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'Evil' Summons Supernatural Surprises To The CBS Fall Lineup

Katja Herbers, Aasif Mandvi and Mike Colter investigate phenomena that are not easily explained on the CBS series <em>Evil.</em>
Elizabeth Fisher
Katja Herbers, Aasif Mandvi and Mike Colter investigate phenomena that are not easily explained on the CBS series Evil.

Back in the old, old days of TV, before either streaming or cable television, the broadcast networks were king — enjoying a virtual monopoly. And each fall, CBS, NBC and ABC would roll out their new shows at the same time to attract the most viewers for their automotive advertisers, who, in turn, were rolling out their new fall models. It's a TV tradition that has persisted, even though neither Detroit nor the networks are nearly as dominant as they used to be.

These days, the best new TV shows tend to come from cable or streaming services, not the broadcast networks. Shows like AMC's Better Call Saul, FX's Fargoand Legion, Netflix's Mindhunter: In today's TV drama, this is where most of the action is. In fact, the last great TV drama to emerge from a commercial broadcast network was CBS' The Good Wife — and the creators of that series, Robert and Michelle King, emigrated to that network's sister streaming site, CBS All Access, to produce a worthy spinoff, The Good Fight.

But this season, the Kings are back on CBS, and back with a show that's as smart as The Good Wife -- only scarier. Evil, which premieres Sept. 26, stars Katja Herbers, a Dutch actress who played the daughter of Ed Harris' Man in Black on HBO's Westworld. In Evil, Herbers plays Kristen Bouchard, a single mom with four daughters who works as a forensic psychologist for the New York district attorney's office. Her job is to assess whether accused murderers are sane enough to stand trial — which has her, like the FBI profilers of Mindhunters, talking to serial killers in an effort to better understand them.

Kristen's life changes significantly when her casework introduces her to David Acosta (Mike Colter), a former priest-in-training whose job is to travel around the world investigating various claims involving demonic possession, alleged miracles and other phenomena that are not easily explained. Before long, David offers Kristen to join him — and, with four kids to raise, she's tempted by any offer that might help pay the bills.

This establishes David and Kristen as a church-appointed Mulder and Scully, with the identical X-Files dynamic: She's a skeptic, he's more open-minded, yet they're willing to learn from one another. Robert and Michelle King, who created this series, have a similar dynamic tension, and Evil reflects their strengths as TV writers and producers. As with The Good Wife, the actors are gifted, the plots are smart and the characters are refreshingly human, nuanced and unpredictable.

Even the demonic and sinister elements of this Evil series will surprise you. The supernatural spirits being investigated have almost comically common names, like George and Roy — and they have attitude. It's like being haunted by someone who's part-devil and part-snarky David Spade. It's very unsettling — and somehow, even creepier.

And speaking of creepier: Late in the premiere episode, Michael Emerson from Lost shows up, playing a guy so conniving and frightening, he's like a mixture of Machiavelli and Charles Manson. He may be the real recurring villain of this new series — but then again, so might the Internet, because the Kings are fascinated with modern media and its impact.

Whatever else ends up emerging from the new crop of fall shows from the broadcast networks, one thing is clear from the start. This season, at least on CBS, Evil ... is good.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.