Ash Vs. Evil Dead Saturdays, 9 p.m., Starz.
Fans of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies who were disappointed in director Fede Alvarez’s excessively gory but largely humorless 2013 remake will likely be pleased by the new Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead, which brings back original series star Bruce Campbell along with Raimi himself, for a continuation of the story from Raimi’s films. Non-fans might be a little confused by the show’s first episode, which picks right up with hero Ash (Campbell), living in a Michigan trailer park and still haunted by the events of the movies (although third movie Army of Darkness seems to have been excised from continuity) nearly 30 years later.
Ash eventually offers his retail-store co-worker Pablo (Ray Santiago) a brief explanation of his history fighting off demons that possess and kill people (complete with clips from the movies), but mostly the show assumes its audience will already have a strong familiarity with (and affinity for) Ash and his adventures. It’s not a bad assumption to make, and Raimi and Campbell both seem to be having a blast revisiting old territory in the pilot. Ash is still quippy and somewhat dim, but he’s always able to come through with his trusty “boomstick” (aka shotgun) or chainsaw hand when he has to take out one of the demons known as Deadites.
The show offers a cursory justification for the Deadites’ return, but that fits perfectly with the films’ emphasis on jokes and gore over detailed plot mechanics. Thus far, none of the new characters have Ash’s charm, although longtime Raimi collaborator Lucy Lawless makes an intriguing entrance as a mysterious woman who might have ties to the series mythology. Raimi keeps the focus primarily on Ash, and he skillfully combines goofy humor with some nasty horror imagery, making clever use of his TV-level special-effects budget and throwing in several of the movies’ trademark demon-POV shots.
Raimi isn’t on board to direct any episodes beyond the pilot, though, and it’s not clear how this fundamentally insubstantial story will carry an entire 10-episode season. The first episode runs 40 minutes, while subsequent installments are set to run only 30, indicating that Starz considers the series primarily a comedy. Campbell certainly has the wit and charisma to make Ash a welcome weekly TV presence, but without Raimi, he might have to carry the show on his own. For now, at least, he seems to be up to the task.