It’s not every day that a new show comes to television spinning itself as a show rooted in horror but one that actually explores deeper, thought provoking questions, many involving miracles and faith.
Married producers Robert & Michelle King, who formerly created the show The Good Wife (ran for seven seasons on CBS), hope to explore the crossroads of faith and the nature of evil in the new CBS television series EVIL.
Not for the faint of heart, the new series delves into the investigation of several supernatural cases, sometimes creepy in nature, that cannot be explained by faith or forensic psychology.
I recently spoke with Robert, a devout Catholic, and Michelle, a secular Jew, to discuss the religious debate they have been having for 30 years, the importance of C.S. Lewis’s writing to the series, and why people of evangelical faith would even want to watch it.
As the writers and creators of EVIL, in your words, please give a thumbnail sketch for the show.
Michelle King: The show really grew out of a conversation that Robert and I have been having for more than 30 years. We both recognized there’s evil in the world but we don’t typically explain it in the same way. Robert is a devout Catholic and is likely to explain it through religion. I’m actually more of a secular Jew and likely to believe the explanation is coming from the world of psychology. So this show allows us to explore those different points of view.
Robert King: We were surprised that before there was any exorcism, the Catholic Church sent out what were called assessors. And these were priests, sometimes seminarians and sometimes psychologists to interview those who were seeking exorcisms. These were people who were supposedly possessed or the family members of it. And they would try to decide whether it was just mental illness or something more. Obviously what’s interesting too, is there’s a similar investigation with miracles to decide whether there’s enough miracles to declare someone involved with saints. What interests us is this question of how things can look the same and yet have different explanations. So as someone that believes there’s a demonic presence in the world, I just find it fascinating when you can apply empiricism to some fields that is kind of hard to judge as a religion often is.
What influences did you draw from as you wrote episodes for this series? Did you do a great deal of research into these subject areas or were you able to draw from personal experience?
Robert King: Not personal experience, but we did a lot of research regarding both exorcism investigation and miracle investigation. One of the biggest influences for me anyway was The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The idea of (actor) Michael Emerson’s (LOST, Person of Interest) character in the narrative, Leland, is kind of coming from that world and inspired by C.S. Lewis.
Michelle King: I would also point out that we have seven other writers on the staff who are also very, very smart.
Robert King: And then we have basically a captain prefect, Monsignor Sukarno who has been our tech advisor on the religious end, and then forensic psychologists working in the Queens, New York, jurisdiction working as our tech advisor for the forensic psychologist end.
Your two main characters have very different views on religion, but they do respect each other. So what was your goal with these differences?
Michelle King: Well, you’ve nailed it exactly. It was critical to us that when we had characters that don’t see things the same way that they listened to each other and listened to each other with respect. That’s because it feels like there’s a lot of conversation going on in the world but not all of it is respectful and not all of it involves listening. So what we really wanted was two people who are not completely closed minded. They really did listen to each other. David, played by Mike Colter (Breakthrough), is a seminarian working to be a priest. He has had his calling, a born again experience and is working his way towards the priesthood. He still believes the need for psychological input to know when something that looks like possession is in fact mental illness.
Robert King: And then Katja (Herbers’) (Westworld, Manhattan) character, who’s a lapsed Catholic, feels sometimes like the church, especially since their scandals, has been corrupted. She still can believe and be interested in what David says because he’s an interesting intellectual and they enjoy each other’s company. This is important too. We wanted to kind of base it on Michelle and myself in that we disagree with the most important thing in our life (religion). But yet, Michelle is the one who reminds me during lent that I have to remember on Friday to not eat meat. We support each other in ways that I think are respectful.
I work for a faith-based organization and I must ask the question, what is it about the show EVIL that people of evangelical faith would even want to watch this program?
Michelle King: Hopefully they will recognize that unlike most of what is on television this show handles religion with a great deal of respect. Most times when you see a person of faith or religious ideals they’re pushed towards being the villain. And that’s not the case here. Here faith is heroic and worthy of theories and discussion, both by believers and non-believers.
Robert King: I hope people, see it as entertainment and not just as a source of villainy or being an enemy. In our mind, the show is trying to be challenging about faith. If anybody’s afraid of the title, they should at least give the second episode a chance where we look into miracles. It really is an episode about prayer and the difficulty of prayer when you live in a world with so many distractions.
We are doing this while trying to be entertaining. There’s nothing more dramatic than the Gospels. So look, I find entertainment to be very shallow because it doesn’t take some of these issues more seriously. And yet I think people of faith should watch it just to see whether it goes to a deeper level. I wouldn’t blame people if they thought, ‘Okay, this is not my cup of tea.’ I hope they watch it and give it a chance and aren’t just turned off by the title, which is intentionally provocative.
What is your greatest hope for the series? As writers, what would you like audiences to take away from the viewing experience?
Robert King: That is a good question.
Michelle King: I’ll speak for myself here. My greatest hope is that people can watch it and recognize there is worth in listening to others that don’t share their points of view and that there is a respectful dialogue to be had regardless of what your thinking is.
Robert King: And I guess for me, it is not that you have to choose entertainment or religion. I think the best entertainment and the best fiction narrative is one that just allows you to open up and ask questions about whether there are miracles today? Is there prophecy today? Are there other ways of looking at the world? My hope is that entertainment is just seen as part of the fabric of this world.
EVIL premieres on CBS this Thursday evening at 10pm ET.