ASH VS. EVIL DEAD REVIEW: ‘EL JEFE’
El Jefe is back, and he’s never been groovier. Ash vs. Evil Dead hit the ground running with Bruce Campbell stepping back into his role as Ash Williams for his first live-action outing since Army of Darkness in 1992. The series premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead also set the tone with a much harder R-rated edge than the last film in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy. It didn’t quite have the intensity of Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake from two years ago, but that movie wasn’t a comedy. Whatever else happens, and no matter what horrific fate awaits its heroes, Ash vs. Evil Dead is still largely played for laughs.
On that front, the opening scenes quickly served up Ash as comedic fodder, as he forced himself into a particularly painful looking girdle and set out on an apparently well-practiced routine of hitting a bar shortly before closing time and using a fake story about losing his hand to pick up a woman who was probably already drunk when he got there. Only the viewers got to see Ash’s failed attempts to act cool, including the way he that completely missed the dart board while entering the bar.
Ash’s sex scene in the bar bathroom was unexpected, as Raimi immediately began pushing the boundaries of what Starz will allow. It wasn’t as graphic as some of the scenes in Spartacus, but it was still a surprise. The most amusing part of that scene was that Ash didn’t let a vision of his conquest transformed into a Deadite stop him from finishing what he started.
Racing home to his trailer, Ash discovered that the Necronomicon was safe from everyone…except him. Apparently, Ash got high with a very pretty poetry-loving young woman and they read a few words from the Necronomicon. Ash’s resulting F-bomb was very funny, but it’s disappointing to see just how stupid Ash was about the whole thing. The return of the Deadites really is his own fault. Everyone who dies is on his shoulders, if he’s capable of feeling shame and regret.
The B-storyline of the first episode introduced Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones) and it really played up the horror side of the series as Fisher and her partner encountered Ash’s poetry-loving girlfriend who was now possessed by the Deadites. This was one of the few scenes that intentionally stayed away from laughs as Fisher was eventually forced to kill her partner once he became possessed as well.
Lucy Lawless’ Ruby briefly appeared in Fisher’s story as she told the now disgraced state trooper to believe in what she saw. Of course, this begs the question of how Ruby even knew what Fisher was experiencing, but the result gives Fisher the realization that she isn’t crazy. Eventually, her story will intersect with Ash’s adventure. But for now, she might be this show’s female lead.
It’s refreshing that Ash is such a selfish bastard that his first instinct was to simply run away from the Deadites. It was also quite funny to see Ash manipulate his neighbor into thoroughly preparing his trailer for his pending departure. The pilot also gave viewers a taste of Ash’s day job at Value Stop, as Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) recounted the things that Ash routinely does at work.
Both Pablo and his friend, Kelly Maxwell (Dana Delorenzo), were given good introductions. Kelly even put Ash in a very painful position when he started hitting on her. Kelly’s mom would probably be too young for Ash… if she hadn’t died six months ago, as the episode constantly reminded us. While Ash vs. Evil Dead seems to be going out of its way to avoid mentioning Army of Darkness, Ash’s subsequent fight with a living, evil doll was pure AoD, and it gave Pablo a nice heroic moment when he dispatched the doll. I also enjoyed the clever way that Raimi used the boxes in the storeroom as the screen for Ash’s flashbacks to Evil Dead 2.
Once he knew everything, Pablo didn’t waver in support of Ash. Instead he encouraged him to retake his destiny and be “El Jefe” again as the Evil Dead closed in on him. Instead, Ash took off, leaving Kelly and Pablo to discover that Kelly’s mom wasn’t quite as dead as she used to be, thanks to an alarmed video phone call from her father. It’s not clear why Kelly’s parents were targeted, unless the new Deadite invasion is more widespread than previous incursions.
Back at his trailer, Ash refused Pablo and Kelly’s pleas for help until they were all attacked by his Deadite-transformed neighbors. This was the highlight of the episode, as Ash did what Ash does best: he killed the Deadites with style. As over-the-top as this show already is, Raimi pushed it even further…and even Kelly was impressed by Ash’s skill. By the end, we’ve got our new heroic trio in place,
While the remaining episodes of Ash vs. Evil Dead will be closer to a half-hour in length, the series premiere benefited from the extra time and it was on par with Raimi’s feature film work. I expected Ash vs. Evil Dead to be good, and it far exceeded my expectations. This was a great way to kick off the series. And now that we know that a second season is already lined up, Ash’s new adventures are only just beginning.