[This is a review of the Ash vs. Dead season 2 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
It is always fascinating to see a series learn new ways of telling a story as it moves on from its inaugural season. The first time around, Ash vs. Evil Dead was, in many ways, fueled by nostalgia for the original Sam Raimi-directed, Bruce Campbell-starring films that proved popular enough to see the franchise live long enough to need a sports car to fulfill some deep-seated, existential need. The premiere even tapped Raimi to bring his signature style to the show and to kick things off in proper campy, blood-soaked, fashion. The effort paid off, the series managed to be a reminder of everything that was great about the original films (minus Army of Darkness, of course), while also formulating a storyline befitting an ongoing television series. The result was a funny, gory, if not always propulsive, first season that hinted at greater things to come in season 2.
Those things are present and accounted for in the season 2 premiere 'Home,' which Starz released online early, pulling a Showtime in an effort to get a few extra eyeballs on a series that, given the fan base and the lack of quality horror comedies anywhere else on television should be the premium channel's marquee series – or at least one of them. The question of larger audience engagement may still linger around the series, but it's hard not to be engaged with the rejiggered story line of season 2 and the introduction of Lee Majors as Ash's cantankerous father.
Ash vs. Evil Dead had a fairly basic premise that served it well throughout the first season (and did the same during the movies), but with 10 half-hour episodes to fill, there needs to be more to the series than Ashley J. Williams' quest to kill as many Deadites as possible while learning what secrets are contained within the Necronomicon. With that serving as the overarching plotline of the series, season 2 takes a two-pronged (or is that double-barreled?) approach to the narrative by getting much more specific and by giving its setting meaning beyond its connection to the films. The result is, like Ash's hand or Majors' most famous role, a sort of rebuilt Ash vs. Evil Dead that aims to avoid episodes comprised solely of a simple, repetitive A to B plot. While the episodes still feature a type of fetch quest at their core, there is something more driving the story than a vague notion of, well the show's title. Ash vs. Evil Dead is the essence of the series, but now, in season 2, it looks to be more than that.
In order to pull this new narrative off, showrunner Craig DiGregorio and the rest of the writers focus on undoing the events of the season 1 finale without necessarily reversing them completely. Given the supernatural element at the heart of the series, it wouldn't have been outside the realm of possibility for season 2 to simply make Ash's dream of living in Jacksonville and the deal he made with Ruby anything more than an actual dream. But to the show's credit, it sticks with the idea that Ash, Pablo (Ray Santiago), and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) have relocated to America's vestigial tail to live out their days in a sort of spring break haze, but also gives them a good enough reason to pull up stakes and return to Ash's home in Michigan.
The premiere derives a great deal of its humor from it depiction of both sides of Ash's character. The brash, boastful, Deadite-slaying "jefe" is the one that audiences are most familiar with. And while the joke has always been that Ash is really a pathetic loser, the season 2 premiere puts the Delta 88 in his parents' driveway in an attempt to get to the bottom of what brings both sides of Ashley J. Williams together. That's something of a tall order, as Ash is intended to be a spoof on a heroic archetype: the bumbling idiot who turns out to be the "chosen one." But 'Home' makes a solid case that Ash is more interesting than an archetype turned upside down by pulling years of hurt out from under the rug it was swept under following the events of the Evil Dead films.
The decision to not merely reference the fallout of what happened when Ash chopped up all his friends in a cabin in the woods, but to confront it head on, winds up shifting the dynamic of the series in an interesting way. With Ash back in his hometown, grudgingly teaming up with Ruby (Lucy Lawless) to protect the Necronomicon from the demonic children she's lost control of, AvED saves itself a lot of time in the exposition department, as everyone not only knows who Ash is, but also his history is now the town's shared history, which is why the delightful moniker, "Ashy Slashy", has been bestowed upon him.
Normally, additions to the cast can raise questions as to their importance to the overall story and create worry that they will negatively impact the already established dynamic, like the one between Ash, Pablo, and Kelly. But so far in season 2, the new characters play a key role in making the exploration of Ash's past matter. Front and center is Lee Majors as Brock Williams. The onetime Fall Guy is terrific as the proverbial old block Ash was chipped from, suggesting the Williams men come from a long line of semi-lecherous slime balls with a gift for shooting shotguns. Meanwhile, Michelle Hurd as Linda makes an early appearance as a possible romantic interest for the hero, or at least as someone sympathetic to the fact that his entire hometown hates him and resents his return. There's even a potential human adversary in Sheriff Thomas Emery (Stephen Lovatt), a victim of Ash's high school bullying who is now in a position of power over his onetime tormenter.
With all the consideration given to Ash's past, and the relationships that were put on hold or severed completely, the show still knows how to deliver its signature gore. The first episode features a blood-soaked battle with two Deadites in Margaritaville that is as over the top as anything the series has ever done. Meanwhile, Ruby's battle with her children features more than enough black goo and bloody excess to please any horror fan. In all, Ash vs. Evil Dead season 2 hits the ground running with a premiere that's definitely better and stronger than it was a season ago.
Ash vs. Evil Dead continues next Sunday with 'The Morgue' @10pm on Starz.