Ash vs. Evil Dead Series Premiere Review: He's Back, Baby

Ash vs. Evil Dead S01E01: "El Jefe"

The formula for Ash vs. Evil Dead is pretty simple: Ash goofs off, a demon shows up, Ash kills the demon in spectacular fashion, Ash says something hilarious. Repeat! And that's all Ash vs. Evil Dead needs, because it all hinges around one man: Bruce Campbell

Campbell is Ash vs. Evil Dead's everything, reprising his role as the wise-cracking, lady-slaying, demon-beheading hero at the center of the Evil Dead franchise. And his move (and the franchise's move) to television 22 years after the last Evil Dead movie was released was nearly seamless, as everything you loved from the movies is retained in the new series. Well, everything plus about 30 pounds, as the opening scene of Ash squeezing into a corset tells us. 

If you're unfamiliar with the Evil Dead franchise and Ash then you should rectify that immediately over a 12-pack, three loaded bongs, and a garbage bag of popcorn. But to those familiar with it, Campbell felt like he'd been playing Ash all these decades he's been gone. (Maybe it's because every character Campbell winds up playing is a riff on Ash, as Burn Notice fans will attest.) Ash speaks his mind, even when following up exaggerated bravado with an admission of his own shortcomings (while hitting on a woman he tells her she'll want him even though he's 10 30 pounds overweight and greying), and announces his intent to fight with childish insults at his opponents. And every single time it's funny. Campbell looks older, sure, but not nearly as old as he should look, and all the brash charisma is still there. He is a hero's hero, the man every man wants to be and every lady wants. Ash is a good time in a blue button up.

In fact, Campbell is so good in this that you might not even care that Ash vs. Evil Dead has little in the way of plot. From "El Jefe" we gathered that Ash cracked open the Necronomicon while stoned in an effort to impress a girl who was into poetry (sure, we'll go with that), unleashing the Deadites on Nowhere, Michigan. From there, demons showed up in Ash's trailer or in the form of a murderous doll in the warehouse of the ValueStop store he works, and Ash did his thing. The extended first episode didn't accomplish a whole lot, but it did reacquaint us with the zany Evil Dead universe and push Ash into the hero's journey we all expected. 

Along for the ride in Ash vs. Evil Dead are Pablo (Ray Santiago), Ash's coworker, and Kelly (Dana Delorenzo), a new hire at the store and a target for Ash's hormones, but these two are purely ornamental. Pablo's practically invisible in Ash's shadow, and Kelly is just the key to whatever story the series wants to tell about her dad getting visited by her dead mom. Presumably, the trio will go find out why her mother's back, I suppose, but honestly, it doesn't really matter because Ash vs. Evil Dead is plenty entertaining without any story. 

But if you must require story, new character Amanda Fischer, a Michigan cop, might be the person to have it. Her job led her to one of the episode's genuinely scary sequences when she came upon a Deadite and watched as her partner was impaled on the antlers of a stuffed trophy buck before turning into a Deadite himself. It's unclear how she'll fit in the story, but she did cross paths with Lucy Lawless's Ruby, a new character who also remained a mystery by the time the episode was over. 

When I said Campbell was Ash vs. Evil Dead's everything, I kinda lied. The other half of the series is Sam Raimi, the co-creator and director of the films. He's back behind the camera for the premiere with his cost-effective but also just-plain-effective work, adding energetic spirit to his action sequences featuring evil spirits, hurtling the camera along parking lots to simulate the presence of evil, rattling motor homes with thuds and emphatic zooms, and his trademark holds on the faces of the Deadites and their blank eyes. Raimi's one of the best directors in the business with a style all his own, and it will be worth keeping an eye out to see if the non-Raimi directed episodes look as good as "El Jefe." 

Ash vs. Evil Dead got off to a good, brainless start, and as long as the series knows that Campbell is its money maker and doesn't take itself too seriously, it'll be great Saturday fun. "El Jefe" didn't seem too bothered with story. Instead, it wanted to showcase Campbell, fire up the chainsaw, and splatter some brains, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that because those are the franchise's strengths and what we all came to see.