Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
The Exorcist – S1E1 – “Chapter One: And Let My Cry Come Unto Thee” | Created by Jeremy Slater, from the novel by William Peter Blatty. | Starring: Alfonso Herrera, Ben Daniels, Hannah Kasulka, Brianne Howey, Alan Ruck, and Geena Davis. | Fridays on FOX
I have a confession to make. The day before I watched the premiere of The Exorcist on FOX, I revisited the movie on which it’s loosely based. I was greatly surprised by how well it stood the test of time. Yes, it was made in the ’70s, and it’s very much quintessential of that decade – but damn it was good. Like Godfather good. Some movies just never age. It still packed a hefty emotional punch, and the scares still scare. Like all good horror movies, it’s more about what you don’t see than what you do that hits the terror bone, and as a result the horror is more psychological than visceral.
When A&E revived The Omen as Damien last year, the network hoped it had a hit on its hands, and they would have – if the audience had given it a chance. It got really good at the end, but it was too little too late, unfortunately. I enjoyed it; I reviewed it weekly for this site, and I hoped it had a future. After watching the new adaptation of The Exorcist for television, I have similar hopes and concerns. The show, like Damien before it, has a massive legacy to live up to.
What’s it About?
As if you need to ask. Set in the same “universe” as the original movie, the show’s central family, the Rances, are beset with issues. The father, Henry (Alan Ruck) has brain damage that affects his memory, leaving his wife Angela (the wonderful Geena Davis) very much leading from the front. They have two daughters: Katherine (Brianne Howey), a former ballet dancer who’s recovering from a bad car accident, and Casey (Hannah Kasulka) who’s more happy-go-lucky and fun-loving. When Angela suspects that the accident has caused more damage to Katherine than she originally thought, she approaches Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) for some spiritual guidance. Could demonic possession be the problem here? Angela thinks so – she hears noises in the house, and things appear to move for no reason. Tomas is initially dismissive of Angela’s fears, but he’s plagued by visions of an event in New Mexico where a renowned (within Church circles) exorcist Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) is performing a ritual that goes tragically wrong. When Tomas finds Keane in a plush priest retirement community, it seems that the man is done with the whole exorcism thing and wants to live out a quiet life. Like that’s going to happen.
The atmosphere is spot on. I like that the show recognizes what went on before. Father Tomas digs out an old newspaper and finds a reference to what happened in Georgetown forty years ago, and immediately we can visualise Father Karras (Jason Miller in the movie) throwing himself out of Regan MacNeil’s bedroom window, killing both himself and the demon inside him. We remember poor Father Merrin (the great Max von Sydow), dead of a heart attack before he could complete the exorcism. But this show needs to stand on its own merits, while paying enough homage to the past as is needed. It can do this; I have no doubt. The cast is pretty good, and I’m sure we’ll get to know them better as the show progresses. I’m particularly intrigued by Ben Daniels’ Father Keane. He’s not too old that he has seen it all, but he’s young enough to have seen enough. There’s a ruggedness about him that reminded me of when Daniel Craig first appeared as James Bond in Casino Royale. And any show that has room for Geena Davis and Alan Ruck is always worth watching. There are a couple of scares that will have you jumping from your seat if you’re not careful enough, and that’s a good thing. Plus there’s a doozy of a twist at the end. You’ll like it.
I’m sure Herrera’s Father Tomas will grow on me as the show goes on, but for now, he’s not a patch on Miller’s Father Karras. But then, that character was so central to the movie, so unique, that he’s a difficult act to follow. Herrera’s portrayal is good enough, but I feel the character himself needs more depth. And I want more Henry Rance – not just the brain-damaged character, but the man inside, too. Alan Ruck is too good an actor to just having lying around.
I also, as I mentioned earlier, want to see this show stand on its own two feet. As Damien finally succeeded in doing in its one and only season, The Exorcist needs its own identity, and if Jeremy Slater can contain references to past events and let loose with his own ideas, then I think this show is in with a chance.
James will begin weekly reviews of The Exorcist, starting this week with episode 2, “Chapter Two: Lupus in Fabula.”
The Exorcist S1E1
Plot: Intriguing enough, but by-the-numbers. However, such criticisms are redeemed by the last few minutes.
Action: A couple of decent set-pieces (watch out for suicidal birds), and a scary attic scene (reminiscent of the one in the original movie – but with a twist), make for an eventful series premiere.
Dialogue: Not as hokey as you might expect, with little in the way of over-ominous fore-shadowing.
Performances: Good all round, with the one proviso of Herrera, but I’m sure that’ll change.