During this pre-holiday period of long winter nights, you’re probably searching for a new show to marathon. Something that’s good but not too intellectually taxing, with a comfortable number of episodes. This year, that show is The Exorcist. Specifically, season 2.
The Exorcist is a loose continuation of the 1973 movie (or if you’re a true purist, the novel by William Peter Blatty). Season 1 was watchable but not very original, starring Geena Davis as a Catholic mom whose daughter gets possessed by a demon. She asks her priest Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera, aka Lito’s boyfriend in Sense8) for help with an exorcism, but season 2 is where things really take off. Since the show follows a different exorcism each season, you don’t need to worry about skipping the start.
Season 2 stars John Cho as the foster dad to a group of lovable teens, a premise pulled straight from a heartwarming daydream. It takes a while for a supernatural presence to emerge, but without going into spoilers: It’s a demon. By this point, Tomas is busy honing his exorcism skills with his mentor Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels), and the two exorcists find themselves drawn to John Cho and his family. Think Supernatural, but without the inescapable miasma of toxic masculinity. If you’re not already convinced, here’s why The Exorcist rules:
The main cast members are all awesome
The Exorcist‘s showrunner, Jeremy Slater, is clearly aware of the need for diverse representation—including behind the camera. John Cho’s kids come from realistic backgrounds in the foster system, including a goth lesbian who escaped gay conversion therapy (Deadpool‘s Brianna Hildebrand), a blind kid with a deadbeat dad, and an orphan whose mom was a drug addict. They’re the kind of family that rarely gets much attention on TV, particularly in genre fiction.
This family setting raises the stakes for everyone. On top of the demonic threat, the teens are worried about losing their home. Andy (John Cho) has to handle an inspector from social services (Li Jun Li), knowing that after his wife’s death, he isn’t qualified to foster this many kids at once. Real-world concerns overlap with the supernatural elements—which is really the mark of any well-written genre show.
As for the exorcists themselves, Tomas had a more central role in season 1. Now he’s mostly trying to prove himself as an exorcist, with more character development going to Marcus and their ally in the Vatican, Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan.) (He’s investigating a demonic conspiracy in the Catholic Church; don’t worry about it.) After Tomas had a slightly clichéd illicit affair in season 1, now it’s Marcus’ turn. He gets a male love-interest, giving The Exorcist a rare combination of overt theological themes and queer romance.
John Cho and Ben Daniels are the main highlights in an already excellent cast. John Cho’s appeal is obvious, as the quintessential Cute Dad with a sad backstory. Ben Daniels, well… how to explain him? Everyone else gives the expected performance for a high-quality network TV drama. Meanwhile, Ben Daniels delivers every speech like he’s yelling into the wind machine during a stage production of The Tempest. But! Just to be clear, he’s not over-acting. Marcus Keane just has that many emotions. So many emotions.
Marcus can’t hold a conversation without grabbing Tomas by the shoulders and hissing into his face. When asked about his Tragic Past, Marcus barely pauses before unleashing a detailed account of his childhood trauma. (That particular scene takes place during a first date, where he also gives an impassioned speech about Catholicism.) He has the intense body language of someone who might headbutt you at any moment, while somehow being refreshingly free of machismo. He is never, for even one second, remotely chill.
The Exorcist is spooky but not terrifying
This may not be an entirely positive attribute if you’re a big horror fan, but in the interest of accurate warnings, The Exorcist isn’t very scary. The jump scares probably won’t make you jump, and the demonic possession effects are a little hokey. If you’re familiar with spinning heads and speaking in tongues, you already know the deal.
The Exorcist is much better at psychological horror, probably because it ties into the emotional arc for Andy and his kids. The demon targets Andy’s family by exploiting their emotional vulnerabilities in a way that slowly reveals one of the show’s main themes. Instead of being like doctors who can show up and “cure” a demonic possession, the exorcists are more like therapists. They have a specific skillset, but ultimately their patients have to participate in the healing process.
In the struggle against a demonic attack, Andy’s family members need to trust each other and get in touch with their feelings. Fortunately, The Exorcists writers understand the complicated relationship between real-world “possession” and mental illness, and they make sure to differentiate between them in the show.
It’s easy to watch
Each season is 10 episodes long and deliciously watchable without doing the Netflix thing of encouraging an all-day marathon of constant cliffhangers. It’s not an intense prestige drama, but it’s not total popcorn viewing like Riverdale, either.
To be honest, it’s a little surprising that The Exorcist doesn’t have a bigger fandom. There are plenty of obvious ships (Andy and Rose the social worker; Marcus and his love-interest Peter; Marcus and Tomas), and the cast is full of options if you’re shopping around for a recreational TV crush. Hell, the main characters are basically Dream Daddy, with extra demons: Do you prefer the handsome priest, the angsty exorcist, or the responsible dad who knows about household DIY? And if you miss the kids from Stranger Things, the teen characters are in a similar wheelhouse of supernatural hijinks and thoughtful characterization.