“Evil” is the most promising new network series of the fall, but raises a question as interesting as its contemplation of whether supernatural forces exist: Can a show that essentially mashes up “The X-Files” and “House,” largely procedural in nature, still break through as those shows once did?
The macabre premise of the series – from “The Good Wife” team of married producers Robert and Michelle King – certainly has an “X-Files” vibe. A psychologist, Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), is recruited to work with two representatives of the Catholic Church (“Luke Cage’s” Mike Colter, and sidekick Aasif Mandvi), who are charged with investigating cases with supernatural overtones, hopefully to avoid the need for exorcisms or declaring them miracles.
What sounds painfully familiar – in a “A priest and a psychologist walk into a police station” sort of way – proves unexpectedly compelling. Because it’s at that point where the “House” side takes over, since the emphasis is on deciphering what might be responsible for strange phenomena and seemingly inexplicable conditions, along scientific lines, identifying the often-obscure causes in ingenious fashion.
“Evil” maintains an exceptionally eerie tone throughout, leaving seeds of doubt. The show also features the always-reliable Michael Emerson as a presence who might be a demon or merely a sociopath, but in any event seeks to bedevil the investigators. (Emerson played a good guy in “Person of Interest,” but as fans of “Lost” will remember, he excels when his creepy side comes out.)
The show does dribble in personal details and backstory about its three principals, and introduces Christine Lahti as Kristen’s mom, who helps out with her kids. There’s also tension and chemistry between the leads, a longstanding tradition of these sort of TV pairings.
In a year populated mostly by ho-hum new network offerings, “Evil” stands out more in spite of its concept than because of it, thanks to the strength of its execution. Happily, the show builds on the premiere, getting better as it carefully adds layers over the first four episodes.
Nevertheless, so much has changed from the days when “The X-Files” and even “House” premiered (in 1993 and 2004, respectively) as to provoke skepticism about whether this kind of network show can find a way to knife through the clutter.
That’s one mystery where the answer – allowing for a little time, to see if the series gains additional traction via delayed viewing – should be apparent relatively soon.
If it can’t, “Evil’s” failure to catch on could be more than just a disappointment for CBS, but a bad omen for the major networks in general.
“Evil” premieres Sept. 26 at 10 p.m. on CBS.