The origin of CBS’ new thriller-drama, “Evil,” came from a conversation the creators — and married couple — Robert and Michelle King have been having for more than 30 years: What is the nature of evil?
“Robert’s more religious, so he typically goes toward a divine explanation,” Michelle King told TheWrap. “I am more secular, so I tend to think things are the result of psychology or science.”
The outcome is a series that studies the intersection of science and religion — and the places where the lines blur.
Premiering Sept. 26, “Evil” centers on skeptical but open-minded psychologist Kristen Bouchard (“Manhattan” star Katja Herbers), who meets and begins working with priest-in-training David Acosta (“Luke Cage” star Mike Colter) and a blue-collar contractor (Aasif Mandvi) to determine whether or not a man on trial for a string of grisly murders was driven to by demonic possession. The series also stars Michael Emerson as Leland Townsend, an expert witness to the defense with something sinister up his sleeve.
Known for creating CBS’ “The Good Wife” and its spinoff “The Good Fight,” The Kings fall on either side of the debate — Robert believes in demonic possession, while Michelle doesn’t.
“I think it works as both metaphor and fact,” Robert said. “Exorcists we’ve talked to talked about how difficult it is to distinguish between mental illness and what they would call demonic possession. Because demonic possession can be mixed in with mental illness, and the reverse is true too.”
“And I don’t believe in demonic possession. So it’s an ongoing dialogue both on the page and off,” Michelle said.
But the Kings’ goal with “Evil” isn’t to prove or disprove the existence or demonic possession. It’s to explore “the idea that science is sometimes just as strange as religion,” Robert said.
“Given that we created two characters that have very different ideas, it is important to me that they listened to each other respectfully, and that they feel comfortable expressing those opposing viewpoints,” Michelle said. “It feels like there’s not a lot of listening going on in the world.”
“The last thing anybody wants to do is turn on the TV and be preached at. It’s much better that you have people in the midst of questioning,” Robert added.
To achieve that delicate balance, they hired seven writers from “all over the map” in terms of religion and secularity.
“What we really wanted to show was parallel tracks, where you could look at present day phenomenon and you could interpret it scientifically and supernaturally. We didn’t want it to be like ‘X Files’ where it immediately acknowledges there are aliens and strange things.”
Here are more tidbits from TheWrap’s conversation with Robert and Michelle King.
TheWrap: Do you believe in miracles?
Michelle King: I guess I’m reluctant to say there are no miracles. It almost feels unlucky.
Robert King: I think the show is not so binary as “Are there miracles or are their not?” It faces the fact that if there are miracles, what does that say about God? Not everybody receives a miracle, so I have relatives who pray all the time, go to church all the time, and yet have as much illness if not more than people around them. So what does that say? Why do the most holy not get miracles? What does that mean, what does that even say about the holiness or the goodness of God?
TheWrap: What is the main takeaway, the crux of the show, that you want audiences to take away from it?
RK: Two things for me. One is entertainment — to watch a show that doesn’t have polite scares, but things that scare you and then make you laugh afterwards. And the second thing, I would think, is an even playing field to discuss a life’s weirdness. To understand that weirdness is sometimes supernatural, sometimes not. Just have two people who are willing to kind of talk about them is interesting. It’s a way of not completely judging religion when you start discussing it.
MK: For me, I think it’s to underscore how important it is to pay attention to the evil around you and try to figure it out and recognize and respect that other people are going to have a different point of view about it than you do.
TheWrap: Can someone both be a psychopath and an agent of the devil?
RK: You can be one in the same. If you’re of the scientific or empirical bent, you do have to acknowledge that there are psychopaths in the world, and a lot of them communicate with each other on 8chan. You don’t have to believe in demons to believe there are lone gunman who influence each other to kill. If you are of the spiritual bent, you might think, ‘Okay there’s an element where these human beings cross over into demonic behavior, so what is the difference?’
MK: We are thinking about things like shootings, and why is there suddenly more random violence, and are people encouraging each other to do despicable things.
RK: You can’t help but look at the incel movement and realize that a lot of these incels are lead to kill by the community that is created online. It’s really the downside of community that people don’t have a live community but they find it through the internet.
TheWrap: How political is ‘Evil’ going to get?
RK: We like writing about the present, and the present day is filled with scary things. We probably won’t get as close to the ‘Good Fight,’ which does get pretty down and dirty. We’re trying to make broader statements about the balance between good and evil in the world, and all of that touches on the lack of guard rails we have these days.