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Humor and horror make great bedfellows in the final season of ‘Evil’

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Robert and Michelle King, the married writing team who created "The Good Wife" and its spinoff, "The Good Fight," also created a TV series called "Evil." It premiered on CBS in 2019, then moved to Paramount+ and began streaming its final episodes last week. It's about a trio of investigators looking into reports of the paranormal and of religious miracles and manifestations. And our TV critic David Bianculli insists that "Evil" is one of the most unseen and undervalued viewing options available today. Here's his review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: There will be a total of 14 new episodes in this fourth and final season of "Evil," and series creators Robert and Michelle King have designed them to resolve all the conflicts and storylines that have been building from the start. I've seen the first four episodes of the new season and they're so good and so much fun to watch that I'm making one last attempt to persuade people to tune in. Ideally, you need to watch this series from the beginning, but that's easy to do. The first two seasons are available on Netflix, and all three are streaming on Paramount+, where the fourth season is beginning weekly installments.

And what I love about "Evil" - the TV series, that is - has been consistent from the very start. Basically, "Evil" is a mashup of several different fantasy series. Like "The X Files" and "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," it's about inquisitive people exploring mysterious events and the paranormal. Like "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," it uses its genre to dive deeply into allegory, like bosses from hell. And like "Black Mirror," it's fascinated by and fluent in the very latest in modern technology.

The premise is that three very different individuals have banded together to explore unexplained mysteries for the Catholic Church. David Acosta, played by Mike Colter, has spent the series joining the priesthood and is a believer. Ben Shakir, the scientist and technical wizard played by Aasif Mandvi, is an atheist. And Kristen Bouchard, a forensic psychologist played by Katja Herbers, is somewhere in between. All three are commissioned by the church - currently by Father Ignatius, played by Wallace Shawn from "My Dinner With Andre" - to look into odd occurrences, like what appears to be a video of a Satanic ritual and a woman being stabbed and killed, filmed deep in the recesses of a Long Island particle accelerator. Father Ignatius summons the team and shows them the video.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EVIL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, screaming).

WALLACE SHAWN: (As Father Ignatius) The Vatican is asking you to investigate and write up a report.

AASIF MANDVI: (As Ben Shakir) Well, it's a prank, right?

SHAWN: (As Father Ignatius) Well, I don't know. That's your job, if you choose to accept it. It's a "Mission Impossible" joke. You don't get to choose.

BIANCULLI: That unexpected sense of humor runs throughout "Evil." But humor and horror make for very good bedfellows here. Sometimes in this series, there are demons who manifest themselves in very scary ways. Other times, they're not so much scary as sexy or silly. One demon this season gains its power and strength by feeding on the vocabulary of its victims. It literally feasts on their words, leaving them groping for a term or an idea that's no longer there. It's a feeling most of us have felt in everyday conversation, but what if it's not just a temporary memory lapse? Here's the "Evil" team - played by Colter, Herbers and Mandvi - suspecting the truth but having difficulty expressing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EVIL")

MIKE COLTER: (As David Acosta) Are we concerned that the same thing is happening to us that is happening to the - our guy, the assessment?

MANDVI: (As Ben Shakir) Do you think it's catching, this loss of words, like a cold?

KATJA HERBERS: (As Kristen Bouchard) Or like a yawn, like social mirroring? The brain sees a device - I mean, an action - in someone else. And, like a rat, it imitates it.

MANDVI: (As Ben Shakir) Like a rat?

HERBERS: (As Kristen Bouchard) What do you mean?

MANDVI: (As Ben Shakir) You said, like a rat.

HERBERS: (As Kristen Bouchard) I don't know what that meant.

BIANCULLI: And "Evil" isn't just about the paranormal mystery of the week. These characters have changed significantly and struggled mightily over the years. And the villain of the story, a master manipulator behind a lot of the sinister events is Leland Thompson, who's played by Michael Emerson from "Lost." He's in league with the devil and has managed to steal Kristen's frozen eggs and implant one into one of his employees. That woman, as a surrogate mother, is now very pregnant with what may be the antichrist. Leland also has hired Kristen's mother, Sheryl, played by Christine Lahti. Yet he's mocked her status and ambitions by giving her a tiny office on the floor immediately beneath the meeting room, where all the men in the firm gather. That room has a Plexiglas floor like a glass bottom boat. That means her office has a literal glass ceiling. But she's plotting for female equality anyway, including with the surrogate mother, even as Leland bursts in to mock them.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EVIL")

CHRISTINE LAHTI: (As Sheryl Luria) Gina, you brought in Solovoff (ph). OK, can we have a round of applause for Gina? Yes. And, Leslie, you not only righted the ship on the Twitter threat, but you're carrying the frigging antichrist. Can we give it up for Leslie?

MOLLY BROWN: (As Leslie) Thanks, but I'm not the biological mother.

LAHTI: (As Sheryl Luria) No. See; that's the problem. Men take credit even when they don't deserve it. Women share credit even when we do deserve it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, laughter).

LAHTI: (As Sheryl Luria) Look at them up there. Mike started out as your assistant, Monica. Tanner over there...

MICHAEL EMERSON: (As Leland Townsend) Sheryl. Oh. How cute - a little sewing circle.

BIANCULLI: "Evil" is such a playful show even when it's creepy. This season, the confrontation between good and evil and this more modern take on "Rosemary's Baby" is all coming to a head. Wallace Shawn is one great addition to the cast. Andrea Martin is another. Catch up on past episodes and strap in for what's sure to be a wild last lap. And as you're binging, don't avoid the opening credits. Not only is the music fabulous, but this season the credits even come with warnings about burning past them. Don't skip, says one superimposed warning, or the skipping ghost will visit you tonight at 3:13 a.m. - funny and creepy. And somehow it stays with you, just like this series.

MOSLEY: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University. He reviewed the return of the series "Evil" on Paramount+. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, the most revered cellist in America, Yo-Yo Ma. He'll talk about his life as a musician, starting with learning a Bach cello suite when he was 4, and he'll play some pieces on his cello, Petunia. I hope you can join us. To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram at @NPRFreshAir. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller, our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. With Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.

(SOUNDBITE OF YO-YO MA PERFORMANCE OF BACH'S "CELLO SUITE NO. 1 IN G MAJOR, PRELUDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.