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‘Evil’ Review: Promising CBS Drama Has More to Offer Than Demons

It's not as sharp as Michelle and Robert King's other legal-adjacent dramas, but it's a solid start for a new twist on the "science vs. faith" premise.

Evil CBS Mike Colter Katja Herbers

Jeff Neumann/CBS

Evil” is a show smart enough to know that asking the question “Are demons real?” is barely sustainable over a single episode, much less an entire broadcast TV run. While it might not reach the heights of the other series created by Michelle and Robert King (“The Good Wife,” “The Good Fight”), the pair’s latest show wisely spends plenty of time looking at what revolves around that question, the logical string of dominoes that stretch out from both the “yes” or “no” answers.

To investigate those claims, “Evil” enlists the help of a central trio, each with their own perspectives on how to approach each successive inquiry. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is a psychologist with experience working on criminal cases, assessing the cognitive behaviors of individuals accused of the worst crimes imaginable. It’s on one such case that Kristen crosses paths with David Acosta (Mike Colter), an investigator for the Catholic Church who aims to one day become a priest. The two fulfill their part in the trial of a charged murderer, trying to figure out the man’s motivations based on their own assumptions.

Helping to mediate the divide between established scientific explanations and ones that involve the presence of the Devil acting through earthly minions is Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi), a combination tech adviser and all-purpose handyman. Gathering physical proof, he provides this growing team with the evidence needed to suss out whether the inexplicable circumstances they’re called to look into are acts of God, proof of evil, or some murkier truth in between.

As is standard for a Kings show, there’s a bit of humor mixed in with the goings-on inside and outside of the courtroom. (Not the least of which: naming a menacing night terror demon “George.”) Some episodes even drift into the absurd, as with one featuring John Glover as a high-level Broadway producer whose recent anger issues might be the result of nefarious metaphysical interference.

What “Evil” also taps into is something that takes that vein of levity and makes it cosmic, at times humorous and cruel. Assuming that grand supernatural forces are acting on someone, only to find that the explanation is something far more banal, is a joke on its own. That’s not always the conclusion that David, Kristen, and Ben find, but those tidier explanations help offset the ones that are less tangible.

Evil CBS

For a show about the limits of faith, “explanations” is an apt word for this opening chunk of episodes. Leaning into its procedural DNA, there’s a tidy button on each of them (even if at least one of them is shockingly dark). The more greater through-lines “Evil” can find beyond the push-pull of Kristen and David’s attraction (mental and otherwise), the more it will give viewers something to latch onto beyond the mystery within each passing week. The show’s starting to do it already with Ben, giving him a chance to see the work he’s doing through the lens of his own family. An ongoing tug-of-war with bad-intentioned psychologist Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson, back in his unapologetic “love to hate him” sweet spot) also gives the show some greater structure.

In the early going, David (and Colter, by extension) seems the most at odds with the overall flow of the show. Colter’s back-and-forth with Herbers does help center things, but when taken out of the team context, David seems like a too-mannered vestige from a different series idea. Part of that comes from the way that his “man of faith” designation sometimes comes from an overly tortured place. Trying to navigate a life committed to a religious ideal is difficult enough; positioning David as a product of a less-than-godly past feels like “Evil” trying to wedge conflict in a place where plenty already exists.

Part of the early trouble with David’s character is that “Evil” doesn’t quite have the sharpness and specificity that allows “The Good Fight” to speak to present-day issues. “Social media” and “deepfakes” get used as shorthand, often as a boogeyman shortcut for less tech-savvy viewers. Aside from a lengthy, episode-opening explanation of the different kinds of demonic activity, when David speaks with the subjects of his investigations, most of it goes back to their reactions to a rosary or an “Our Father.” Admittedly, that’s a large portion of Catholic prayer emphasis. But getting past the easy signifiers to what really distinguishes David’s and Kristen’s (or Ben’s or Leland’s) views on their intended subjects will help give those characters — and the viewers who follow them — better answers.

Even if those perspectives are different, it’s the discussions of those diverging ideas of obligation, morality, and belief that separate this from recent shows that have tried to bring religious ideas into a mainstream offering. So far, it’s an admirable attempt, if sometimes overly simplistic. If there’s a willingness to go further, there are deeper mysteries waiting to be explored.

Grade: B

“Evil” premieres Thursday, September 26 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS

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