We’ve made no secret of our slobbering love for Ash vs Evil Dead, which has just three episodes left in its kick-ass first season. What will we do between January 2 and whenever season two starts? Well, we’ll binge-watch season one a lot ... and ponder all the reasons why it’s so freaking enjoyable.
The most obvious: its characters, starting with his royal awesomeness, Bruce Campbell. Campbell has played a number of memorable roles in his career (a monster-fighting elderly Elvis, a well-connected but down-on-his-luck former spy, etc.), but none so enduring as Ash Williams, who first appeared in Sam Raimi’s 1981 Evil Dead and made Campbell into a horror icon.
The television version of Ash is older, obviously, but not entirely wiser; when the series begins, he’s still clinging to the past (in his choice of music, decor, pick-up lines, and that ever-present Delta 88) while simultaneously trying his best to forget it (what with all the demons and death cluttering his memories). Ash has a huge amount of built-in audience goodwill—and the TV show plays to that perfectly, giving him the puffy-chested bluster and hilarious one-liners that fans are dying to see.
But Ash vs Evil Dead also takes the character a notch further, imagining what it would be like to be a basically good-natured guy who got involved in some pitch-black business a few decades ago that haunts him still. We even get a taste of what Ash’s life might have been like, had he not ventured to the cabin in the Michigan woods that fateful night. (As his vision quest told us, he’d very likely be living it up in Jacksonville, Florida, with two hands and blissful ignorance of what a Deadite is.) And even in a show composed of 30-minute episodes that spend a lot of time unleashing rivers of gore, Ash has evolved. He’s gone from total blowhard who propositions waitresses to a guy who’s started to care for the people around him, even thinking of them as family. (He still propositions waitresses, though.)
Ash is the center of Ash vs Evil Dead, obviously, but Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, and the show’s other writers did him a solid with his supporting characters, all of whom make valuable contributions to each episode and the story as a whole. Pablo and Kelly are Ash’s younger former co-workers who bring energetic back-up to the fight scenes, even as they play audience stand-in by reacting in sheer terror to things that the jaded Ash has seen a thousand times before. Plus, they’re on hand to eye-roll at Ash’s oft-inappropriate behavior and chuckle at his fondness for one-liners. (Kelly’s gotten pretty good at spouting her own one-liners, too.) And they have a sweet dynamic between them; Pablo’s crush on Kelly has never distracted from the main storyline, and Kelly has proven a total badass in her own right.
Then, there’s police officer Amanda Fisher—on whom Ash is nursing his own crush, though as we’ve seen, he hits on practically every woman he meets—who started out believing Ash to be a killer, before slowly realizing he’s fighting for the good guys. She also provides a link to the mysterious Ruby Knowby, played by Lucy Lawless, an actor whose built-in fan appeal rivals Campbell’s. Very wisely, Ash vs Evil Dead has kept Ruby’s true purpose—and indeed, whether or not she’s even human—an enigma, teasing out small details each episode, but clearly building suspense for a big showdown with Ash at the end.
So the characters are a huge reason why Ash vs Evil Dead works so well—but the clever story structure is also no small factor. In episode one, we learn that Ash has drunkenly cracked open the Book of the Dead and awakened evil forces he thought he’d never have to tangle with again. His main mission is to undo that rather giant oopsie, with haste, and the show’s pace reflects that: Each episode begins exactly where the previous left off, and more or less covers the next day on the journey. It’s an ideal formula for the small screen. Every week, we get equal parts character-building and plot advancement, with at least one (and usually more) gushy-great fight scene, plus room for Ash to crack wise whenever he can take a breath.
Which brings us to the third reason why Ash vs Evil Dead is such a successful movie-to-TV adaptation: It keeps the spirit of the films alive, with its gleeful heaps of gore (have exploding heads ever been photographed so lovingly?) and winking sense of humor. The tone is just perfect. What other show would embody evil with a jittery mind-fucking demon—and also with sassy, teeth-gnashing baby dolls?
Even more than that, the show is unafraid to take those elements and apply them to a world that expands way beyond what the movies ever explored. With the Ruby character, we get a hint of a type of creature (a demon hunter? A Deadite who looks human?) that even Ash has never encountered. And with characters like Pablo’s shaman uncle, and the occult bookstore clerk, we start to realize that while Ash may have long believed he was the only one aware of supernatural forces that are just dying to break into our world—he’s not as alone as he thought he was.
At the end of the most recent episode, Ash makes the decision to ditch his loyal crew and go fight his own battle at the cabin, one-man army style. We can guess that Pablo, Kelly, and Amanda will somehow track him down—as will Ruby, and Ash’s wandering severed hand. But what we can’t guess is how it will all unfold, what other body parts will get spectacularly mangled, and what Ash will have to say about all of it. And, of course, what groovy retro rock tune the show will choose to set the mood.
We can’t wait to find out.