finale. Do you feel that the official move to streaming will impact what you choose to show?
Michelle We found out at the very end of the season that we’d be going on Paramount+.
Robert Alethea Jones, who was the director of the last episode and the elevator episode earlier in the season, she’s excellent. We all talked and said, “Look, the option suddenly became available to us.” We already knew there were going to be these obsessions of David’s character and we see flashes, but we didn’t know they would go at the direction Mike Coulter and Alethea took them. But since we could, I don’t think any of them are untasteful, I like having a little elbow room to do that. We added swear words, too, but they were all ADR-ed in later.
Michelle Ideally it doesn’t look like, “Oh, they’re doing it because they can and not because the story requires it.”
You recently signed a new deal to stay put at CBS Studios. Why stay put, and was Evil’s move from broadcast to streaming part of the appeal?
Michelle In terms of moving from broadcast to streaming on Evil, it felt like a smart move for this show. It always felt more like a streaming show in terms of content. So, now it feels like it’s situated correctly.
Robert Staying also felt smart for us. We’re in a gang of other showrunners, and you hear bitching about all the places you can go. One thing that we know is our collaborators are very deferential to what we want to do. We could count on two fingers the times that they said no — except financially (laughs). When standards and practices was an issue, there was that, but never creatively. There are probably places that have more audience — I mean, there are. But we also hear from people who work there, and sometimes you get buried. Whenever you’re looking for another studio or platform and you’re looking at their top three shows, you’re lying to yourself. That’s probably not where you’re going to end up. You’re going to end up part of the deluge of product. I sure can’t keep up with what’s on Netflix
You’re both fond of real-life inspirations. But on the recent season of The Good Fight, this fake court judged by Mandy Patinkin that ends up being so much of the season’s focus, doesn’t have a clear correlative. What was the inspiration there?
Michelle Well, I would say the inspiration for the season in general was January 6th. But that particular plotline was from Aurin Squire, who’s one of the writers on the show. He had this idea, “What if there’s a layperson who suddenly opens up a court in the back of a copy shop?” It was such a weird idea that we all jumped on it.
Robert Part of January 6th and prior to that was the group wanting to kidnap the Governor of Michigan, take her into a basement and hold her for trial. I think in the background of the militia and Proud Boy thinking is this idea of opening your own court where you can hold certain naysayers’ feet to the fire. And the more everybody talks about this idea of secession, what they really are looking for is only having the people who agree with their point of view judging them. We wanted the story to start with Frank Capra and move to Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. You think you’re being told a sweet story about a funny judge, but then everything ends up. That, I thought, was our parable-like arc to the thread.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day