Stan Against Evil’s first season was enjoyable, but it suffered due to its undeniable similarities to Ash vs. Evil Dead. With Ash’s next season still AWOL, Stan stands alone in the cranky-old-dude-fighting-demons zone—and happily, IFC’s horror comedy has finally found its footing in season two.
I watched all of season two and I won’t spoil anything here, but all of the show’s marketing makes it very clear—as if there was ever any doubt to begin with—that Willard’s Mill Sheriff Evie Barret (Janet Varney) escapes the 17th-century clutches of evil Constable Eccles (Randall Newsome) and returns to the present day, with help from former Sheriff Stan Miller (John C. McGinley). But the cliffhanger resolution doesn’t happen right away, and the rescue plot introduces a couple of big themes for the season: time travel and alternate realities, which the show played with in last season’s time-looping finale; and Stan’s continuing grief over the loss of his wife, Claire (Susan Williams), a demon slayer who stealthily kept her husband safe in a town where every sheriff is marked for death. In learning how to rescue Evie, Stan also discovers a way he can go back in time one year to prevent his wife’s death. (It involves a pair of eyeballs plucked from a wraith... plucked-out eyeballs are another theme this season.)
But Stan knows its strengths, and wisely devotes most of its energy to ridiculously silly monster-of-the-week episodes, which kick off with amusing glimpses into the horrible history of Willard’s Mill and then offer up mysteries guided by various monsters. This season, they include a were-pony, a demonic baby, and a smarmy game-show host. The show’s real raison d’être, of course, is the delight in watching McGinley’s salty curmudgeon react not just to random supernatural creatures, but to the world around him. Upon entering an abandoned house with mystical powers: “What the hell is this dump? Smells like an armpit’s asshole.” Directed at an old lady using a walker: “What are you looking at, punk?” An observation that only vaguely relates to his desire to visit the past: “This country ain’t been the same since Evel Knievel died.” You get the sense that McGinley and Stan creator Dana Gould have the best time ever creating Stan’s lines. They are hilarious and weird and off-putting in delightful ways, and do a lot to distract you from what appears to be the show’s biggest problem: Stan Against Evil really, really doesn’t want you to focus too much on its greater mythology.
As fans of season one will recall, the show’s whole premise starts with sinister Constable Eccles, whose witch-burning reign of terror back in the 1690s is the reason every sheriff in Willard’s Mill is destined to die a gruesome death. It makes sense—a legacy of supernatural payback aimed at the top cop, launched by witches with 400 years of built-up bad attitudes. But, Stan did a switcheroo late in season one, revealing that Eccles was the only true witch in town, and he was actually burning innocent people (mostly women) “to add to his coven,” and bolstering his eventual plan to open a portal between the land of the living and the land of the dead.
So what’s the real deal with the curse on the sheriffs? I went back and re-watched parts of season one to try and piece it together; the conclusion I came to is that Stan Against Evil doesn’t want you to scratch your head too much about this stuff. It especially doesn’t want you to wonder why a show with such a breakneck pace (season two has eight episodes that run just over 20 minutes each) would introduce such a complicated backstory in the first place, then barely explore it. The show wants you to have a good goddamn time, and on that front, it delivers with great gusto.
And fortunately, the insane creatures and the zingy one-liners are even enough to distract nitpicky viewers (like me) from being too frustrated. Stan’s other characters get to reveal a few more layers this season—especially Evie, whose status as a divorced single mom gets addressed a lot this season, and not just by Stan the jolly sexist. (When we meet her blowhard ex-husband, Stan takes an immediate liking to him, of course.) We also see some other surprising developments, including Evie’s genuine friendship with Stan’s, ah, uniquely weird daughter Denise (Deborah Baker, Jr.), and Denise’s budding relationship with gravedigger Kevin (Gould). There’s also a new character (played by Denise Boutte) who provides an important link to Claire and her secret life as a supernatural enforcer. It’s still very much all about Stan, but at least most everyone else has things to do other than just react to his antics. There are also some very entertaining guest stars this season, including horror greats Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed herself) and Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator).
Even with all the story strides made in season two—especially the time-and-dimension traveling stuff, a clever way to expand the boundaries of a show that clearly has a pretty teeny budget—there are still a lot of similarities to Ash vs. Evil Dead, a show that has its whole backstory already locked down in a movie trilogy, as well as more money to spend on gallons of stage blood. But if Stan’s acid-tongued antihero is not yet ready to be lifted into the pantheon of horror greats alongside Ash Williams, at least he’s very nearly as fun to watch. And you should watch! Without revealing specifics, season two ends with a hell of a set-up for a potential season three.
Stan Against Evil season two kicks off today, November 1, on IFC.