Ash vs Evil Dead, Season 1, Episode 1, “El Jefe”
Written by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, and Tom Spezialy
Directed by Sam Raimi
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on Starz
Ash Williams is back, and he’s still spitting out catchphrases and firing off his boomstick in Ash vs Evil Dead. In 1981, Sam Raimi and friends headed into the woods armed with moxie and buckets of fake blood and created The Evil Dead, birthing a cult horror franchise in the process. The Evil Dead garnered the occasional chuckle due to its bargain basement budget, but Raimi and company were going for pure horror with the film. However, fans of the franchise tend to forget—or intentionally ignore—this fact, because Raimi followed up The Evil Dead with Evil Dead II, which took the narrative into full-blown Three Stooges territory. Hero Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, went from a hapless college student who keeps getting knocked into bookcases to a witty, chainsaw-hand toting action hero. And then there was Army of Darkness, where Campbell was in full smart-ass mode, playing Ash as a man stuck out of time and dealing with entire armies of those nefarious deadites.
Now, 30 years later, Raimi and Campbell return to their old stomping grounds with Starz’s Ash vs Evil Dead. Is there still magic left in this gonzo franchise, and does it make the transition from film to TV smoothly?
Those who are big fans of the wacky hi-jinks of the franchise—meaning those who are more of a fan of Army of Darkness than the first The Evil Dead—are likely going to have a bloody good time with Ash vs Evil Dead. In its first episode, the show feels so far removed from The Evil Dead that they might as well not even be related. Campbell is at his smarmy best here, playing Ash as a full-on womanizing loser who lives in a trailer and straps himself into a girdle to suck in his gut.
No longer working at the S-Mart, Ash still works retail in a store that may as well be the S-Mart (why Raimi felt the need to have Ash have the same job but change the name of the store is unclear). There he’s idolized by coworker Pablo (Ray Santiago) while new coworker Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) sees Ash for what he currently is: a pathetic loser hitting on younger women with terribly dated pick-up lines. But Ash is about to revert back into hero status when all hell breaks lose. In a flashback, we see Ash toking up with his latest female conquest and trying to impress her by reading her passages from the infamous Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the book of the dead that, when read aloud, can summon those demonic deadites.
Right off the bat, this is dangerously stupid. It’s a cheap, unoriginal way to quickly get to the action and it throws a cog in the gears much too early. Sure, part of Ash’s appeal is that he isn’t exactly the brightest of bulbs (although he was able to make gunpowder in medieval times using a chemistry text book), but would he really be so stupid after all he’s been through with that damn book to just blatantly read from it out loud again? Why does he even have the book stashed away in his trailer at this point? Get rid of that thing!
As the forces of evil begin to infect the area, Detective Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and her partner show up at a spooky old house and are promptly set upon by those trademark Evil Dead forces, represented by cameras mounted on wooden boards rushing forward at actors. In the wake of the attack, Amanda’s partner is dead and she’s left doubting what she’s even seen. To make this extra weird, a mysterious woman (played by Lucy Lawless) assures her that she probably really saw exactly what she thinks she saw—before walking away without saying another word. Okay, then…
As fan service, the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead has plenty of appeal. Near the end of the premiere, Campbell is back to firing off his shotgun and toting his chainsaw hand. He even gets to utter his famous, “Groovy!” before the credits roll. It’s fun to see Campbell back in the saddle, and it’s equally fun to see Raimi playing in this sandbox again. But this premise seems like it will be almost impossible to sustain for an entire season of television. This is only the first episode, so there’s plenty of time to get to know the other characters, but other than Ash, they are all very thinly sketched here. And those who prefer The Evil Dead to its sequels (yes, I’m one of those weirdos) may not enjoy the cornball humor at play.
Ash vs Evil Dead might find its footing as it moves forward, and there’s something charming about the fact that the show is, in general, fairly simplistic in a time when TV has grown more and more complex. But anyone looking for substance beyond seeing Campbell utter a few one-liners while wearing an iconic blue button-up shirt and wielding a chainsaw hand might want to temper their expectations.