Air Date: Sept. 23, 2016
Fox finally follows through with its threat to bring The Exorcist to TV, but thankfully it's abandoned its plan to remake—and inevitably sanitize—William Friedkin's 1973 horror classic for a network audience. Instead, Fox's stab at The Exorcist picks up decades after Father Merrin and Father Karras united to expel the demon that possessed 12-year-old Reagan MacNeil, and the pilot that screened June 11 during the ATX TV Festival makes reference to the events of the film. (The soundtrack also include a snippet of Mike Oldfield’s eerie “Tubular Bells,” for what it's worth.) What is evident from the pilot is that Fox is unwilling or is too afraid to give us an Exorcist that will push the boundaries of network TV in the same bold way that NBC’s Hannibal did with such style, panache and fervor. That's not to say future episodes won't veer closer to the film’s disturbing tone and imagery—it's hard to judge a series on its pilot—but if the pilot's feeble attempts to ape the film's most horrific moments are an indication of things, it won't. The pilot weaves together two storylines that eventually merge into one in its final minutes. Geena Davis is Angela Rance, the wife and mother of two daughters who believes something terrible has targeted her family. How does she know this? Because she senses a haunting presence within the walls of her fancy Chicago home. Alan Ruck plays Davis’ mentally incapacitated husband Henry, but how his condition plays into the show remains to be seen. We're also introduced to two priests whom we assume will join forces to battle the demonic force that will terrorize an innocent during the show's inaugural season. The pilot opens with Ben Daniel's Father Marcus Lang en route to an apartment in a San Juan slum. The way the opening is shot is meant to echo the film’s arrival of Father Merrin to create a sense of dread, but it lacks the same ominous overtones. Lang is the veteran exorcist who is off the job while he recovers from failing to save a possessed young boy. If Lang has seen hell on earth, Alfonso Herrera’s Father Tomas has barely ventured outside the confines of his church, which is currently under renovation. He was expected to become a priest at an early age, but he freely admits that he never had the calling to join the Catholic Church. At least not until he is petitioned by Geena Davis to investigate the strange goings-on in her house. While Daniels brings an understandable weariness to Father Lang, Herrera fails to imbue his underwritten role of Father Tomas with the necessary emotional depth or psychological complexity to carry a TV series. It’s hard to believe for one moment that his Father Tomas could or would hold a meaningful conversation about faith. So it’s a good thing that the pilot has no interest or patience in theological discussions that touch upon what it means to be religious or spiritual at a time when some Christians feel that their faith is under attack while social progress is impeded by religious intolerance and fanaticism. Instead, we get one of those predictable and vacuous exchanges between Father Tomas and Angela Rance that revolves around the question, Do you believe in God? The pilot boasts an exorcism that is poorly staged and about as chilling as anything found in Goosebumps. It does ends in an acceptable play on one of the film's most memorable moments involving Reagan MacNeil. Then there's the big reveal at the end of the pilot. The way it is executed harks back to a scene that was restored for the 2000 reissue of The Exorcist—except it is ruined by such awful CGI that you wonder whether it was created by preteen summer camp film students. There isn’t a strong build up to the divulging of this key information, and the story would have been better served had this twist been disclosed in later episodes, after we would have become invested in the family at the heart of the TV show. Oh, and then there's a scene of a crow crashing into a window as a means to punctuate the concern a mother has about the evil presence she feels in her home. Clichéd moments like this make you wonder whether anyone involved in the show has watched a horror film other than The Exorcist. The pilot that played during the ATX TV Festival did not include credits as far as I can recall but IMDB lists its director as Rupert Wyatt of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Gambler. This came as a surprise to me because the pilot not only lacks Wyatt’s strong voice but does nothing to distinguish itself from the many failed sequels to The Exorcist. Perhaps it’s God’s way of telling to leave The Exorcist alone for once and for all.
Aired: July 14, 2016
Web sites: http://www.fox.com/the-exorcist and http://atxfestival.com/programming/relive/2016-5/events/