In 1973, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist initiated an interest in possession, demonic entities, and poltergeists that’s since spread from horror movies to reality TV shows. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, the film continues to shake new generations of viewers to the core—and now, Fox has taken on the bold task of creating an elaborate TV sequel to the original, nearly half a century later. Despite a cult following, the series, which debuted in September, has suffered in ratings for most of its first season. But I speak as Archbishop of The Exorcist’s congregation when I say: This show is awesome. Here’s why it deserves to be saved:
1. The Characters Are Well-Developed
Having been on the inside of church politics and clerical matters myself, I can attest to the realism of the show’s protagonists, Father Tomás (Alphonso Herrera) and Father Marcus (Ben Daniels). Not only is the celibacy/sexuality issue that has plagued the church in recent decades confronted head-on, the two fathers are well-rounded humans on all levels, complete with the same frailties and flaws that the rest of us face.
More importantly, they are all likable. Father Tomas—whose background reads like a good Latino boy becoming a priest to please Grandma and later realizing the uncertainty he has in his vocation—turns out to be something of a skeptic. He wants to tell Angela Rance (Geena Davis), whose daughter has been exhibiting strange behavior, that her problems are probably not of the supernatural kind. A few coincidences and soul-searching sessions later, though, and he opens his mind to the possibility of possession. Still, he continues to exhibit doubts about God, shows wariness towards church authorities, and can’t quite get along with Father Marcus at first. None of these patterns are uncommon for priests, but that’s the point. The series’ writing neither exalts nor ridicules religion, but it does favor honesty.
2. Women Have the Most Holy Power
We might not have gotten our first female president, but a small consolation might be the spiritual strength of the nuns in The Exorcist. In all seriousness, the addition of feminine spirituality to the series’ depiction of the historically patriarchal church is the drama’s most innovative component. An entire new method of exorcism is introduced, and while I’ve watched my share of possession movies, I’ve never seen the tactic of loving a demon back to its proper place as a means to conquer it. Indeed, the “yin” component of divine power is displayed beautifully by a group of nuns, who through acceptance, patience and compassion lull demons out of their hosts with forgiveness. The priests’ process, of compelling and vanquishing, is revealed to have its limits in spiritual warfare, and when Father Marcus needs a renewal of his craft, the nuns introduce him to their apparently more effective method.
3. Ben Daniels May Be the Next A-List Hollywood Actor
This bloke is a real actor, not just another hot-Brit-number-seven who’s walked through multiple takes by a good director and perfectly edited to look just right. Daniels is skilled enough to do whatever he wants, really: One of his first big appearances was in The Moody Blues’ video for their hit song, “Your Wildest Dreams.” (No, that’s not a teenage Justin Hayward in the video’s black-and-white flashback—that’s Father Marcus, the exorcist.)
Much in the same way Ed Harris played the down-and-out-righteous-priest in The Third Miracle, Daniels takes the motif to a high-art level. His character’s intense inner pendulum of disillusionment and glory vibrates on the screen from one episode to the next. We seem him in early episodes fussing at others with the temperament of a bar thug, only to see him later claim his vocation with vigor and become the series’ noble hero, trying to rescue a lost family in the Rances and rejuvenate the spirit of a lost priest in Father Tomás.
4. The Devil Is an Old White Man
If president-elect Trump’s tweets aren’t confirmation enough (not to mention the fact that he often opened his rallies to The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”), then perhaps Robert Emmet Lunney ’s stellar portrayal of a personified demon is the final proof that an angry nation needs to realize that post-colonial theorists were right. Or, to put it a different way, this part of the show is good. The demon appears to be a character from Angela Rance’s childhood, Captain Howdy. (Yes, Angela Rance is the little girl from the original film, Regan McNeil, all grown-up.) More interestingly, we learn that this Captain Howdy was not just her imaginary-friend-turned-demon from the original film, but also a man who took her picture as a little girl.
5. Some Priests Secretly Worship Satan
While backwoods fundamentalists who hoot and holler for Jesus may have no trouble believing that all Catholics are devil-worshipping Satanists, most of us find that idea pretty absurd. But The Exorcist makes the notion convincing, at least within the context of its own narrative. The Catholic priests who’ve turned to the dark side do so in a seamless transition that doesn’t insult 21st-century viewers. It plays directly into the conspiracy-theory-styled animosity that so many have about the top one percent, because it is indeed the rich people and leaders of the city that revere the Evil One. This is the kind of well-curated content that covers the drama and spares it from any empty moments. If you haven’t seen it yet, head to Hulu and start binging now. You may like it more than you think.
The Exorcist airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox.
Clint Sabom is a former aspirant monk who runs a blog and podcast on Christian mysticism called The Graveyard Cowboy At Midnight. He works as Special Projects Coordinator for Dabel Brothers Publishing, and he one day hopes to be a real cowboy.