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Recommendation Machine: ‘The Envoys’ Puts a Fresh Spin on an Already Great ‘Evil’ Formula

IndieWire
IndieWire
 2022-01-25
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Welcome to Recommendation Machine, your daily IndieWire destination for TV suggestions of what to watch . Each weekday, we’ll offer up a series we think should be on your viewing radar. Though most of the shows included here are recent offerings from networks and streaming services, this will also be a place to take a look at different chapters in TV history readily available for anyone looking to immerse themselves in an ever-expanding medium.

As everyone with even a passing connection to TV will have happily told you for the better part of the last decade, there are too many shows. They’ll use words like cornucopia or plethora or deluge or glut. Bottom line: There are plenty of options for things to queue up next. So, while we’ll try to provide as many of those as we can from streaming’s heavy hitters like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max, there will also be plenty of chances to highlight the best shows on lesser-known services —  hidden gems to try out during one of those free trials you haven’t used up yet. International shows, docuseries, some projects that, at first glance, might not even seem like TV: They’re all up for grabs.

In every installment, we’ll not only make a case for the show itself, but pick out some particular elements that make the whole thing worth a try. And for those who may have already taken the plunge on that day’s pick, we’ll also try to throw in some next-step ideas for something similar. Along the way, we may even toss in some suggestions for an album or a book or a movie. There’s no telling what the Recommendation Machine might manage to turn out next!

All past Recommendation Machine installments will be carefully housed here , for your bookmark and perusal needs. For now, here’s our choice for today’s show that’s very much worth your TV-watching energy :

“The Envoys”

Where to Watch ‘The Envoys’ : Paramount+

The short black-on-white credits sequence, the collars, the fact that they’re probably next to each other on plenty of subscribers’ Paramount+ homepages: There are plenty of surface-level parallels between “The Envoys” and fellow Catholicism-centered thriller “Evil.” (Additional thoughts on the latter here and here .) Aside from the obvious, though, the new eight-episode drama from Mexico (originally released last year under the title “Los Enviados”) also takes what could be an obvious skeptic/believer story and gives it room to breathe.

Maybe the most notable change in “The Envoys” is making its two leads a pair of priests, sent at the behest of the Vatican to investigate some strange recoveries in the small Mexican town of San Acacio. Originally on an assignment to determine if these two individuals’ surviving a severe brush with death rise to the level of a Church-sanctioned miracle, Fathers Pedro (Luis Gerardo Méndez) and Simon (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) discover a wider web of odd and sinister circumstances.

Often, these two-hander looks into the paranormal break down on lines between science and faith. One of the first ways that “The Envoys” flips those expectations is by positioning Pedro, a priest with medical training, as the more traditionally pious of the pair. His overall methods skew closer to official Church teachings and his conception of what makes a proper investigator is more rules-based and rigid.

By contrast, Simon is the more rebellious of the two. With a background rooted more in law, he’s the one usually in search of a loophole. He’s aggressive, another foil to Pedro’s gentler, more observant instincts. Simon’s ethically flexible approach to getting answers is just enough to make Pedro skeptical, but their arguments about the proper way to be guided by faith are tame enough to end up at “agree to disagree.”

It’s one particular late-night heart-to-heart between the two in the show’s first episode that drives home that divide, doing so in a way that gives “The Envoys” a proper foundation when things start veering far away from Pedro and Simon’s expectations. Even when they enlist the help of local doctor Adriana (Irene Azuela), this is still largely a two-man crew doing what they can to prove the existence of a benevolent God (whether to themselves or those above them in the Church hierarchy). Given the various entrenched forces putting up roadblocks in their path, ones in the immediate area of San Acacio and others closer to where their original assignment came from, it’s a mystery that requires them to do a lot of soul-searching in addition to looking for answers.

“The Envoys” comes from director and series creator Juan José Campanella, who has put together a prolific international TV career, both before and after the success of “The Secret in Their Eyes.” While the show doesn’t take quite the same procedural tack as “Evil” — instead following the San Acacio saga over these eight episodes — the patience that comes with the added runtime lets “The Envoys” paint on a bigger canvas. There’s more room to mess with what sometimes gets close to self-seriousness. The longer the season runs, the more the show embraces its horror DNA, along with some of the surreal streaks that line up so well with stories that draw on complicated relationships with organized religion. There’s a blend of an appreciation for the specifics of Pedro and Simon’s chosen paths with an acknowledgment that they each have room in their conceptions of faith to joke about celibacy and the seven deadly sins.

So “The Envoys” lands on the same fertile ground as not just “Evil,” but “Midnight Mass” and “Hellbound” and any other recent show that wrangles with what it means to be a true believer. Is the better spiritual ally someone who belongs to the same congregation or someone who conceives of good and evil in the same way, only under different names? The turns in “The Envoys” are less based on misdirection than following the particular logic and expectations of someone who sees the world through a specific prism. Even with two men with the same job and the same task, that viewpoint on the world isn’t so easy to pin down.

True to form for a show about vocational horror, “The Envoys” reaches a point where Pedro and Simon can’t pull themselves away from the unraveling saga they’ve stumbled into. Campanella and the series’ writing team set up a classic example of men of faith having to put their beliefs in practice. Pedro and Simon don’t just gather evidence for a report, and the occasional decision to split them up rather than have them be a continuous pair works wonders. Toward the midpoint of the season, Pedro asks of Simon, “But we have God, don’t we?” “The Envoys” knows better than to answer that question directly and instead watch its twin title characters come to their own conclusions.

Missed any other outputs from Recommendation Machine? You can read every past version here .

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