In writing about Evil’s first season, I noted how creators Robert and Michelle King were using the show as a procedural Trojan horse to deliver a whip-smart horror series to CBS viewers. Evil focuses on a duo—Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), a forensic psychologist and skeptic, and David Acosta (Mike Colter), a priest-in-training—tasked by the Catholic Church with investigating paranormal activity, and discerning whether or not it is demon-driven or has a practical answer. Over the course of its scary, affecting, and philosophical first season, Evil continued to push network boundaries in the best of ways, challenging audiences with bold and sometimes audacious storytelling.
Which is probably why it found itself kicked off of CBS proper and sent to Paramount+, a new-ish platform that replaced CBS All Access earlier this year. It’s not the first time the Kings have been moved off of the broadcaster to its parent company’s streaming service; despite the success of The Good Wife, The Good Fight premiered on CBS All Access. This is, however, the first time a show of theirs has swapped platforms during its run. And while there is one F-bomb drop and a few nipples shown in the first four episodes available for review, the change to Paramount+ seems to have unleashed the show in different ways—not all of which are good.
Firstly, it’s been almost two years since Evil premiered, and despite a “Previously On” to kick things off, the replay of events from the chaotic Season 1 finale made me wish I had gone back and watched the full episode beforehand. Being hit immediately with Kristen maybe having committed murder, the revelation that the team believes demons are in control of a fertility clinic and spiritually corrupting the eggs of expectant mothers, and David’s vision of Satan in field where Kristen is walking, is a lot to take in. While I have always championed Evil’s ambitious, it’s a hell of a place to start.
The duo is also more firmly a trio now, with Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) established as an integral component to David and Kristen’s work (which he was already becoming in Season 1). He’s also another skeptic, and Evil Season 2 upends Season 1’s spiritual dynamic somewhat by having Kristen and Ben as the ones plagued by visions rather than David (David has his moments, but he’s struggling to hear from God). The core conceit remains: the gang is presented with a mysterious circumstance, they investigate it from every angle, and typically come up with both a spiritual and practical reason for it to have happened.
One of the most interesting things about Evil’s first season was that it wasn’t out to prove the existence of demons; it more or less confirmed they can exist, but David/Kristen/Ben were more focused on whether demons were specifically involved in any of the cases they were investigating. Things were often left somewhat open-ended, philosophically speaking, but Season 2 takes that to a whole new level by not really answering whether any of its cases are of a demonic or secular nature. This plays out most gratingly in the character of Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson), who enjoys toying with Kristen and David, attempting to manipulate them towards evil in his own strange ways. Is he a demon? Is he just a bizarre man? And while Emerson is great and adds a playful dynamic, does Leland have to have such a large role in every episode?
Elsewhere, Evil Season 2 is not, so far, as frightening as the first season, despite some nasty practical effects (which we love to see). But it’s also not as effective in its investigation of the divine and secular, and where they might intersect. That is ostensibly still its focus, and yet it’s entirely unfocused in how it engages with these questions. The editing is jumpy and nervous, perhaps to make up for the many slow, dialogue-heavy scenes that don’t seem to go anywhere. One episode even builds up to woman being turned into a pillar of salt, and somehow it’s never followed-up on. Imagine a show so chaotic that it just ends an episode with a man pointing sadly and without fanfare to a pile of salt and saying “there’s my wife.”
The demons in Season 2 are as plainly overt as the secular explanations are fantastically coincidental, and yet Kristen and Ben are unwavering in their disbelief. David, for what it’s worth, just doesn’t say much. His conversations on faith are shallow at best, and then the show makes a sudden turn into focusing on race and how few Black priests are in the Catholic Church. These would be good and worthy conversations to have if they were actually given time and space for examination. Instead, Evil clumsily juggles too many provocative narratives and questions without providing any tangible resolutions or making cogent points. Eventually, the show has to ground itself in more than, “I guess anything’s possible!”
And yet, Evil still has a intriguing pull. It’s still very stylish, with its well-dressed leads and warmly-lit institutional corridors. Each episode also starts off with a new chapter from “The Pop-Up Book of Terrifying Things MMXXI,” which corresponds to episode titles: “A Is for Angel,” “F Is for Fire” (and no, they don’t go in alphabetical order). But sometimes these flourishes edge too far into being tedious and on-the-nose references, a little too aware of itself for a show whose characters, rightfully, take things very seriously. Colter, Herbers, and Mandvi continue to make for a great team, full of natural rapport, but they’re too often split up in the new season without enough to do.
Despite its opening moments, Evil doesn’t often return to the implications of Kristen’s actions in the Season 1 finale or the fertility center hypothesis (!) in a way that feels cohesive. But that’s the state of the entire second season so far; the show is ambitious now to a fault. Unburdened by the constraints of broadcast, Evil is leaning into freedom so hard that it’s done away with any guardrails that previously made its complex story work. In opening up every possibility for its cases and characters regarding the push and pull of the secular and the divine, the series does occasionally need to stop hiding in the lofty ideals of its narrative agnosticism and pick a side.
Evil Season 2 premieres Sunday, June 20th on Paramount+
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.