Let's address the elephant in the room first: no one wanted a TV version of The Exorcist. The original 1973 movie is a classic as is. The sequels, not so much. But every decade and a half or so (the last Exorcist movie came out in 2004) the property gets trotted out again for another go-round. This time it's as a TV series on Fox, a network where the show can't do any of the R-rated stuff that made the movie so shockingly effective. But hey, TV series about demonic possession are trending -- go watch Outcast if you want to see a horror show done right -- and reboot fever is an epidemic. We didn't ask for The Exorcist, but we have it, so we might as well take stock of what we've been given.
And you know what? It's not nearly as bad as it could be. In fact, it's borderline good.
The Exorcist stars Geena Davis in her first regular TV role in a decade as Angela Rance, a devout Catholic mother with a lot on her plate. Her husband, Henry (Alan Ruck), has early-onset dementia. And her daughter, Katherine (Brianne Howey) is home from college recovering from a car accident that killed her friend, and she's...different. And there's something in her house. She hears voices in the walls. Something is very wrong. So she goes to her pastor, Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) for help.
"It's a demon," she tells him. "And it's trying to take my daughter."
Tomas doesn't believe her. Demons aren't real, he tells her. They're a metaphor to explain addiction and mental illness. But she feels it, and that's enough to convince him to come to the house and talk to Catherine.
Tomas, meanwhile, is having his own crisis. A crisis of faith. He entered the priesthood to please his dying grandmother, and he's not sure he wants to be a priest anymore. Tomas loves the ladies, and the ladies love Tomas. But Tomas is having visions. He has vivid nightmares where a priest is trying to exorcise a boy with two pupils in one eye. Henry tells Tomas, out of the blue, that Father Marcus is at St. Aquinas.
Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) is a priest who doesn't play by Rome's rules. He's in a lot of trouble, because his last exorcism went wrong. But he might have the answers that Tomas is looking for.
The pilot episode of The Exorcist has more going for it than you'd think. Geena Davis' role is great in her scenes here. Her line readings give what could be flat dialogue depth -- see the way she tells Tomas, "It's not depression, I know depression." The rest of the cast does solid work, too. They all resist the urge to go hammy. A moody, autumnal setting and an abnormally warm color palette for this kind of show give it a distinctive visual identity, as does the constantly slightly shaky handheld camera. It's more cinematic than it needs to be.
Is it scary? Not really. Is it fun? That's not really the vibe it's going for. Will it last more than one season? Probably not. But it has potential if it allows the characters to deepen and it stays smart-ish. At least it's not another fill-in-the-blank cop show Fox usually supplies.
The Exorcist premieres Friday, Sept. 23 at 9/8c on Fox.