Michelle and Robert King’s seductive successor, “The Good Fight“, is a necessary “Evil.”
One of television’s strangest, most beguiling shows returned for a second season on Paramount+, June 2021; it was pushed off of network television and left to languish—or maybe flourish—in the recesses of streaming. “Evil”, from creators Michelle and Robert King, takes the knowing, literate, hyper-contemporary tone of those creators’ “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” and grafts it onto a story about the Catholic church, possession, and the Devil himself. It’s a creepy and bleakly funny series, a lament about our times that would never be so insincere as to suggest the supposed good can win in the fight against the dark.
In the Kings’ nimble hands, all of this demonry becomes a metaphor for the sickness of the American present day…
The first season, which aired on CBS, followed a case-of-the-week structure while also attending to a larger mystery. Forensic psychologist Kristen (Katja Herbers) is enlisted by the church to look into matters of demons and other supernatural phenomena, a skeptic Scully to balance the show’s dreamy, furtive, priest-in-training Mulder, Dave (Mike Colter). With an even more skeptical tech guy, Ben (Aasif Mandvi), to aid them, Kristen and Dave investigate lots of eerie occurrences, all while stalked, taunted, and accosted by another psychologist, Leland (Michael Emerson), who is either Satan incarnate or a loyal lieutenant.
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In the Kings’ nimble hands, all of this demonry becomes a metaphor for the sickness of the American present day, particularly the ways in which the internet has smuggled horrible things past lax defenses and into our daily lives. The show’s most alarming suggestion is not that something bad is coming for us, but that we are all already terribly infected with it; there is an arch hopelessness to the series that may sound off-putting in theory, but in practice is oddly soothing, cathartic. It’s fun to wallow around with a show that makes such a gallows humor joke of how well and truly fucked we are.
Sketch out your story layout and track your story visually as a writer, a director, a creator…
Evil’s nerviest sustained trick in season one is keeping us guessing whether any of the spooky stuff we see—particularly a goat-headed man-beast who appears in dreams, and maybe in waking life—is actually real.
Evil’s nerviest sustained trick in season one is keeping us guessing whether any of the spooky stuff we see—particularly a goat-headed man-beast who appears in dreams, and maybe in waking life—is actually real. Maybe the show is entirely allegory: Leland is a sociopath rather than an emissary of Lucifer, possessions are caused by physiological or environmental factors and not spirits from Hell. That ambiguity lets Evil really toss around its ideas; there is room to debate and theorize without anything smacking up against hard fact.
The show’s relocation to Paramount+ also poses some intriguing possibilities.
What I’ve seen of season two (only a pair of episodes) changes that structure a bit. (Some spoilers to follow.) The first season’s cliffhanger—did Kristen actually kill the serial killer who has been threatening her family?—is answered; so too, sort of, maybe, is the bigger question of the supernatural. The first two episodes dive deep into the core mythology of the series—though there is a standalone case to be considered in the second hour. I’m not sure I love this heavy focus on the show’s internal lore. I prefer the series when it’s using its clever devices to peer outward, examining the varied trends and oddities of our digitized, atomized lives.
Still, I have faith (heh) that the second season will find its best course. Evil season one is too good to be a fluke, the Kings’ minds too sharp and whirring to putter out after just a short run of episodes. The show’s relocation to Paramount+ also poses some intriguing possibilities. It is, so far, a satisfying jolt to hear these characters drop a few cutting curse words, as if they are suddenly unbound—or, perhaps more appropriately, that much more steeped in the profane.
Cheery “Evil” is not. But it remains riveting television, mordant and sinister with a faint sadness hanging around its edges.
The show’s humor is still intact, particularly as evidenced in a nasty bit of physical comedy involving one of Kristen’s daughters. Kristen has begun to worry—just a faint flicker, a gnawing little thing; we in the audience are of course much more concerned—that there is something wrong with the girl, maybe something demonic lying dormant in her since the womb that is just now revealing itself. That’s a familiar, but pleasingly grim, narrative possibility, and a strangely poignant manifestation of the fear that children born into the horror of today are inherently poisoned and doomed.
Cheery “Evil” is not. But it remains riveting television, mordant and sinister with a faint sadness hanging around its edges. Which is what a lot of life in the world can feel like these days, our ironically commented-upon descent into the murk of late-stage everything. It’s nice to have Evil trotting along as a fellow traveler, perhaps even leading the way with a wicked and welcoming smirk.
Source: IMDB, CBS/Paramount+, Variety
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