Ash Vs. Evil Dead episode 1 review: El Jefe

Whatever its problems, Evil Dead and Bruce Campbell fans will adore the groovy, joyful romp that is the Ash Vs Evil Dead TV show...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 El Jefe

Sometimes, you can try really hard to be critical. You can take note of all kind of problems in any given show, be they shortcomings of tone, character, theme or execution. Sometimes you can be aware of all of these things and fully expect to filter them into a lukewarm review, and then Bruce Campbell tools up and takes out some Deadites and closes the first episode of Ash Williams’ long awaited return with a perfect ‘groovy’ and suddenly you’re actually applauding and any criticism seems churlish.

Ash Vs Evil Dead has problems. Quite a few, if we’re being honest. Pablo and Kelly aren’t much more than boring archetypes right now, and despite all the time the episode spends with them they don’t really feel developed beyond their initial introduction. Neither is a character I particularly want to spend thirteen episodes with. Furthermore, for all the action, here and there some moments felt clunky or were otherwise let down by some pretty terrible CGI. And for a show that is named after the character, this episode doesn’t feature nearly enough Ash Williams.

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But all of that recedes in the wake of just how much like coming home this feels. If you’re a fan of the original Evil Dead films, it’s hard to imagine any world where you don’t adore this show. It has everything; from visual references and callbacks to Ash’s particular brand of offensive yet oblivious charm to great slapstick moments to a couple of legitimate scares and, of course, buckets upon buckets of blood.

This first episode is such a joyful romp that it’s actually a little hard to imagine how this is going to be sustained over a whole series. As I mentioned before, none of the supporting characters are much of anything at this point and Ash, as great as he is, never had a ton of nuance to him. Is there a chance his shtick might wear thin over a full series?

At this point I’m inclined to doubt it. The first episode leaves you punching the air and keen to see just where this goes next and, appreciating that this has a well-loved cult film series as a foundation, it’s hard to think of many other television series that started with such a literal and figurative bang.

It will also be interesting to see how the series relates to its source material. I doubt anyone involved is pretending that the target audience is anyone outside fans of the original films, and to be fair this episode is far from weighed down by its basis, but it also doesn’t add a whole lot of new material or obvious potential to the canon. Plus it can’t help that due to legal issues, Army Of Darkness won’t even get a mention in the series. I’m very curious as to how much this will expand on the mythology of the films, or whether it will connect in any way to the 2013 reboot, which ended with a tease that the two continuities would connect. That said, the series is much closer tonally to the goofier insanity of Evil Dead 2, and there isn’t a whole lot of grit here. It’s hard to imagine this slapstick violence taking place in the same world as the grim savagery of the reboot.

Ash Vs Evil Dead has made a promising, if imperfect, start that despite leaving plenty of questions still manages to be a satisfying slice of gleeful carnage. I’d wager it will still take a couple of episodes before we really know what we have on our hands here; whether the characters will exhibit more depth and development going forward or whether the show will simply be a weekly serve of bloody chaos. Which, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing; just a trickier thing to get right in a way that will make people want to invest. But for now we got the chainsaw hand, we got ‘groovy’ and we got Bruce Campbell inhabiting Ash Williams as though not a single day had gone by. It’s hard to feel short changed by any of that if you’re the kind of person who was excited by this prospect. 

Read more about Ash Vs. Evil Dead on Den Of Geek, here. As yet, no UK broadcaster has been announced.

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