Ash Vs. Evil Dead — Pilot
Many writers have claimed that television will rot your brain. I have tremendous respect for two of them, on a professional if not a personal level, such as Stephen King and Harlan Ellison. Those many writers were talking about television of the ‘50s, ‘60s, 70s, and ‘80s. And they were right. That stuff was largely bland, inoffensive, trite, saccharin gruel for the brain. But those writers haven’t been too frequently or too loudly heard from, lately.
Why? Because televised storytelling has evolved. The taboos that kept it all relatively safe and inoffensive have been all but annihilated, for good (and, yes, for ill, too.) It used to be that every television series was little more than an extended collection of, to borrow a phrase, “Monster Of The Week” episodes. The only significant difference between a series like Star Trek and an anthology like The Twilight Zone was that the former reused the same primary characters. But a third season episode was hardly discernible, narrative-wise, from a first season episode. They could really have occurred in any order at all.
And as many barriers as Star Trek broke — first non-human main character, first female authority figure, first interracial kiss, yada yada blah blah blah — it adhered to far too many more. Perhaps not on the sociopolitical front, but on the storytelling conventions. Every episode was damned near interchangeable.
The first major television series that I can think of which broke with this trend and started to offer an over-arching continuity was The X Files. At this point, you’re practically yelling, “Why the fuck are you telling me this, Castle?! What the hell has this got to do with Evil Dead?!” Here’s what:
Television is finally ready for this series. Television finally caught up to the rest of us. Ash vs. Evil Dead has a past, and a continuity, as nearly all modern television series, thankfully, do now.
Spoilers Ahead. Also, may contain peanuts. And almost certainly pork products.
Ash Vs. Evil Dead opens on Ash Williams as fans of the Evil Dead Trilogy (I’m not counting the remake) and fans of Bruce Campbell in or out of this franchise would expect him to be — an aging, sagging former hero and savior of the world who has blissfully wrapped himself in anonymity and the safe, comfortable, mundane life of a nobody. The biggest goal he has is relatable to every middle aged or older fella — he wants a brew and a bang.
But that’s not how things work out for Ash Williams. Mid-romp, his sports bar conquest tells him that she’s coming — and then that they’re coming. The Deadites, once vanquished, are back. Ash can’t figure out how — or why — until he finds a bong-centric bookmark in his hard-won copy of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis. Yeah. Turns out pot smoking sometimes unleashes the kind of party you don’t want an invite to.
And it’s the not the kind of party Ash wants to walk back into, either. That’s the pilot. Ash got out of that shit-show, and he wants to stay out of it. But does he get to stay out of it? Rhetorical question, of course he doesn’t. There’s no series if he plays it safe. But watching how and why he steps back into the chainsaw and boomstick, that’s the fun of the pilot.
Absolutely, this pilot picks up where the films left off. However, for fans of the trilogy, one thing to point out — and some may see this as an up, some may see it as a down:
Ash Vs. Evil Dead seems, to this viewer, to completely discard not only the 2014 theatrical remake, but also Army Of Darkness, as well. If anything, this feels very much like a continuation of Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn, both in spirit and in narrative. The gore and horror both are over the top, balanced by comedy — but the comedy omits the slapstick and sticks to witty one-liners. And that works.
It’s also nice to see Ash realistically taking on the dual-role of lead badass and wizened mentor to a pair of younger actors. I don’t think there’s anybody who would tune into this who doesn’t like to see Bruce Campbell kick undead ass, but I’m also pretty sure that we know he’s not the youngster he was when this franchise opened. It may not be time for him to pass the torch, but it’s not a bad idea to have him passing out torches, and pitchforks.
One last thought — everything an Evil Dead fan might be afraid they would do to this franchise to get it on television? They didn’t. This whiskey ain’t watered down, it’s the real thing. It really does feel like this team distilled everything that kicked ass about the films into a small screen format with big screen values, both technically and narratively. Evil Dead is officially back.