Light spoilers for Evil Season 2.
Five years ago, Washington DC was invaded by alien bugs that took control of their hosts and made politicians more agreeable. Or rather, this is the plot of the short-lived CBS series Braindead, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Tony Shalhoub, and Aaron Tveit. The incredibly wacky and delightful series came from the minds of The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King and features the weirdest sex scene (in my opinion) to appear on network TV. The performances are charming, the commentary pointed (in an election year no less), and the narrative tipped into the madcap side. It had all the ingredients of a series from the Kings, which have slowly gotten more off-kilter the more shows they get to make. BrainDead was not long for the world, but this was a time before streaming had snowballed into what it is now. Before Paramount+ took the mantel, CBS All Access debuted in 2014, but was simply a home for existing CBS shows and not original less conventional shows.
A month after The Good Wife finished its seven-season run, BrainDead premiered on CBS in the summer of 2016, but while it had a lot of the same ingredients (including costume designer Daniel Lawson delivering tailored perfection) the tone was more tongue-in-cheek. Since Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles) departed from the courtroom for the last time, spinoff The Good Fight spent an episode in a world in which Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election and ended the Covid-19 cut short season with an investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s death (that concluded in an extremely bizarre fashion). The Kings have incorporated the pre-existing structure of a Chicago legal firm (including some of the same main and guest-starring cast) and turned the eccentric dial to 11. It still touches on relevant cultural and political topics, but it is no longer bound by the procedural network structure.
Enter, Evil and it has made the switch from CBS to the newly launched streamer for its second season. This was not the original plan and the Kings found out about this change while in post-production so ADR sessions added salty language that is streaming-friendly and cranked up some of the nightmare scenarios. Just like BrainDead, Evil’s blend of genre and tone takes what could be a relatively run-of-the-mill concept and makes it more than The Exorcist with a dollop of The X-Files (and Fringe). Skeptics and believers are tasked with investigating cases that have been brought to the Catholic church — typically, but not limited to possession — and the unique team includes no law enforcement officials.
Forensic psychologist Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), priest-in-training David Acosta (The Good Wife alum Mike Colter), and technical expert Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) make up the investigation squad and their blend of expertise and beliefs is a potent mix. The main cast makes the show sing, but the deep bench of guest stars, relevant storylines, and injection of humor make this one to watch. If you are on the fence about signing up for another streamer then Evil is here to tempt you to come over to the Paramount+ side (and you will also get new episodes of The Good Fight, as well as The Good Wife and BrainDead). Below are five enticing reasons to tune in.
It is very scary
Serial killers and demons are the kinds of monsters you can expect to see on Evil, which teases the audience rather than confirming the veracity of events. At the end of Season 1, Kristen’s family was threatened by the recently freed mass murderer Orson LeRoux (Darren Pettie) and we were left wondering whether the doctor had killed this man to save her children. A man of flesh and blood who commits terrible acts is pretty standard for crime procedurals, but the Kings push the boundaries of this question and what someone will do when pushed. The monsters that haunt the dreams and waking nightmares (as Ben is finding out in Season 2) target another area of vulnerability and are ambiguous enough that we are as in the dark as Kristen and Ben. But perhaps the scariest moments involve Kristen’s four young daughters.
Yes, this amount of kids in a show could be considered more annoying than scary, but their terrible sense of danger and link to Satan increases the horror. Okay, it’s not a Rosemary’s Baby situation, rather something dodgy is linked to the fertility clinic that helped Kristen conceive Lexis (Maddy Crocco). In the Season 2 premiere “N is for Night Terrors” her bleeding gums persisted and while Lexis was under anesthetic (to help with her vampire teeth situation) she straight up sunk her teeth into the dentist’s finger and left it hanging. These kids have played ouija boards with a VR creep, gone to a graveyard with a devilish child, and been influenced by an earworm track — coming up they will also get involved with another internet phenomenon.
It is very funny
For how scary these moments are, comedic interludes counter the bumps in the night. Kristen and Ben’s skepticism means they are often on fire with the quips (though David isn’t always the straight man). On the opposite side of the good vs evil fight is antagonist Dr. Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson), who may or may not have sold his soul to the devil. He is Kristen’s professional rival who helped free LeRoux and messes with every aspect of her life — including dating her mother. The absurdity of a lot of these scenarios, which takes haunting and exorcism to new heights is needed when some of the cases that involve children tip into bleak territory. Gallows humor has never looked better and the Kings make sure the narrative zigs when you expect it to zag. Or at least they have a light-hearted video — a signature of their other shows — to explain whatever dastardly thing is occurring. Also, Kristen’s demon is called George (Marti Matulis) and this name is an antidote to his creepy visage.
Walking the thin line between absurdity and reality requires a cast who can say the oddities with a straight face. Evil succeeds in capturing this whether it is the three investigators’ chemistry — that is both horny and platonic depending on the pairings — or Kristen’s difficult relationship with her mother (the always wonderful Christine Lahti). The only character who stands out as being superfluous is Kristen’s husband (and thankfully he has gone rock climbing again). From the wonderful Peter Scolari as Bishop Thomas Marx to Dylan Baker (another Good Wife staple) as David’s priest teacher, the recurring and guest star casting takes advantage of the New York locale. In Season 2, a de-glammed Andrea Martin is playing nun Sister Andrea who looks to be more than she seems (and offers some solid app suggestions for David).
Current Events, Technology and Urban Legends
Mixing folklore with current internet phenomena is a recipe for success that combines deep-rooted fears with the endless black hole that is online trends. A forthcoming episode taps into the reason why elevators continue to be a source of horror and do so in a way that feels fresh. Teenager hysteria got a new tune last season thanks to an influencer and song that will get stuck in your head and cause violence, seemingly without explanation — prepubescent and adolescent girls are a consistent source of terror in this genre. Combining old and new is one of the technological strengths with skeptic Ben on hand to debunk why something is happening; though not even he can explain everything. The religious undercurrent flows freely and is even hinting at a forthcoming plague (that may or may not be Covid-19).
Procedurals love a ripped from the headlines episode, but the Kings also used a story featuring an angry (and maybe possessed) Broadway producer to speak to an abusive legacy without specifically naming names. Because this occurred before The Hollywood Reporter’s explosive investigation, people in the know read between the lines and Robert King confirmed the inspiration behind “3 Stars” when the Scott Rudin allegations broke. The duo’s work is awash with Broadway actors and Robert King commented that “We have friends who were abused by him.”
More Freedom on Paramount+
When asked by Stephen Colbert what difference it makes being on Paramount+ to CBS, star Katja Herbers pointed out the extra language they can now use. When confronting the worst the devil has to offer, saying darn might seem like an unbelievable choice. Now they have the full spectrum of words available and it means the Kings can make it darker (and sexier). They have already proved how they can wield this freedom to their benefit with The Good Fight, and it is likely this will be a boom to Evil too. Switching network for streaming might reduce their audience but in the long run, it might help sustain the series and its dance with the devil — or whoever is pulling the strings.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.
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