Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: The most disturbing show on television is on CBS.
It's “EVIL,” and it's good. In an age when the popular (mis)conception is that all the really good TV dramas are on cable or streaming services, it defies that notion.
At first glance, “EVIL” (Thursdays, 9 p.m., Ch. 2) might seem like an updated version of “The X-Files.” Priest-in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter) works to help clear the Catholic Church’s backlog of unexplained events — reports of miracles, demonic possessions and hauntings. He’s a man of faith who believes such things are possible, but he’s also open to the idea that other explanations are possible. Even probable.
He recruited forensic psychologist Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), who's skeptical of any claims of supernatural occurrences, although she might be coming around. The third member of their team is Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi), the science guy who searches for logical explanations.
The show comes to us from creators/executive producers Robert and Michelle King (“The Good Wife,” “The Good Fight”), and they are not trying to replicate “The Exorcist.” They’re “trying to avoid exorcism-of-the-week,” Robert King said, and they want “to avoid ‘The X Files’ certainty” about “what the supernatural is or flying saucers are, so it’s a little more vague.”
Vague, creepy and scary. So far, they’ve evaluated four people who might be possessed by demons and one apparent miracle. And, more often than not, there isn’t a definitive answer — but there are lots of disturbing questions.
Never more so than the Oct. 17 episode titled “Rose390.” (SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the episode, plot points follow.)
Kristen, David and Ben evaluate a 9-year-old boy, Eric (Luke Judy), who not only attacked his sister and tried to poison his family, but — after he meets with Kristen and David — he tries to drown his infant sister in the backyard pool.
When Kristen, Ben and David bring a priest to perform an exorcism, Eric's mother tells them the boy ran away. Eric's father can be heard in the background telling the police that blood in the home is not Eric's. And the mom tearfully says, “I love all my children equally, but when one of them is in danger I have to act. … Pray for Eric. Pray for us.”
Kristen, David and Ben are distraught. “They killed him,” David says. And it's clear that's what happened.
Not only is a 9-year-old boy killed by his parents in a CBS, prime-time drama, but it’s ambiguous because you understand why the parents did it. But, at the same time, how can you not be aghast?
“What was fun about ‘Good Wife’ [was] there were all these issues that you could see both sides of that you usually didn’t see on TV,” Robert King said. “And one of them was religion.” So they built “EVIL” around discussions he (a “devout Catholic”) and she (an “agnostic Jew”) had been having for years.
“I would lean toward more of a supernatural [explanation],” Robert King said.
“But I see it more as being psychological,” Michelle King said. “I would say we’ve been writing ['EVIL'] for the last year and researching it for the last 30. You’re looking at the result of a conversation we have not stopped having.”
Disturbing conversations, it would seem.
“If there are miracles, then why is God choosing winners and losers?” Robert King said. “Everybody’s had a family member who is very religious and seems to have either a lot of health issues or a lot of children [with] health issues. Why would God ignore those prayers?”
Clearly, “EVIL” is not “Touched by an Angel,” but it does address religious mysteries on a weekly basis. Much to its credit, the show’s man of faith, David, is not a hypocrite and genuinely believes. And Kristen is skeptical, but she’s not anti-religion.
“EVIL” is not your typical network TV show. And, like “The Good Wife” before it, “EVIL” is well on its way to being a better show than a lot of cable and streaming content that gets more acclaim.
(By the way, CBS has already renewed “EVIL” for a second, 13-episode season.)