With apologies to “Jerry Maguire,” in the case of “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” Starz probably had the intended audience at hello. The simple kick of seeing Bruce Campbell back in zombie-slayer mode, hip-deep in buckets of gore, is tasty enough that the particular merits of this revival are almost beside the point. Wisely packaged in half-hour intervals after a slightly longer premiere, the series exhibits a kind of numbing repetition (forget binge viewing) but should bring in viewers who aren’t watching “Outlander.” In terms of Starz vs. Waffling Subscribers, that sounds like a victory.
Yes, it really has been 34 years since director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and Campbell (an exec producer too) teamed up on the original movie, which spawned sequels and helped guide everyone toward bigger and better things. So there’s an initial thrill in Campbell re-inhabiting the character of Ash, now billed as the world’s oldest one-handed box boy, who has spent three decades seeking to avoid the storm he unleashed by opening the wrong book in the woods.
Naturally, Ash’s stupidity and questionable judgment lead to his potential undoing. Drunk and stoned, he read from the Book of the Dead to impress a woman, allowing the monsters he’s successfully evaded all these years to zero in on him. With the Deadites back, he receives assistance from his understandably dazed co-workers Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), with some of the interpersonal tension coming from Pablo’s unrequited crush on Kelly.
As a parallel plot, there’s also Det. Amanda Fisher (Jill Marie Jones), whose encounter with the Evil Dead leaves her on shaky ground professionally, and on a likely collision course with Ash and his pals. And just to make the show — directed by Raimi, who wrote the premiere with his brother Ivan and Tom Spezialy — even more of a family affair, Tapert’s wife and one-time “Xena” star, Lucy Lawless, appears as a mysterious woman who seems to know more than she’s letting on.
Granted, there are a lot of guts strewn about in cable these days, but few TV programs dabble in gore quite so gleefully, leaving characters drenched in cartoonish sprays of blood, much of it oozing out of creatures that scale walls like a big spider (something with which Raimi should be especially familiar). Campbell, meanwhile, saunters through it all with his trademark swagger, and when Pablo complains about being soaked in muck, Ash helpfully hands him a small, packaged towelette.
Admittedly, the series is basically an extended one-note joke, which makes the half-hour format particularly welcome, inching the story along as Ash — armed with a snap-on chainsaw and traveling via motor home — tries to overcome the forces pursuing him and lay the Dead to rest, once and for all.
With our hero having already sacrificed a hand to the cause, nobody should be surprised if the series version doesn’t possess long legs. But as a short-term lark, it’s goofy, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and certainly feels well-calibrated to a very particular appetite that’s uniquely suited to pay cable.
From that perspective, the show does justice to its campy, low-budget roots. So for now, Ash, his rather motley crew and anyone who dares sit too close to the TV would be well advised to keep those moist towelettes handy.