Sometime in the 19th century, the Enlightenment came to fruition. Science offered explanations for everything. Darwin’s theory provided creation without a Creator, and Nietzche said God was dead anyway. Conversely, the Romantics were putting greater emphasis on emotion, and many Victorians became obsessed with spiritualism, seances, and the occult. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the rational mind behind Sherlock Holmes, tried to communicate with spirits and believed whole-heartedly in faeries.
And here we are again. We have more information than ever before and no idea what to think. The conflict between science and the supernatural is at the center of Evil, a new drama on CBS. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is a clinical psychologist with a distant husband, a house full of little girls and lots of bills to pay. So when she’s approached by David Acosta (Mike Colter), a priest-in-training and assessor for the Catholic Church, to investigate whether a serial killer is possessed by a demon or simply sick, she accepts. But only for the paycheck. Of course, anyone who has ever watched TV knows that this will only be their first case of many. For his part, David believes in the supernatural but accepts that “possession looks a lot like insanity.” Rounding out David’s team is Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi), a handy-man and computer expert who can usually find mechanical or technological explanations for the things that go bump in the night.
Together the trio covers every angle: mental, physical, spiritual. The creators of the show, husband and wife Robert and Michelle King, mirror the beliefs of their main characters. Robert is a believer, while Michelle is agnostic. When Kristen and David debate the reality of demons or the validity of miracles and the unfairness of God, there’s an honesty in the writing that couldn’t come any other way.
Perhaps it’s best to approach Evil as a spiritual (pun-intended) successor to The X-Files, but with demons instead of aliens. And like its precursor, not every episode of the unfortunately named Evil is centered around the same threat. For their second case, Kristen and David investigate a potential miracle.
In the first three episodes, the mystery of the week has a more or less logical explanation, but this is still a disturbing program and definitely not family viewing. The episodes go to some very dark and scary places as Kristen develops night terrors featuring a crude and ugly demon named George. There’s also a recurring antagonist, Dr. Townsend (Michael Emerson), a literal psychopath who might be more than he seems.
Even though the beliefs of the Catholic Church are used to frame the discussions, the questions they ask are valid for people of all faiths. Or people with no faith at all. And the conversation is even more relevant to us than it was to the Victorians. Evil airs Thursday nights on CBS. (CBS TV Studios)