“Ash is back, baby!”
The welcome war cry of Season 1 incited much excitement in the “Evil Dead” fandom when “Ash vs. Evil Dead” debuted on Starz a year ago. After 23 years passed since “Army of Darkness” dropped and a misguided reboot failed to woo fans new or old, writers Sam and Ivan Raimi reunited with star Bruce Campbell for what proved to be one of TV’s finest hybrids. An old-school action-adventure mixed with a horror show packing some serious frights, “Ash vs. Evil Dead” delivered laughs to boot — good ones!
But resurrecting a hero of yesteryear once — even over the course of 10 half-hour episodes — is a lot easier than bringing him back for good. The pilot, directed by Sam Raimi, was a stunning achievement exemplifying the passion and joy inherent in telling Ash’s uniquely scary and silly story… meaning it would have been virtually impossible for Season 2’s opener to match up. There’s a clever homage to the pilot’s pinnacle in this year’s half-hour premiere, but otherwise the episode feels like it’s settling to gross out audiences instead of knock their socks off.
As though by design (which, it could be, but hopefully isn’t), this season’s repeated phrase/motto is a nickname given to our hero after the events of the first “Evil Dead”: “Ashy Slashy.” In full, he’s known as “Ashy Slashy: The Boomstick Butcher with a Chainsaw Hand,” but it’s the “slashy” rhyme that resonates through two episodes, as buckets– nay, fish tanks…no, it’s even more than that — pools full of blood drench the characters to the point where acting is secondary to breathing. I’m not talking about little kiddie pools filled with corn syrup and red dye. There are Shamu-level pools of blood being splashed, thrown and dropped on these fine thespians.
There doesn’t need to be. While the new season of “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is spinning its chainsaw a bit, the series doesn’t appear all that different on the surface from what we thoroughly enjoyed a year ago. More importantly, it quickly introduces a storyline rich with opportunity for the plots of future episodes and for the show’s creators to recapture their spark.
Following the despondent Season 1 finale in which Ash decided to hand over control of the evil unleashed by the Necronomicon to Ruby (Lucy Lawless), we find our hero exactly where he wants to be: Jacksonville, FL. As was promised in the deal, Ash is living large alongside Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), drinking and dancing his way through spring break… until evil finds him again.
Based on a couple of key clues, Ash realizes what he has to do: return to his hometown — Elk Grove, Michigan — and face the demons of his past while fighting the demons of his present. Though a road trip episode certainly would’ve been a hoot, the gang quickly makes its way up north and comes face to face with Ash’s dead-to-him dad, Brock (Lee Majors). Besides being the grumpier, lazier version of his son, Brock feels the same way about his first born as his first born does about him. Nevertheless, he puts him up while the team tries to find and vanquish the deadites soon to haunt the sleepy little town.
Not that we care what happens to its residents: The lot of them all think Ash is a killer, a sensible reaction to the events of the first film, if an infuriating and scarring response for our hero. This kind of heated backstory connecting back to the franchise’s origins is an excellent premise for a season, and one that hopefully develops beyond what we’ve been given in the first two episodes; most notably, beyond gross-out gags.
Now, cringe-inducing blood battles have been a staple of the “Evil Dead” franchise since it began, so in no way are we suggesting they disappear. It’s just that the sum total of excessive scenes — no more so then in a graphically phallic fight scene involving intestines, shit, farts, and dicks, both literal and metaphorical — seem to outweigh the wit we’ve come to know and love. Ash’s vivacious vocabulary is largely intact, but this series needs more creativity in its stories, side characters (who’ve more than earned their own plots) and action scenes — not just in dumping blood everywhere.
Considering the talent behind the show, not to mention its incomparable star, we have no doubt “Ash vs. Evil Dead” will remain a fun ride throughout Season 2. We’re just hoping for a little more Ash and a little less Slash.