Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media:

Evil premieres this Thursday @ 10:00 PM ET on CBS.
Cast: Katja Herbers (Westworld, Divorce), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show), Michael Emerson (Lost, Person of Interest)
Team: W/EP Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife, The Good Fight); EP Liz Glotzer; D Robert King

My review: An interesting premise hand-tied by its title

Here’s the description of Evil per The Hollywood Reporter when it was still in the untitled pilot stage:

Logline: A drama about the battle between science and religion, Evil focuses on a skeptical female clinical psychologist who joins a priest-in-training and a blue-collar contractor as they investigate supposed miracles, demonic possessions and other extraordinary occurrences to see if there’s a scientific explanation or if something truly supernatural is at work.

Evil has an excellent cast, producers with a strong a pedigree and a premise that could go on for ten years. Unfortunately, it also has a title that would seem to lock it into a dark tone that limits its potential. While the pilot deals with the question of whether a serial killer might actually be demonically possessed, the second episode will apparently have the team investigating a purported miracle. The show’s very name hints that something sinister is afoot. I could be wrong but a truly inspirational and heartwarming storyline would, it seems to me, create cognitive dissonance with that dark title.

To me, a potentially more expansive, creatively-freeing title is found in the show’s logline. If it was called Extraordinary Occurrences, for instance, the door would be opened to a wider selection of stories and tones. I also think that on a psychological level, the word Evil will put off a lot of people – particularly people of faith – who may not necessarily wish to spend their last hour before going to bed exploring the dark side.

You may be thinking I’m making too much of the title but titles have a lot to do with how people perceive a show and, therefore, have a profound effect on its prospects for success. I’m reminded of some years ago when ABC had a show co-created by a Jesuit priest named Bill Cain. The series was about the relationship between a young, idealist priest (Kevin Anderson) and his older, more conservative pastor (Brad Sullivan). It was sort of the Catholic version of the classic gritty-but-inspirational TV medical drama Ben Casey.  It was excellent and, perhaps, the most consistently positive portrayal of Catholicism in the history of TV. But it was called Nothing Sacred, an edgy and irreverent title that did not match its actual tone. The result was that the conservative Catholic League jumped to all sorts of negative conclusions about the show and launched a campaign against it, shooing away its natural audience. A show that should have lasted a decade instead didn’t even make it to the end of its first season. It was a real loss for television – and for the Catholic Church.

I’m, also not personally drawn to shows about darkness and evil, whether they’re overtly religious in nature or not. That’s why I always much preferred NYPD Blue (perhaps the best drama series in TV history) to darker crime dramas like Criminal Minds and the Law & Order franchise that focused on serial killers, pedophiles and rapists. NYPD Blue was every bit as gritty as they were but, at its core, it was about the redemption of Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz). That’s what made it great.

The premise of Evil has a surface similarity to Mysterious Ways, the best original drama ever to air on the now-defunct PAX Network.  It too was about the exploration of unexplained phenomena involving faith but it centered its attention on miracles. That show developed a strong fan base and ran for two years on PAX before the entire network closed shop. If it was on CBS it might have enjoyed a Touched by an Angel-length run.

I’m, basically, not a fan of shows and films about demonic possession. I don’t think they tend to bring out the sanest aspects of faith.

All that said, the cast is likable and the basic premise works. I’d just suggest quickly changing the title and lightening the tone.

My 12 Favorite Faith-Themed Shows of all time (in alphabetical order)

  1. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  2. Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS)
  3. Highway to Heaven (NBC)
  4. M*A*S*H (CBS)
  5. Mom (CBS)
  6. Mysterious Ways (PAX)
  7. Nothing Sacred (ABC)
  8. NYPD Blue (ABC)
  9. Quantum Leap (NBC)
  10. Star Trek: The Original Series (NBC)
  11. Touched by an Angel (CBS)
  12. Young Sheldon (CBS)

I’ll have more on why these shows made my list soon.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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