Pilot Script Review of Evil
If you’re not familiar with Michelle & Robert King’s work, it's time you binge-watched the popular and critically praised The Good Wife and its incredible spin-off The Good Fight. Married for over 30 years, the Kings have been creative collaborators for 20 years. Together they created the 2006 ABC Kyle MacLachlan drama series In Justice, which lasted only a single short season, and the two brilliant shows mentioned above. In the summer of 2016, they launched something different, both for CBS and for them, a little show called Braindead starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead. It was a quirky and funny horror dramedy, but the ratings were horrendous and it was cancelled.
Last fall, they inked a new overall deal with CBS Television Studios and now they're busy with multiple shows at different stages of development. There's the upcoming Showtime legal thriller Your Honor, starring Bryan Cranston, which they're executive producing alongside writer Peter Moffat. There’s also Girls with Guns which is currently at the script stage, produced with Scott Free Productions for CBS All Access. And Evil, which would mark their return to CBS with a show that is not a legal drama per se, although the law is one of its components. It might best be described as a religious-themed supernatural thriller. It’s intriguing and worrying at the same time: is another Braindead-like ratings disaster coming?
WRITTEN BY: Michelle & Robert King
DRAFT DATE: Network draft 1/4/19
PAGE COUNT: 63 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: KRISTEN BOUCHARD (34), a criminal psychologist and mother of four, interviews ORSON LEROUX (38), who is accused of murdering seven people. Kristen testifies in court that Orson is sane, but the prosecution blindsides her on the stand when their expert witness claims Orson is possessed by a demon named Roy. After she's fired by the DA’s office, Kristen investigates the case with DAVID DACOSTA (37), an assessor for the Catholic church. Kristen is skeptical at first, but after EMILY LEROUX, Orson’s wife, plays a recording of whispers in her home, Kristen starts to wonder if Orson could indeed be possessed. As she dives deeper into the case, Kristen begins to see GEORGE, probably a night terror but possibly a ghost. When Kristen interviews “Roy”, and he tells her details about her encounters with George, she comes to believe that someone has stolen her therapist’s notes and fed the information to Orson. Could LELAND TOWNSEND, the prosecution’s clinical psychologist, have played a part in the devilish scheme?
COMMENTS: It wouldn’t be far-fetched to bill Evil as a cross between cult series X-Files and David Fincher’s Netflix show MINDHUNTER. I don’t know if that’s how it was conceived by the Kings, but once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. You have the thrills of the investigations combined with the psychological depth. Reading this pilot script gave me the same conflicting feeling I had when I read Braindead‘s. As fan of the Kings, I've come to expect their work to be brilliant. But while there are touches of brilliance in this script, it’s not everywhere on every page. The best compliment I can give Evil is that’s it’s a boiling, riveting, bedazzling show hidden behind a stark, unimpressive, already-seen concept.
To be fair, this may all be part of the plan. The script is well-crafted and smart, but it’s also very traditional and a bit mechanical at the start. The Good Wife was like that in the beginning, and it may be a requirement if you want to survive on CBS. The same was true of Person Of Interest. You need to give CBS’ viewers what they want before choosing a more deviant path. The predictable thing is that it can only end one way: with Kristen deciding to continue working with David and their third partner Ben after their first investigation together. Despite this predictability, the script is never boring, thanks to the Kings' patented pacing and interactions between the characters that always work so well. I’m really not afraid of the finished product. I am, however, scared of how audiences may react to some of the show's more graphic scenes, if they’re filmed and edited the way they’re described. The cold open is a blood bath. It’s spilling through fingers and on to the polished floor. It’s a nightmare. There are also flashes of severed flesh and exposed brain.
It doesn't stop there. Later on, Kristen has to deal with a dark figure that haunts her at night. We’re in full horror movie mode at this point. It’s scary and appalling because of what the ghost that calls himself George says and does to her. He’s obsessed with the hot and sexy connection between Kristen and the soon-to-become priest David. It definitely makes you uncomfortable… especially because you can’t repress a laugh at the same time since this ghost is funny too! Also creepy is Michael Emerson’s Leland Townsend character. Remember his Ben in Lost? A seemingly kind and trustworthy man with a twinkle in his eye, Leland is actually an agent of evil who spurs his followers to acts of unspeakable violence and murder. On paper, he’s reminiscent of James Purefoy’s serial killer character in The Following. He’s like a guru, and he tells Kristen that there are 60 people online who could come to her house and cut her heart out right now if he asked them to.
At the heart of the show are its three central characters: Kristen, David and Ben. Kristen is young but she’s already the (single) mother of four girls, and her own mother lives with them in the house that is both her home and her workplace. She works in her basement, her version of a man cave: cold and messy. Kristen herself is not cold, but her life is getting messier. She’s desbribed as a walking contradiction -- friendly, pretty and sunny on the outside, but darker on the inside. She’s a woman of science, while David is a man of faith. It’s Scully and Mulder all-over again. He’s rugged and handsome, the kind of sexy priest you only see on television. We don’t learn much about his past in the pilot but there’s probably a lot there. Finally, there's Ben, a carpenter who was recruited for David’s team early on. He has a deep skepticism about all things supernatural and is skilled at uncovering the organic reasons behind reported “hauntings,” but there may be things outside his understanding that will rattle his belief system. He finds his place as the sidekick in the pilot right away, but it's not clear where his character will go from here. Together, the three form a team you want to spend more time with, especially as the show becomes heavily-serialized and even more batshit crazy down the line.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Only the Kings could elevate a traditional concept in the supernatural arena to the next level. Evil is not your typical CBS show, and it’s not something you find these days on the other broadcast networks, either. It’s a leap of faith that should be taken, but with a back-up plan in place (CBS All Access, anyone?). With these writer/producers and this cast, this is a project with great potential.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: A 10pm slot is mandatory!