September 24, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Exorcist”


THE EXORCIST:  Friday 9PM on FOX – Potential DVR Alert

Like Noah Hawley’s ongoing take on Fargo, the new FOX version of THE EXORCIST, created for television by Jeremy Slater (one of the unhappy group credited for the script of last year’s awful Fantastic Four reboot) wisely uses the underlying material as inspiration for a new but compatible story.  Slater’s work isn’t the equal of Hawley’s–for that matter, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, while a classic of its genre, is very different from a Coen Brothers masterpiece–but it’s surprisingly substantial in a season that’s mostly given us unsatisfying retreads.

This time, we’re in Chicago.  The Damien Karras analogue is Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera), a priest with doubts.  His congregation includes the Rance family:  successful businesswoman Angela (Geena Davis), her husband Henry (Alan Ruck), who is sadly sliding into dementia, and their daughters Cat (Brianne Howey) and Casey (Hannah Kasulka).  Of course, Something Is Happening in the Rance house.  There are noises in the walls, thumping in the attic.  Cat, recently involved in a car accident, barely leaves her room, and Casey is determinedly cheerful.  At the same time, Father Tomas starts to be troubled by dreams, which he eventually realizes are about Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels), and his failed exorcism of a boy in Mexico City 18 months ago.  In the dreams, Tomas is actually in the room during the exorcism.  It is no coincidence that Father Marcus is now living just outside Chicago.

Unlike the original Exorcist, this serialized TV series is designed to tell its story over the course of a season, so we don’t know very much yet about where it intends to go.  It’s a hopeful sign, though, that Rupert Wyatt’s brooding, atmospheric pilot direction follows the path of William Friedkin’s original by planting horror sequences within a visual scheme of gritty realism.  Slater’s script also, at least for now, takes the time to develop its characters, and leaves ambiguous where psychological issues end and demonic possession begins. (There’s more opportunity for that here, because the Rance girls are teenagers, rather than the emblem of youthful innocence that Regan MacNeil was in the Blatty version.)  Herrera is very strong as Father Tomas, and Daniels provides the clearest departure from the novel and film, a lead exorcist who’s younger and angrier than Lankester Merrin.

The opening episode is dotted with references to the original, not just in the quick shot of a news article about the events that occurred in Washington DC, but in scenes like the attic sequence, and characters like Tomas and Davis’s anguished mother–and, of course, when “Tubular Bells” is heard on the soundtrack late in the pilot.  Those bits, however, are delivered with a straight face rather than a wink.  It remains to be seen whether Slater will be able to balance fan service with the construction of a new and separate piece of narrative.  But this Exorcist is a very different kind of horror than the jokey and self-conscious sort TV has recently given us with shows like Scream Queens, American Horror Story and Dead of Summer.  By seriously attempting to recapture the feel of a 40-year old work, it actually feels refreshingly new.

NETWORK FINAL:  Not Kidding Around

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."