Review: Evil 1×1 (US: CBS)

Here's praying later episodes are as good

Katja Herbers, Aasif Mandvi and Mike Colter in CBS's Evil
Katja Herbers, Aasif Mandvi and Mike Colter in CBS's Evil

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Ever since The Exorcist and The Omen, there’s been a tried and trusted format for ‘sceptical investigations of demonic evil’. There’s a possession. Scientific sceptics turn up and throw cold water over the idea of possession. Various incidents occur that show them to be complete idiots. Everyone becomes Catholic.

TV and film since then have done little to change that format, particularly since audience’s are quite inclined to want to believe that kind of thing anyway. Plus it’s a lot harder to scare the crap out of people with tales of dripping taps and gas-emitting rocks inducing hallucinations.

All the same, after a while, it gets a bit dull. So kudos to the refreshingly entitled Evil for giving us a supernatural investigation series that manages to be scary as well as funny, and to more or less side with science against religion – all while pointing its finger at the true evil in this world: people, particularly people on 4Chan.

Evil

Evil eye

Created by CBS premier league team Robert and Michelle King (BrainDead, The Good Wife, The Good Fight), Evil sees Katja Herbers (Manhattan, Westworld) playing a forensic psychologist who usually testifies on behalf of the local district attorney. When she investigates one man claimed to be demonically possessed, has a suspicion he might be and so refuses to testify that he’s insane, the DA dumps her.

A single mum strapped for cash after a divorce and now jobless, she’s only too happy to take up sexy would-be priest Mike Coulter (The Good Wife, Marvel’s Luke Cage)’s offer of a job investigating such cases on behalf of the Catholic Church. There’s a backlog of about 500,000 complaints, you see, and they don’t need a believer to help winnow that pile down – they need someone who can spot the difference between a real possession and fakers, the deluded et al.

Together with technical expert Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show), Coulter and Herbers set out to separate the real from the unreal. Something Michael Emerson (Lost, Person of Interest, The Name of the Rose) doesn’t want to happen.

Because he’s evil.

Evil

Evil genius

It’s been a good week for shows that don’t insult the intelligence. ABC has given us both Mixed-ish and Stumptown. Now CBS has given us Evil. What I enjoyed most about it is that it raised objections to things as frequently as I could come up with them myself.

That incontrovertible sign that demons are “infesting” the house? Aha! Surely that could be…

“It’s that hole in the dishwasher hose,” Aasif Mandvi interrupts.

Oh.

How could that man know about what Herbers was dreaming? Well, I have an idea. It’s…

“He broke into my therapist’s filing cabinet,” Herbers reports.

Oh.

Aha! How about that pool of water in the corner that she dreamt about and it turned out to be real? Well, maybe…

Yes, the window was opened and it rained.

Oh.

Michael Emerson
Michael Emerson in CBS’s Evil

Evil laugh

But what I also liked about it was that even though there were plenty of rational explanations for everything, it was still both scary and funny. Yes, Herbers is having night terrors about a demon, but that demon is still creepy as f*ck. It’s also called George.

That’s brilliant.

And when the show does sit down to decide what the genuine cause of evil is, it does a The Good Fight and accosts social media and the internet – not for being inherently bad, but because it allows the stupid and the bad to talk to another and give each other ideas. Emerson isn’t Satan – he’s a sociopath who helps give bad people worse ideas and the information they need to implement them while convincing others they really are Satan’s offspring.

4Chan, Trump et al – they’re the worst of people and they’d make things worse.

Evil

Evil doers

The characters are surprisingly unclichéd, too. Coulter may be a priest in training now, but he used to be a journalist and he acts like one, too. Herbers may be the Scully of the situation, but that doesn’t mean she can’t scream down the phone at her ex, do things for the cash or be easily gulled by the supposed evidence.

Even Mandvi isn’t a stereotypical Indian tech guy – he’s got the air of a blue-collar builder being asked to be careful with the yoga retreat’s purity bell, only ever a pay cheque or a couple of beers away from losing absolute patience at the nonsense of it all and throwing it in the nearest dumpster.

Yes, Emerson is doing a full-on Emerson, but it’s a character that’s different from ones you’ll have seen him played before, with more than a hint of comedy in the supposed evil-doer-in-chief’s manner.

Evil
© Jeff Neumann/CBS ©2019 CBS

Miracles

So this is in no way a retread of ABC’s Miracles. God is nowhere, not now here. Despite all the powerful horror movie tropes thrown at us, our possessed man was indeed just a man with internet access.

Will that always be the case? Maybe, maybe not. But at least it’s not gone the way of Project UFO so far and given us a stupid tacked-on explanation for why it really was all the Devil’s work. Then again, Project UFO didn’t do that initially.

I’m hoping Evil can keep it up. If it doesn’t all the time, I won’t be too upset, since it’ll have earned it with some good writing, characters, direction and acting, managing to make me laugh as well as avert my eyes a bit.

I’ll say my prayers, then.

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