Starz recently renewed their series Ash vs Evil Dead for a third season, which is surprising. Making a TV show into something truly entertaining is difficult. Making a horror TV show entertaining is somewhat impossible. Perhaps it’s got something going for it because the series is based on one of the most enduring and versatile horror franchises in history, beginning with director (and the show’s co-Executive Producer) Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic The Evil Dead. What began as a simple horror tale of college kids fending off particularly nasty demonic possessions in a secluded cabin birthed a delightfully unwieldy (and blood-filled) universe of horror comedy that has done the seemingly absurd by transitioning perfectly to the small-screen. It has taken the trope-tastic threadbare premise — something that could have been one of its biggest drawbacks — from the movies and embraced its lack of any real plot just like the freewheeling nature of its main character, Ash Williams. It makes Ash vs Evil Dead one of the most fun shows on TV for now and into the near future.
The centerpiece of the show is and always will be Bruce Campbell’s indelible performance as Ash. The character is at once wildly inappropriate and a cuddly teddy bear with a chainsaw for a hand, and Campbell was basically born to play the part. For much of his adult life he has.
Fans have been enjoying this iteration of Ash, with his emphasis on self-deprecating Three Stooges-esque humor and severed limbs, since the 1987 reboot sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn right through the 1992 time travel threequel Army of Darkness. His chiseled chin, blood-splattered face, and trusty boomstick in hand was tailor-made for brief feature-length adventures and beyond. He’s like some kind of horror superhero. Stretching that into a 10-episode season arc could have made both the horror and the comedy get easily out of hand.
But, unsurprisingly, the series adopts the movie’s tendency to just let Ash run wild and slay some Deadites along the way without stressing any real plot. It’s the kind of thing that makes you love the show unconditionally if you’re hooked into the performance but completely turned off if you can’t hail to the king, baby.
Army of Darkness was pigeonholed by its medieval setting to adhere to narrative mechanics, but Dead by Dawn, the movie that shares the most DNA with Ash vs. Evil Dead, simply threw in a MacGuffin in the form of the series’ iconic Necronomicon — aka the book of the dead — to get the characters to seem like they’re accomplishing something. Mostly though, it was about the Deadite carnage. Ash vs. Evil Dead wisely operates the same way.
The first season just kind of resurrected the Necronomicon demon incantation slip up of the movie and had Ash have to clean up the mess all over again. Throw in budding sidekicks in the form of bumbling Pablo (Ray Santiago) and sarcastic Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), with an appearance by Lucy Lawless as the vengeful Ruby, and you have yourself a TV show. They all find themselves off on episodic jaunts like visiting the relatives of each, but the first season’s simple narrative all led back to the cabin of the original. The actual narrative points themselves in between seemed secondary to the character interactions and horror comedy, and it actually made the show better for it.
The movies were the most basic horror constructs. You never watched them for the plot, and Ash vs Evil Dead has adopted that as its core mantra as well. We’re still early in the already superior second season, and while a Necronomicon slip up by Ruby has given Ash, Pablo, and Kelly a reason to come back from their post-demon-deal paradise in Jacksonville, hopefully the show’s creators remember that more gruesome Deadite fun is better than overwrought plot pleasantries.