Evil: TV show poster excerpt (2022)

‘Evil’ Series Is Chicken Soup for the Horror-Lover’s Soul

On the surface, Evil has all the makings of traditional catholic horror, yet it continuously brings a unique perspective to one of the horror genre’s most well-trodden grounds.

Michelle King, Robert King

“Wait, don’t go to bed now,” I pleaded to my roommate late one Thursday night, “you can’t leave me to finish this episode alone!” “E is for Elevator” is the second episode of season two of Evil and is one of the only episodes of television to have left me scrambling for the light switch. As I sat in terror watching one of our protagonists descend into the bowels of a seemingly innocuous hotel, I remembered that this was the same show that only a few episodes earlier made me cackle at the visual of a demon in a therapist’s office (in the doctor’s seat, of course). On the surface, Evil has all the makings of traditional catholic horror, yet it continuously brings a unique perspective to one of the horror genre’s most well-trodden grounds.

At the start of the series, forensic psychologist Kristen Buchard loses her job with the DA’s office in Queens, New York. When she’s approached by David Acosta (Mike Colter), a devout catholic training for the priesthood, with an offer to join his team investigating claims of possession for the catholic church, Kristen scoffs. This skepticism, David explains, is exactly what qualifies her for the team. Their job is not to prove possession but rather disprove it when it can be explained away by psychological diagnosis or technological trick. Another team member Ben (Aasif Mandvi), is Muslim and a committed atheist, always prepared to explain away the supernatural through a technological facade. However, even when the team’s investigation reveals a practical cause, it hints at something sinister. 

Catholicism and the horror genre are not an uncommon pair, nor are they as adversarial as one might expect. Perhaps the most famous example of this is William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), which, alongside its source novel of the same name, was written by William Peter Blatty, himself a lifelong catholic. Like in The Exorcist, much of catholic horror follows this same route of affirming religious faith through the depiction of its evils. However, Evil is not strictly interested in strengthening the catholic faith, nor does it target religious audiences. While the show certainly has its fair share of crosses leaving burn marks and prayers evoking demonic retaliation, Evil expresses a distinct awareness of horror fans who enjoy the genre for its monsters just as much as, if not more, its heroes.

Evil does this in part by employing a procedural, Monster-of-the-Week format of the ’90s and early ’00s, best seen in The X-Files (1993-2002), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), and early seasons of Supernatural (2005-2020). Each episode of Evil brings a new terror that the team must assess, with every monster hinted at being a part of the show’s mysterious “big bad”. For example, in the season three episode “The Demon of Money”, a demon hunts down anyone who has invested stock in a certain company. The company’s logo turns out to be a demonic sigil – a marker for the Houses of Evil that seems connected to each case the team is assigned.

The effect of the procedural format offers a sense of comfort: the nostalgia of a television cycle from a bygone era combined with the predictability that comes with the monster-of-the-week format provides a cozy familiarity heading into each episode. This coziness is reflected in the pop-up title cards that the show adopted in its second season, introducing each episode like a bedtime story.

But Evil is more than simply catholic X-Files or the mature viewer’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Evil’s unique personality shines through its injection of humor into the horror. While previously mentioned shows incorporate humorous banter into the shows’ main characters, Evil makes its villains the show’s major source of joy.

Indeed, Evil revels in sinister fun, incorporating humor in the most unexpected ways, from the previously mentioned demon therapist to a sardonic demon simply named George, who returned to aid in the promotion of the show’s second season. Even the juxtaposition of the title cards’ style and content offers nightmarish fun when the innocent-looking pop-up pages jump out and bite off a finger.

While the good guys are off fighting both literal and emotional demons, the bad guys are frivolous and giddy in their corruption. The monster-of-the-week format then provides an element of safety, where we know the characters have to survive to face the following week’s monster. But instead of tuning in to see how that monster is defeated, we tune in to see what fun form of evil will torment our lead characters.

While the show began airing on CBS, seasons two and three of Evil have aired exclusively on Paramount+. In an interview on Reading Eagle promoting this move, actor Mike Coulter described the show as “a network show posing as a streaming show”. Indeed, the show’s propensity for tackling dark, sometimes sexual subject matter as well as targeting a niche audience makes it perfect for the streaming world. Evil combines the maturity and complexity of modern streaming shows with the classic hauntings of horror television’s past, making it the perfect comfort show for anyone who takes solace in things that go bump in the night. 

RATING 8 / 10