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Does evil exist? Can science explain everything? Does prayer make a difference? In a siloed society, people with different worldviews rarely discuss these questions. CBS’ Evil (Season 1), a fresh science-versus-supernatural series, could provide thoughtful opportunities for both the faithful and the skeptical. But so far it’s a little too evil.
Shows focusing on the dark side have been some of the lone broadcast success stories in an increasingly competitive streaming landscape. Along with Fox’s similarly scary Prodigal Son, Evil is one of only a few major network shows this year to receive a renewal notice already and was the first new show CBS, still the leading network among viewers, committed to for a second season.
The first few episodes are reminiscent of The X-Files, except that show pitted the explainable against the paranormal. In Evil the tension is between science and faith. The two main characters are David, a Catholic candidate for priesthood (Mike Colter), and Kristen, a nonbelieving forensic psychiatrist (Katja Herbers). As the season progresses, the show feels more like The Exorcist than The X-Files.
Evil takes seriously the existence of “cosmic powers over this present darkness,” but the portrayal of its sinister subject matter focuses too much on the “dark” without providing enough “light” to overcome it. In one episode, parents kill their son because he poses a deadly threat to his siblings. In another, a young tortured girl asks Kristen’s daughters to play a game that forces them to answer how they would “kill their mother.” So Evil more than earns its TV-14 (comparable to a PG-13) rating for sexual situations, occasional crude language, and, well, just plain creepiness.
Evil’s excessively dark tone is too bad: Husband and wife duo Robert (a practicing Catholic) and Michelle King (a secular Jew) have penned a well-written and well-acted show. Each episode finds David and Kristen investigating mysterious occurrences that may be demonic, miraculous, or natural. The semi-solution leaves viewers pondering which side of science/faith the writers favor.
The series also contains complex characters: Lead priest David is a believer fighting his own “demons.” Skeptic Kristen appears open to going beyond materialism, but David does not offer sound theological answers.
Evil is not a show with neatly wrapped answers to mysterious questions, so where it goes from here will be interesting. It is a cleverly crafted show that could inspire conversations between Christians and skeptics, if it didn’t live up to its name.
—Jim Hill and Jeff Judson are graduates of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course