In its pilot installment, CBS’s new drama “Evil” delves into that which may lie beyond the rationally explicable. And the show itself represents something almost supernatural by 2019 standards, too: A well-made hour fueled by chemistry between its leads and a strong idea of itself. On the basis of its debut outing, which screened at the Tribeca TV Festival Sept. 14 ahead of a Sept. 26 premiere, “Evil,” the latest show from “The Good Wife” creators Robert and Michelle King, shows an unusual degree of polish and promise, as well as edge that startles while existing for something other than mere shock value.
Katja Herbers (recently of “Westworld”) plays Kristen Bouchard, a clinical psychologist working within the legal system in New York City. While handling a murder case in which the defendant purports to have been possessed at the time and thus not liable for his actions, she encounters David Acosta (Mike Colter), a priest-in-training. Soon enough, the pair begin a partnership in which David relies on Kristen’s masterful understanding of the criminal mind to determine which cases they encounter are possessions and which are more easily explained — a mission not really complicated by the fact that Kristen doesn’t believe in possession at all. Her skeptic’s mind runs up against Acosta’s belief in a manner that feels easy and natural from the start. Elsewhere, an underserved-so-far Aasif Mandvi promises to form a third leg of their upstart spiritual-detective enterprise.
The show’s so-far two-handed central relationship — believably at-odds without being stagily prickly — is helped along by two strong performances. Herbers is playing a bit of a mess, a mom behind on her loan payments who indulges in canned margaritas when she gets home. But the actress underplays the gaudier aspects of Kristen’s personality. Meanwhile, Colter, whose natural charisma felt increasingly erased as Luke Cage in Netflix’s dour Marvel universe, is winning and believable as a novice priest who’s pushed on both by belief and by opposites-attract intrigue in a character as unimpressed by faith as he is suffused by it. It’s refreshing, too, to see a pairing that necessarily cannot — pending what would seem from here to be an ill-advised move towards a crisis of faith — move towards romance, that is rooted in admiration for mindset, wit, and skill rather than nascent sexual tension. Subtracting the requirement for lust between the two leads allows the show to be the elegant, fleet thing it wants to be.
It provides time, too, for exploration of aspects of storytelling beyond the half-heartedly libidinous. Without spoiling a key element of the pilot, it is worth noting that Kristen, basically an unbeliever, comes into contact with spiritual forces that either are or are not fixtures of her imagination, but that either way challenge her faith in the power of faithlessness. These forces are conveyed with sparky oddity and genuinely unexpected wit. That is to say, the wit is unexpected only on this otherworldly entity’s first appearance. By the time the episode ends, the viewer will already have come to expect a great deal from “Evil,” a show whose classically elegant construction and sharp sense of itself augur great things ahead.
“Evil.” CBS. Sept. 26. One episode screened for review.
Cast: Katja Herbers, Mike Colter, Aasif Mandvi, Michael Emerson, Christine Lahti, Kurt Fuller, Brooklyn Shuck, Skylar Gray, Maddy Crocco, Dalya Knapp
Executive Producers: Michelle King, Robert King, and Liz Glotzer