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Quick Hits

A Binge-Watcher's Guide to Evil

Halfway through its first season, the CBS procedural is not without its flaws, but it remains a thoroughly engaging watch.
  • Mike Colter, Katja Herbers and Aasif Mandvi in Evil. (CBS)
    Mike Colter, Katja Herbers and Aasif Mandvi in Evil. (CBS)

    With the holidays nearly upon us and much of TV going on hiatus, what better time to catch up on some of this fall's best shows? This week we're looking at several worthwhile freshman series that can be easily binged within a week — or if you're really ambitious, a night! 

    It's no big surprise that much of Evil's well-received pilot episode takes place in a courthouse: Kristen Bouchard (Westworld's Katja Herbers) is a clinical psychologist who works for the District Attorney's office, and it's her job to determine if a defendant is mentally fit for trial. Unfortunately for her, it's a job she abruptly loses after an ethical scuffle with a less-than-pure prosecutor — a dismissal that's followed by Bouchard's angry stride down an official-looking hall as stringed instruments rise urgently in the background. You know, like in every episode of The Good Wife or The Good Fight, the previous shows from Evil co-creators Robert and Michelle King.

    Evil, which has aired seven episodes to date (the eighth airs tonight), shares a lot of DNA with the Kings' previous shows. Bouchard is the central character, a woman with an impressive resume, a lot of statement looks (in her case, a penchant for three-quarter sleeved jackets over long-sleeved shirts) and an absent spouse. Unlike in The Good Wife, her husband isn't in the slammer, nor is he taking the Trump sons on safari (The Good Fight). He's leading climbing expeditions on far-off mountains, while Bouchard analyzes criminal defendants and cares for the couple's four daughters.

    In a panic over how she'll continue paying the bills after the firing (leading climbing expeditions is apparently non-lucrative), Bouchard takes the first job she's offered, and what a job it is: assisting journalist turned aspiring priest David Acosta (Mike Colter), who works as an "assessor" for the Catholic Church, sent out to evaluate the truth behind presumed demonic possessions, miracles, etc.

    Why a guy who has not yet become a full-fledged priest has this job is unclear, but maybe that's why he needs Bouchard's help — she's to look at the psychological element behind these allegedly supernatural events, be the skeptic to his believer, and also, it seems, provide him with fleshly temptation. (Oh, and he also doses himself with hallucinogens because they help him "see god.")

    The third member of the assessment crew is Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi). He's the inevitable tech expert, also a skeptic — maybe even more than Bouchard.

    As we've come to expect from CBS procedurals, there's an over-arching season-wide arc, but each episode's main plot is a case of the week. Each case is easily digestible, and easily forgotten. For obvious reasons, the season-wide arc is more difficult to judge at this stage. It seems there's some sort of shadowy cabal at work. There's a book of prophecies that, if true, foretell the end of the world. There's also a baddie named Leland Townsend, a competing shrink with an interest in making the world a worse place.

    Townsend is played by Michael Emerson (Person of Interest). That casting is a problem, because he is so good at portraying a creep that you cannot honestly believe that anyone would spend even a moment with this man, let alone allow him to persuade them to do evil. Even more improbably, he's now between the sheets with Bouchard's mother, who is played by an extremely vibrant Christine Lahti. 

    Despite the show's many flaws — a silly premise, at times less-than-stellar acting, and the inherent cheesiness of Satanic tomfoolery — seven episodes in, it remains an engaging watch. Bouchard is no knee-jerk Scully, and seems to approach every situation with an open mind and a genuine desire to find the truth, even if that truth just might be... paranormal. (No. I'm not going to say it.) But so far, the supernatural (or even God) hasn't been definitively presented as real, just as a possibility.

    That lack of commitment is what makes the show intriguing, but it may eventually also be its undoing. Comparisons to The X-Files are appropriate at this stage, from the "will they or won't they" chemistry between its leads, to the ambiguous nature of the investigated events. If you liked The X-Files when it first started, you'll probably like Evil, but likeThe X-Files, at some point, the show is going to have to decide if it wants us to believe or not, and that's when things may fall apart.

    Where to watch: All aired episodes are available for streaming on CBS.com . 

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    Eve Batey is a writer, editor, and consultant based in San Francisco. She also co-writes a true crime newsletter called Best Evidence.

    TOPICS: Evil, CBS, Katja Herbers, Michael Emerson, Michelle King, Mike Colter, Robert King