This Ash vs Evil Dead review contains spoilers.
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 1 Episode 2
After coming down off the high of seeing Ash (and his big, beautiful chin) back in action after three decades, Ash vs Evil Dead becomes what it’s intended to be: a TV show. No, contrary to what the pilot made you think, this is not structured like a crazy long version of Evil Dead 4. Wouldn’t it have been nice if it was? But while “Bait” is a fun and satisfying follow-up to what is arguably the best series premiere of any revival seen thus far, it loses most of the deliciously frantic momentum its predecessor indulged in.
And you know what? That’s okay. I think.
The episode starts off exactly where “El Jefe” left off, with our main characters having a cool down from that manic climax that paid homage to every single iconic moment from the Evil Dead films. While the headlining cast takes a moment to catch their breath and provide us with a quick recap of what just happened (which is decidedly very un-movie like), we’re left with a nagging feeling that they should just shut up and keep running away from all that evil ominous stuff that we presumed had already caught up with them.
Because, seriously. Things were looking pretty dire in Michigan, weren’t they?
Part of the charm of the Evil Dead movies is that exposition was used sparingly (if at all) – not by choice, but by design. The breathless pace of each installment left little to no time for thorough explanation (you could argue that Army of Darkness is an exception to this, but be honest – did that movie make a ton of sense by the end?). Yes, context was provided for the Necronomicon and all that, but only to justify itself and thread one zany action sequence to the next.
Despite the fact that one of its sequels plunges its protagonist back in time, this isn’t a franchise that specializes in elucidation. Nope. This is a franchise that’s all about the shocking, the wacky, and the yucky. It’s The Three Stooges with blood, guts and a bad attitude (Worse, because let’s face it: Moe was pretty grumpy most of the time, wasn’t he?).
That’s one of the reasons why “Bait” falls flat in some areas, thanks to a frustrating (yet requisite) sense of inertia. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying this a sophomoric slump. There’s more than enough tasteless slapstick here to fill our sick appetites, plus a smorgasbord of one-liners to fuel hundreds of memes and tweets. But it’s the moments that bookend these gems – the ho-hum grind of “let’s talk about what’s going on for a minute” – that made me zone out more than once.
The biggest bores here have to be the procedural sequences with Agent Fisher. Definitely the most uninteresting side of the show so far. I’m not slamming Jill Marie Jones, who gives a terrific performance as the bewildered state trooper who’s looking for answers about that traumatic encounter she had with, um, evil and stuff. It’s just that her character feels grafted on from an NBC killer-of-the-week drama, as if that would cater to the viewing needs of an older female demographic who might only be watching the show because their unruly husbands want them to. I realize that it’s not feasible for Bruce and the kids to be on screen all the time (or Lucy Lawless for that matter), but that doesn’t stop Fisher’s scenes from derailing the episode, tonally speaking. It’s just too bad she exists to divvy out Ghost Ship moments the show doesn’t need.
Even so, I look forward to when her path finally converges with the rest of the cast because I think Fisher will make a perfect “straight (wo)man” to Ash and the kids’ triple vaudevillian act. Until then, my eyes will continue to glaze over like a cold Krispy Kreme donut that’s been left out in the breakroom all day whenever she snivels through yet another interrogation scene.
Speaking of those kids – if Jill Marie Jones’ scenes are there to appease unsettled moms everywhere, Pablo and Kelly exist to sell this old franchise here to them darn newfangled millennials, something that the 2013 remake failed to do. They’re also here to make Ash explain what the heck is going on, something his character wasn’t built to do, as he wasn’t born with the expository gene. This forces Ash into becoming a more neglectful version of Rupert Giles by way of Morty Smith. And that’s funny. But it’s also time consuming because it facilitates those slower moments that work against Evil Dead’s trademark sense of velocity. Thankfully, Pablo and Kelly are likable enough to make any interaction with the old-timer fun to watch since they can both relate to and keep up with his irreverent attitude. So there’s that.
Supporting cast aside, “Bait” sets up the formula for what we can expect from our future episodic outings with the crew. Instead of blazing down a trail of intense, fast paced storylines like most modern day series tend to do, it looks like Ash vs Evil Dead will rely on good old fashioned plots-of-the-week.
This time around, it’s all about Kelly’s mom, played by Mimi Rogers of all people. Yes, Agent Fowley from The X-Files. And the mom from the Lost in Space remake. And Vanessa Kensington from Austin Powers. Oh, and Nina from Full Body Massage (don’t ask me how I remember that one).
Kelly mentioned that her mom died a few months prior during the pilot in the middle of a well delivered gag with Bruce Campbell – which, now that you think about it, was such a genius move, wasn’t it? One little joke at the beginning of the first episode was not only the seed of a major plot point, but also the foundation of the plot of the second. Wow. That’s something to admire right there.
Anyway, as we also saw in “El Jefe” (via Facetime of all things), Kelly’s mom also came back from the dead and barged into her father’s house during the big stormy evil thing that wound up blowing over somehow. So Kelly decides to go run and chase down that plot point while Ash and Pablo catch up with her.
Some of the most hilarious moments of “Bait” are when Ash interacts with Mimi Roge- whoops, I mean, the mom. Because, c’mon, obviously she’s a Deadite. We know she’s a Deadite. He knows she’s a Deadite. So the audience is always on the same page with our loveable misogynist with a chainsaw for an arm. We know what’s up. The other characters don’t, and thus those Ghost Ship moments continue to be cranked out, which make some of us sigh.
But how the show is dealing with that is both smart and entertaining. Our protagonist’s dialogue always cuts right to the point, says what needs to be said in as few words as possible. That’s because think about it: Ash is Evil Dead. He’s more than just a mascot for the franchise, he’s the spirit of it. He knows that you have to keep the action flowing and the cracks zinging because evil moves fast through the woods at night as it rushes towards your cabin’s broken window.
Ash Vs. Mr. Roper with the broken bottle definitely needs to be mentioned. Even if we saw most of its high points in the trailer, it was as rad as could be.
Bruce Campbell harassing Mimi Rogers is comedy gold and silver. And bronze.
That beheading scene though!
I was half-expecting a twist, like the dad was already a Deadite too. Oh well.
THE NOT SO GROOVY
Okay, I’m going to say it: Ash drinking and driving is amusing but not very kosher to show on TV, if y’know what I mean. I guess that’s a symptom of Ash’s PTSD that Bruce Campbell was talking about, but still…
It’s hard to top Raimi’s direction for the premiere. Michael J. Bassett does a good job mimicking his over-the-top visual style during the action parts, but everything else is no-nonsense, straightforward. However, there are less Dutch angles now, so maybe that’s a good thing.
“Highway Star” by Deep Purple (played during the Roper fight)
“Knife Edge” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (played at the very end)
I think that was it. Did any of you catch more?
QUOTES OF THE DAMNED
“Hi. You used to be dead, right?” – Ash to Kelly’s mom
“I remember when I was like you. Young, dumb and full of…conflicting emotions.” – Ash to Pablo
“Pablo, believe it or not, the rude middle-aged man you brought is kind of ruining my mom time.” – Kelly about Ash
“You’re kinda like me. Deadites ruined your life, and you’re hot as hell.” – Ash to Kelly_______
Stop by next week for our review of Ash vs Evil Dead episode 3, “Books from Beyond”, where I hope Agent Fisher and Ash finally get a chance to compare boomsticks (uh, that sounded less creepy in my mind than it did on the screen. I promise).
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