“Stan Against Evil” is a slight and silly horror comedy that knows what its limitations are and does its best to be amusing despite them. The main reason to tune in to this cheerfully goofy show is to see typically excellent performances from leads John C. McGinley and Janet Varney, who work well together as a law-enforcement team trying to protect a small town from an infestation of demons and other weird critters.
Actually, McGinley’s character, Stan Miller, is retired; he’s the former sheriff of Willard’s Mill, a New England town that burned far more than its share of witches hundreds of years ago. The town’s constable was involved in that wave of persecution, and ever since, Willard’s Mill’s top cops have always met bloody and untimely ends at the hands of vengeful spirits.
The reason that Stan was spared that fate is explained early on, but the show’s grab-bag mythology isn’t really the point, nor are its low-budget, splatter-y special effects. What’s most fun about “Stan” is watching the grumpy ex-cop reluctantly join forces with Evie Barret (Varney), the town’s energetic and resourceful new sheriff. McGinley is a master of the withering put-down, but, as has always been the case (especially on “Scrubs”), he’s always been able to show flashes of his characters’ intelligence, dedication, and humanity. Stan’s in a bad place as the show begins, and as gruff as he is, the chance to fight evil with Evie allows him to begin the process of rebuilding his life.
The stories will be familiar to anyone with a glancing knowledge of the horror genre, but McGinley and Varney, who’s been terrific as a recurring character on “You’re the Worst,” are a well-matched duo. Evie is more earnest than Stan, but she wrings a great deal of comedy from her reactions to her bizarre new situation, which includes dealing with a lot of strange or possessed locals. She’s also saddled with a sweetly dopey deputy who is about as useless as they come. Rounding out the show’s four core characters is Stan’s naive adult daughter, a ditzy character who is brought to charming life by Deborah Baker Jr.
The only recurring annoyance is that the title character’s constant litany of complaints contains a lot of lazy sexist jokes, which the show seems to think are funnier and more original than they are. At times, the pop-culture references and surreal segues make “Stan Against Evil” feel a bit like a saucy animated show done with live actors, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. And that vibe makes sense, given that creator Dana Gould has written for “The Simpsons.”
All in all, this low-key but moderately amusing comedy seems like a good fit for the IFC brand.