The cast of Evil
Image: CBS

Evil’s skeptic vs. supernatural premise is somewhat familiar—here, science-minded psychologist teams up with a pair of church-backed investigators to assess eerie crimes—but its cast is undeniably excellent. At San Diego Comic-Con, Mike Colter (Luke Cage) and Katja Herbers (Westworld) took the stage to chat about their new show and debut the CBS series’ first episode and we’ve got some initial reactions to share.

Colter and Herbers were joined by co-stars Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show, A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Michael Emerson (Person of Interest), as well as co-creators and executive producers Robert King and Michelle King (The Good Fight). The extended trailer for the show that dropped in May looks like it was taken almost entirely from the premiere, so that’s a good starting point to get a handle on the tone and look of Evil. But the trailer doesn’t really reveal what may be the most interesting aspect of the show, which is the role social media and the internet will play in spreading the titular bad stuff around.

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Backing up a little, we first meet Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Herbers), a professional expert witness who’s called in any time the DA needs to prove a suspect is not insane and is therefore able to stand trial. She took the gig, we’re reminded more than once, to help pay off her student loans; she’s also essentially a single mom to the four young daughters she’s raising with zero help from her absentee husband, who’s been on an extended sojourn overseas. It’s a great arrangement until she realizes that Orson, an eerily smug mass murderer she’s been questioning, might actually be insane, and she can’t bring herself to lie on the stand. He might be insane...or is he possessed, as priest-in-training David Acosta (Colter) suspects?

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Though she’s very much a lapsed Catholic, the newly unemployed Kristen can’t contain her curiosity when David asks her to join his team, which also includes Ben (Mandvi), a nonbeliever who looks for explainable causes for what seem to be unexplainable events—like weird noises that sound like a demon but are actually emanating from kitchen appliances. With Ben sussing out the mechanical stuff, David needs Kristen to look at each case—be it an alleged haunting, miracle, or possession—and determine whether or not there’s a medical cause. “I want your skepticism,” he says, and she guardedly agrees to assist.

Evil definitely doesn’t wait around to turn on the frights; though she’s never experienced night terrors before, once she meets David, Kristen begins having incredibly disturbing nightmares featuring a creepy creature who calls himself George. She writes George off as a figment of her imagination until Orson—whose demon-in-residence is named Roy—somehow knows all about George’s late-night visits. Though she eventually finds a logical explanation, it leads her to a character who’s even scarier than George: Leland Townsend (Emerson), the DA’s smirking new courtroom expert on insanity.

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Except...there’s more to Townsend than that. Clearly Evil is going to reveal more about this guy as it needs to, but David hints to Kristen that Townsend (who may or may not be a supernatural creature or even a demon himself, despite appearing human) is part of something much bigger. As David explains, Townsend is part of a wave of influence that has been spreading online, encouraging people—including 4chan fan Orson—to do evil acts through social media.

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After the screening, the panel addressed that last idea more in-depth. Co-creator Robert King explained that the show’s idea of evil and violence spreading online is directly plucked from real life, and the ways in which social media can encourage troubled people to act on their most hateful urges. But, of course, Evil adds a supernatural twist to all of that, imagining that a demonic influence might also be at work, craftily using 21st-century methods to bring old-school chaos and misery to the human race.

As for those weirdly vanilla demon names—Roy? George?—King promised that “all of the demons will have bland, American names...‘get a beer with them’ kind of names.” Evil doesn’t plan to spend time exorcising any of them, since it’s “more focused on exploring the question” of possession rather than the answer, according to King. And besides, we’ve all seen plenty of exorcisms done onscreen. Far rarer? Sinister demons who answer to George. And it seems very likely we’ll be meeting more of his ilk as the season progresses.

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Evil premieres September 26 on CBS.

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