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We can debate the merits of trying to turn one of the greatest horror movies of all time — The Exorcist — into a weekly television series, but it’s hard to fault Fox for trying, given the limited ways broadcast networks can lure viewers to its offerings amid the crush of so many choices. Familiar franchises abound, and if you’re going to go all in, you might as well do The Exorcist rather than Lethal Weapon, though your mileage may vary.
Premiering Friday night, The Exorcist is actually worth a look if you like scary things and have a penchant for scary familiar things you might want told a little differently and a little more deeply. The hour is scary enough but makes its biggest splash by demonstrating that it has plans to expand the worldview of the movie. That alone is interesting, even though a pilot — with no subsequent episodes to view — is an almost impossible barometer of what you’ll get down the line.
Air date: Sep 23, 2016
That said, the pilot for The Exorcist is at least atmospheric, as directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and has just enough story from writer-creator Jeremy Slater, even if he probably tried to cram too much into the first hour and ended up rushing the pilot’s closing minutes. But hey, if you’re going to meet the devil, might as well meet him (or feel his evil presence) in the pilot. Mustn’t leave viewers a chance to bail.
The series stars Alfonso Herrera (Sense8) as Father Tomas Ortega, who runs a small parish in Chicago. One of the parishioners is Angela Rance (Geena Davis), who is convinced there’s a demon or some presence in her immaculate house. She swears she’s not crazy, and she certainly doesn’t look or sound crazy. For proof, she notes to Father Tomas that she manages 400 people. Um, OK. Actually, what’s more persuasive is the fact that The Exorcist pretty clearly lets you know that, hell yes, something bad is in her house.
Certainly the Rance residence has issues. For starters, eldest daughter Kat (Brianne Howey) has left college and come home and is reclusively staying in her room. Even bright, cheerful younger sister Casey (Hannah Kasulka) can’t get her sister out of her shell. There’s already a pall over the house because their father, Henry (Alan Ruck), is losing his mental faculties. His forgetfulness came on quickly and began this series of not-so-great times for the Rances.
The one character who might be the most interesting on The Exorcist is Father Marcus (Ben Daniels, House of Cards), who until very recently was employed by the Vatican to fight evil via exorcism across the world. His actions, most recently in Mexico (where there’s an exorcism that’s at least a nod to the original movie), run afoul of the Vatican’s rules, which Father Marcus has little use for in his long, storied and toll-taking history as a man who ousts demons from humans.
Because Father Tomas started having dreams where he popped up, of all places, in the aforementioned Mexican exorcism (literally in the room — not the most subtle or effective way to connect the two priests), he seeks out Father Marcus to help.
Now, if you want a sense of the pitfalls of the pilot beyond that whole scenario, look no further than how fast things develop at the Rance household. First there’s no real evidence that anything bad is happening inside (Davis plays the mother as leaping to this conclusion all too quickly), and then the episode shifts three or four gears at the end to reveal that, yes, very bad things are afoot there. Granted, that’s the nature of network TV these days. Pilots are generally problematic.
However, if you’re the kind of person who likes scary shows and mythology, it might be fair to give The Exorcist a chance for a few episodes to see what it has planned. Both Daniels and Herrera are charismatic, and if the writers can make the God vs. the devil face-off grow beyond the Rance household, there might be a show here that’s worth a few scares.
Studio: 20th Century Fox Television
Cast: Geena Davis, Alfonso Herrera, Ben Daniels, Alan Ruck, Brianne Howey, Hannah Kasulka
Creator: Jeremy Slater
Airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox.
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Thomas Brodie Sangster