It might sound like the start of a bad joke, but it’s the truth. Rather than walking into a bar, as the story usually goes, a skeptic and a believer have teamed up to create a new drama exploring demonic possession, spirituality, and religion.
The new CBS TV drama “Evil” is the latest creation from duo Robert and Michelle King, a show-making couple whose own worldviews mimic the perspectives of the characters in the new series, and it puts Christianity centerstage, with character development inspired in part by the works of the late author and armchair theologian C.S. Lewis.
Robert, of Irish and Italian descent, grew up Catholic and remains devout today. His wife Michelle, who comes from a family of Holocaust survivors, is of Jewish heritage. She doesn’t consider herself a believer, but is instead an agnostic.
As for the show, according to its synopsis, the series will center on “a skeptical female psychologist who joins a priest-in-training and a carpenter as they investigate the Church’s backlog of unexplained mysteries, including supposed miracles, demonic possessions, and hauntings.” The task of the up-and-coming priest and the psychologist is to “assess if there is a logical explanation or if something truly supernatural is at work.”
When it comes to understanding demons and spiritual warfare, one of the greatest works accessible to just about everyone is Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” a 1942 novel that takes the form of letters penned by senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. Wormwood’s ultimate job is to ensure the damnation of a British man known only as “the patient.”
Robert King explained during a recent interview with Faithwire that he relied partially upon Lewis’ depiction of demonic possession to create the seemingly sinister Leland Townsend, a main character portrayed by actor Michael Emerson. He said Emerson’s character introduction is perhaps more frightening than the pilot episode’s other demonic encounter, which comes in the form of a night terror.
“Because that is a demon in human form,” Robert King said. “That is someone who is on earth and is really meant to be like in ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ he’s supposed to very much be a C.S. Lewis character of refinement and some intellect who’s intellectually trying to figure out how to take down humans.”
In addition to Lewis’ writings about spirituality and possession, Robert King explained he and his wife are also “honoring the biblical references to how demons work, even leaving a place to occupy and finding seven more.”
The showrunner was referring to Luke 11:24-26, which states, “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”
“We’re just trying to be both entertaining and accurate,” Robert King said.
In that same vein, Michelle King noted viewers will see something she believes hasn’t been depicted on screen — at least not well — in recent memory: a positive portrayal of prayer, a force that will soon become necessary as inexplicable evil continues to ramp up as the show progresses.
“I don’t think that’s something one typically sees in primetime,” she added.
In addition to Emerson (“Person of Interest”), the CBS show stars Mike Colter (“Luke Cage”), Katja Herbers (“Manhattan”), and Aasif Mandvi (“The Proposal”).
“Evil” is set to premiere Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.