This Ash vs Evil Dead review contains spoilers.
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 Episode 1
I think I’ve figured it out: Ash vs Evil Dead is a superhero show. It’s constructed like one. It’s shot like one. It’s written like one. And above all else, it smells like one too.
It doesn’t matter how gory it gets, how gross it can be, or how many f-bombs are dropped. If you couldn’t already infer from the title of the show, this is a story about good versus evil. That means when our heroes triumph, we triumph. But when Ash and the Scrappy-Doos triumph, it more often than not culminates in a blood-soaked orgy where a Deadite gets eviscerated. The trio rush into abandoned buildings and run through gauntlets made of zany set-pieces ripped straight from the original Evil Dead films, and we’re happy they survive each one even if we’re not quite sure where their sense of victory comes from. But we know they get off on it and we kinda do too. In that sense, this show is a lot like porn, and Ash is a lot like Ron Jeremy.
Season 1 of Ash vs Evil Dead ended on a high note for me. I was eager to see how the repercussions of its events were going to shape this year’s story arc. Was the show going to continue on in Jacksonville, FL? Was the world going to be a semi-apocalyptic landscape full of sink holes and demon kids that evoke the visual style of Chris Cunningham and early Marilyn Manson videos? The answers to these questions are both yes and no, but more on the “no” side (as of right now). This episode makes passing references to the finale just to make sure that all the cards are in play, but it’s more or less the same show it’s always been.
Now that I’ve seen “Home”, it’s clear that this show is more preoccupied with facilitating gross-out gags that are strung together like so many anal beads by the ongoing plotline that must keep perpetuating itself to add as many skits on as possible. That’s not a bad thing, since that’s technically the charm of Evil Dead, is it not?
But now that we have a whole foundational year under our belts, it’s easy to notice that Ash vs Evil Dead has developed a formula it will rely on in the foreseeable future. In other words, the series is doing what I expect it to. I’m not saying it’s predictable; far from it. But I know what its ingredients are now. There will be blood, slapstick, cursing, satirical bigotry, entrails, and obscure classic rock jams. I know they will most likely step into a bar at some point. I also know that Ash will sexually harass someone; Pablo will wear a worried, self-conscious expression and praise Jefe despite his green card jokes; and Kelly will take out all of her pent-up aggression on the forces of evil and get soaked doing it. Sprinkle in a few atmospheric shots that mimic the camerawork of the original trilogy and voila: you have an episode of Ash vs Evil Dead.
I’m not saying this isn’t entertaining, nor out of line with Evil Dead’s true nature. But what I am saying is that the show has figured out its identity: a raunchier version of a Saturday morning action program for adults. And it has totally surrendered to that premise at this point.
That’s because this series is a realization of what the Evil Dead trilogy always wanted to be – The Three Stooges serials. I see this now, but during the first season, I often found myself expecting a more intricately crafted overarching storyline with big payoffs that never totally happened. Going forward, I will remind myself that Ash vs Evil Dead is not about a rich narrative experience just as The Three Stooges never was. It’s about the crazy ride through the funhouse. And much like Larry, Curly, and Moe, our heroes are best when they’re grifters, on the move, outcasted and proud of it.
Since everyone and their dead granny have been talking about Ash and his dad these days, let’s start off by focusing on Pablo and Kelly instead. Last season, I felt iffy about them at times. Not because of the performances of Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo, who carry the show more than we realize. It was more that I didn’t know when, if and how these characters were going to grow. I didn’t know where they fit into the bigger picture I assumed the show was painting. But after watching the Scrappy-Doos hold their own against the evil forces at the old cabin in the woods during the finale, these two grew on me.
Sure, their relationship with Ash and their subsequent adventures in body fluid submersion has noticeably boosted their confidence and made them better realized as individuals (I guess). But has any of this been a catalyst for emotional change? Fuck no. And again, why should it? This ain’t Everwood, baby. This is Ash vs Evil Dead. We don’t need your pansy-ass character development here. All we need are the three Bs – beer, blood, and boomsticks. And maybe a boob or two while you’re at it.
So yeah. Pablo and Kelly are still basically the same characters they were when we first met them this time last year. Pablo is the sensitive beta male, Kelly is the ball-busting alpha female. Except now one of them is a necro-psychic and the other has a fetish for assault rifles. Care to guess which one is which?
Although these kids are now more embedded in the Evil Dead universe than ever, they come across as more two-dimensional in “Home” than before. Ruby, too, seems to lack the asp-like bite that she once had, but this could be part of the wool that I think she’s pulling over their eyes. (That they had to set up multiple storylines and introduce a handful of new characters in one episode this time probably affected everyone but Ash’s characterization.)
Speaking of Ruby, what’s that wench up to? We know it can’t be anything good thanks to Pablo’s sort-of-scary vision of her wielding the Necronomicon and forcing its cover onto his face again. These two are definitely linked now thanks to the ritual she performed in the cabin’s basement in “The Dark One”, so my guess is Pablo’s another reason why she’s worming her way into the group. And that’s fine with me. Her character was a highlight of last season, as was her banter with Ash. So I’m glad she’s around in a larger capacity this time.
Ash himself is the charming dumbass he’s evolved into over the years. But developing his character is a catch-22, isn’t it? We want to know more about his background, but we don’t want to dilute his essence. Ash is best when he’s kept crude and simple. He’s best when not slogged down with emotional baggage, but rather dropped somewhere between a mystery and a nincompoop. Season 1 peeled a layer or two away in episodes like “El Jefe” which explored Ash’s motivations and psyche in degrees, but even then the writing team knew that at his core, he should remain like a Deadite’s grave – dirty and shallow.
“Home” sends us on a trip back to Ash’s hometown: Elk Grove, Michigan, where he’s better known as “Ashy Slashy”. Obviously he doesn’t receive a warm welcome by the stock characters who populate it, and soon regrets stopping by (I think). In one sequence at local bar (surprise), we witness Ash stand up to the townspeople just like the medieval a-holes he dealt with at the beginning of Army of Darkness. He even calls them “screw heads” to boot. Is this foreshadowing how Season 2 will incorporate that film into its mythology later on? We can only hope.
Speaking of which, Ash’s dad Brock is just like he is. Yes, it’s funny but it’s kind of redundant. Does this show really need another Ash? We have four already. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if Brock had been nothing like Ash whatsoever. Either way, I’m interested to see what role his father plays in the rest of the season and if he will cause a big shift to occur.
(By the way…is this Ash and Brock naming thing a Pokemon reference or what? Any official word on that yet? I’m out of the loop.)
So. Outside of introducing Lee Majors – er Brock Williams, what purpose does this trip “Home” serve? Is it part of a more cohesive master plan for the season this time? Is it sowing the seeds for a larger conflict with this year’s “big bad”, should such a thing rear its ugly head? Or is this journey back to Ash’s past meant to foreshadow any time-traveling shenanigans Ruby may conjure up later? The hell if I know. Like I said, it’s hard to set your expectations with this series. But I think I like that.
Okay fine. So maybe Stephen Harber is overthinking this show a little. But c’mon. At least he’s not a primitive screw head, right? Follow him on Twitter and Instagram if you want. And stay tuned for the digital release of Issue 0 of Occult Generation, a graphic novel series he’s working on, later this month! (Follow that Instagram account too while you’re at it.)