REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: CBS [US ONLY; UK BROADCASTER TBC]
A cursory glance at Evil’s premise might make you think you’re watching something made by those fundamental Christian groups that America churns out, funding tales of bad people left behind after The Rapture and time-travelling jihadists looking to wipe out Jesus before he ascends to the cross. Evil is the story of David Acosta, a former war correspondent training to be a priest, who is tasked by the Catholic church to investigate possessions, miracles, and other religious-themed cases to judge if they are genuine.
As balance, Acosta – played by Luke Cage’s Mike Colter – enlists Doctor Kristen Bouchard, a forensic psychologist working for the DA’s office, to join tech expert Ben Shakir as they seek to discover whether angels and demons are at play. The show walks a respectful line between belief and scepticism, with the “truth” always just out of reach, and the characters evolve from their binary positions to make a fuzzy, quantum ball of fact and faith that enables the show to play with both them and the audience as to what’s really happening.
If you liked Colter as Cage then David Acosta is more of the same, without being bullet-proof, and he brings a calm centre to a show that is really the story of Bouchard, played by Dutch actress Katja Herbers (Emily in Westworld). The psychologist quickly makes an enemy of rival consultant psychologist Leland Townsend, who may or may not be encouraging his clients to commit unspeakable acts, and who equally may or may not be one of sixty demonic forces present on Earth.
Michael Emerson as Townsend is wonderful, bringing all the creepiness of Benjamin Linus and Harold Finch to the role as he inveigles his way into Kristen’s life, putting her family in danger. Townsend is the threat in the background, but the show provides many more dangers to the welfare, physical and psychological, of its core cast, as well as the people they are seeking to help.
Evil is a weird show, with visions, dreams, and fantasies woven into its fabric so that you are never quite sure just what is real, and it does this without exhausting the viewer, rewarding close attention in a way that many shows and films using the technique make redundant. Genuinely disturbing at times, the visual imagery accompanying the suspected possessions, fever dreams, and demonic (?) manifestations is most definitely not for those of a sensitive disposition, with foul-mouthed incubus George a particular delight every time he appears.
Evil might just be too weird to succeed as a US network television show, and Season 2 has not yet been greenlit by CBS, but it’s a truly unique show, and a worthy addition to creator Rockne S O’Bannon’s oeuvre. Katja Herbers, Mike Colter, and The Daily Show‘s Aasif Mandvi as Ben Shakir, are a likeable core navigating through an unpleasant world, under threat as much by evil men as by demonic forces. At thirteen episodes, Season 1 does not outstay its welcome, and it’s rare to say this in these trying times, but you’ll want more Evil in your lives once it’s done.