October 31st, 2015, 9PM, Starz
“Sometimes, dead is better.” –Jud Crandall, Pet Sematary
It was hyped right from the start – in fact, loosely promised to us by Bruce Campbell himself after millions of fans sat through the joyless, route exercise that was http://nextprojection.com/2013/07/21/blu-review-the-evil-dead-2013/ (The Evil Dead Remake) – that he would reprise his iconic role as Ash Williams in a continuation of the character’s journey. One by one, the pieces came together to the fans’ eagerness; Sam Raimi would direct an episode, Bruce Campbell would star, Ash Williams would be back. The fan frenzy hasn’t let up since the show’s trailer received ten million plus views this past July.
The critical praise has been almost overweening after the release of the show’s pilot and screeners, resulting in the show being one of the most highly-praised pilots of the fall season; it has a 96 percent at Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. After months of furious, masturbatory praise from the horror and mainstream press, the entire world can now see the fruits of Campbell and Raimi’s labor. But is it really that good?
The sad answer is that it is – but only fleetingly.
The show’s biggest problem is that it has already lost control of the sort of character Ash Williams is and ought to be after what he’s been through. One minute he’s dancing around his trailer to a classic rock tune while preparing to go out and get laid; the second he’s seriously recounting his sad history to his friend and long-time co-worker Pablo. The original movies did this much more successfully by having Ash be a source of great offended dignity and seriousness to whom terrible things happened; the comedy welled up from the terrible things he was forced to endure with dry, meatheaded wit. The show replies to this challenge by turning him into a lascivious, amiable goof, who flails, loose-limbed, through the conflicts presented him. He was a stubborn fool in the three previous movies, but even that stubbornness does not give Raimi license to have him release the evil in the way he chooses to do it.
Indeed, Ash’s personality has been flanderised into an amalgam of Sam Axe and “Bruce Campbell” from Campbell’s poisoned-pen love letter to his fandom, My Name is Bruce; there is very rarely a portion of him that feels organic to what the movies have given us of Ash’s personality. When it works, it works very well - but when it fails, as when we’re subjected to an endless sex scene where Campbell flails away at the dead-eyed behind of Ash’s nightly pick-up in the most grimy and yet conservative sex scene ever aired on television, it feels as if it’s never going to stop. The show itself careens about this way during its forty minute run time, failing to successfully build on a mood or theme in a way that’s gripping or coherent.
Campbell gets little to no help from his supporting players: the best of these is Dana DeLorenzo as tough chick Kelly, whose mother comes back from the dead six weeks after a car accident to torment her grieving heart. Ray Santiago tries his best with the cardboard car crash of a racial stereotype that is Pablo Simon Bolivar but doesn’t get to rise beyond his character’s puppy dog style bleating and declaring mystical aphorisms as if he escaped from a Sancho Panza picture. The much-hyped Lucy Lawless currently has no character, other than “mysterious jerk who tries to give Amanda advice.” And speaking of Amanda, her presence provides some of the series’ most baffling moments. There is a serious pathology picture tone to all of her scenes, and they seem to exist in total counterbalance to the Ash-related meat of the picture – one wants to root for her but she’s too bland to enjoy, and whenever we spend time lingering in her storyline we wait for the return of Campbell to the screen.
There is a scene involving Ash and a terribly-rendered CGI doll that is such a route exercise in trying to replicate past glories that one is apt to cringe. Only one such incident succeeds in being anything more than a masturbatory exercise in reliving past joys; the final double-battle between Ash and his possessed neighbors. Here, Raimi seems to feels free and is at his creative best, here, the combination of CGI, real stage blood, writing and action meld into something useful. At its best, the Evil Dead series has always been about the fever-brained wildness of a world unbound, soaked in blood and screaming skulls. At its worst, it feels like an excuse for Raimi to poke Campbell in the kneecaps a few times with a camera running. So it is here. Whenever an action piece takes center stage, the show soars – but when it does anything else it stumbles about, trying to please everyone and pleasing only those willing to ignore what is before their eyes.
Whether further episodes will improve the situation remains to be seen. But for right now, it looks like Ol’ Jud was right. Sometimes dead is better.
- The show has already been renewed for a second season, so expect to hear more from me next season.
- Ash and Pablo apparently watch wrestling together every week.
- Visible in the trailer: a massive amount of pornography, a vinyl record collection, memorabilia from Camp Tamakwas, where all of the Raimi brothers attended and were counselors.
- The pub Ash stops at for a drink and to pick up his floozy of the night is “The Woodsman.”
- Interestingly, this episode runs forty minutes instead of the projected thirty.
- Jill Marie Jones’ previous credits include the CW show “Girlfriends”; Ray Santiago was in “Meet the Fockers”.
- Big questions I have include: Why the hell was Ash suddenly trying to sell the Necronomicon after thirty years of holding onto it?
- “I try not to look at her like that.” “It must be difficult.” “It is – she haunts my dreams.” Ash vs Evil Dead: Where the women are kick-ass mannequins.
- Next Week: Pablo slurps up his first taste of blood, Not!Lucy Lawless learns some more things and Ash and company finally get to Kelly’s father’s house in “Bait.”
Uneven and largely unfunny, Ash vs Evil Dead is only occasionally redeemed by well-choreographed action pieces, sincere performances and decent dialogue. There’s plenty of sauce on it but the meatloaf, thus far, is tragically undercooked.