[Review] - Ash Vs. Evil Dead, Season 1 Episodes 1 And 2, "El Jefe" And "Bait"

Courtesy of Renaissance Pictures
I think we need to coin a new term: franchise rot. We're in the middle of this epidemic of sequels and remakes and reboots of twenty year old material that clearly shows no sign of stopping. And while sequels and franchises are nothing new (The Thin Man series had six entries between 1934-47), this current blight on entertainment, the recycling of eighties material, has really showcased the shallowness of those creating the material. Its not that these projects couldn't be good, its that they clearly are being put together to cash in, without the affection needed to make the projects worth while. Look at Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and you will see a movie in which no one involved gives a damn.

So the trick is giving a damn. Which is where Ash Vs. Evil Dead comes in, lines you up and lets the boomstick do the talking. Every frame of this series drips with affection. It's not just that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell came back or are involved (they both produced the Evil Dead remake, with as little involvement as possible). It's that they honestly give a damn. They give a hot damn. What they've created in this series is the poster child for how to carry on twenty years after the fact. The lesson is don't do it just because you feel you have to, do it when you want to and feel like you've got an idea worth soaking time and money into. The series is every inch its own thing, every inch a continuation, and every inch 100% completely sincere and amazing.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are polite right up until they're rude.

The Evil Dead movies aren't particularly deep films. They are essentially a dick head getting the shit kicked out of him. By the third film they'd lapsed into self parody slightly, the standard Raimi tonal drift, and Ash had went from hapless sack to one-liner spouting braggart. That is the most character development that happens, the movies really only wanting to move on to the next sequence of someone dying horribly. So it came as a comforting shock that as much time in the series' first two episodes has been devoted to character development as it has been to hacking things apart with a chainsaw. In fact, the plot is as thin as it ever is with Evil Dead - the dead have risen, and Ash needs to stop them - so all that leaves time for is violence and character.

And make no mistake, they pack it all in. Half hour episodes might seem short, but hour long ones likely would have lagged. these twenty odd minutes are packed to the rafters. When things wane with Ash and the crew, the show shifts to Amanda and her crazy, then back. The breakneck pace keeps everything moving forward. I feel like by season's end this show will stand mighty upon the TV pile as an example of how to make brevity in episode count work in favour of the plot. I cannot foresee filler episodes serving any function here, less they be just a half hour of Ash driving or getting drunk, or both simultaneously. But with five featured characters and an infinite amount of killables, the series can default to just killing things with usual objects and it would still seem like advancement.

Ash finds himself on the road with Pablo and Kelly, and its Kelly that is really the meatier character. Pablo is an audience surrogate: he's an Ash fan boy, a willing sidekick, and the thing that follows Ash into each new scenario. Kelly is Ash 2.0. I refuse to call her a Final Girl, but her journey is already shaping up to share more similarities with Ash than differences. She's the supermarket flunky whose life is destroyed and psyche traumatized by Deadites, and now is forced to dig down deep and summon up a whole shit load of crazy in order to cope. Ash draws parallels to her and himself jokingly, but there is more truth than bluster in what he says.

Of course, the swinging chainsaw over both of their heads is the fact that Ash is the only one to make it out of his movies alive. Sidekicks end up dead, which places a significant tension over the series. Because Kelly and Pablo are enjoyable characters. Two episodes in and they are already better developed than more network characters. But the level of sympathy that the audience is building carries with it the reminder that they can easily buy it and become boomstick fodder at any moment. With a second season already confirmed, but only Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless confirmed for a return, that leaves the fate of the others up in the air fort he next eight episodes.

Amanda is the most conventional character of the lot. She's the hardened cop who sees a thing she can't unsee. She's the Scully, basically, having all her preconceptions questioned by the impossible. Of the cast, hers is the character that most seems like she accidentally wandered in from another movie and now has to deal with Ash's shit. Because the films were isolated - cabins, or the past - Ash was the everyman through whom we were experiencing the Deadites. But from the moment he lopped Linda's head off, he's been circling the sanity drain. Amanda represents the wide world, and signifies the importance of Ash containing the evil in the book. Amanda's reactions are the reactions of everyone not already caught up in the whirlwind. And she's handling it the best she can, with dogged persistence and single minded logic. All the while wanting to curl up in a ball and scream until she bleeds from her ears. If more people are exposed, those that survive will just go mad from the truth.

Hilariously, because Ash is an idiot, the longer he stays on the road, the more distance he covers, the more the evil spreads. So rather than keeping it isolated and contained, like when he was in the cabin, he's causing the dead to spread. But as Bait makes an interesting point, the dead aren't just rising, looking to eat souls. they have a goal: they hate Ash. they have a real mean-on for this one guy. And that might speak to something larger at play here, because all of the dead's efforts so far have been focused on taking Ash down. One corpse here specially says they've always hated him. Is it just because he's in possession of the book that can put them back in the ground? That he's El Jefe, the destined one? Or is it just because they are sick and tired of him dicking them around? I like the idea that the writers have found a mystery to tease out of their straight forward premise. Or maybe I'm just reading more into what is just a visceral, explosive, hilarious series that doesn't need any more depth than the puddling blood on the floor.

I feel like there will be plenty of opportunities in the weeks ahead to discuss the effects, the camera work, the writing, and everything that made these two episodes pure delights. But I wanted to make mention of the acting. Bruce Campbell may have carved out a steady and lucrative career as the greatest B-Movie actor ever, but we should not forget that the man is a consummate professional and talented to boot. If he's hamming it up, its because he's doing so deliberately, not because he's lacking in ability. Watch any Syfy original movie and you'll see plenty of people who can't act. Watch Bruce Campbell, and you get a lesson in how to act accordingly. It's an attitude that is attractive, judging by the quality of those willing to take part. Despite Lucy Lawless only popping up briefly in the first episode, she promises to play a much larger role in the future. And if Mimi Rogers in any indication of the stunt casting the show is capable of pulling off on a weekly basis (it put me to mind of Bridget Fonda's cameo in Army of Darkness), this show might just become the horror equivalent of the Muppet Show.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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