What is Stan Against Evil? It appears to be an Ash Vs. Evil Dead knock off, but it pales in comparison. It's RC Cola to that Starz series' pure cane sugar Coca-Cola. It arrives with a very similar premises a year and a half into Ash's series run. And it's from creator Dana Gould, a stand-up comedian who knows pop culture and must have seen the original Sam Raimi movies growing up. It's a horror comedy about an aging white male who must kill demons with the help of minorities. Only, Stan isn't Ash, he doesn't have his stamina, and the jokes aren't that funny. Perhaps because this is on IFC and not Starz, it's not allowed to go so full boar with it's gore either.
Or maybe it doesn't want to. I can't tell. John C. McGinley, who you may know best from his time spent on NBC's hit sitcom Scrubs, takes on the Ash role. And while Bruce Campbell has always been considered the cheap man's hero, this guy is the dollar store version of the cheap man's hero, and he has a problem not falling apart. It's interesting that Bruce Campbell and McGinley spent time in the weekly basic cable drama trenches on USA's Burn Notice. And it appears that John C. picked up a few tips on how to deal with the supernatural.
Watching the show, it's hard to tell if any of the cast has ever watched Ash Vs. Evil Dead. It's almost as though the show's creators and producers had heard of that series, knew it was hitting with its intended audience, and said, we can do that, let's try. Though they didn't really put much effort into not making it look like a slender, weak schlock-off of it's predecessor.
It's hard not to make the comparison. There's the old man hero, a book plays a key character in the ongoing story, and there are demons jumping out all over the place. Though, unlike Ash Vs Evil Dead, Stan Against Evil takes on a cheesy sort of My Name is Earl premises, where there are 172 witches or demons that must be killed by Stan to break an ancient curse. It sets up what we'll see in episodes and seasons to come in an old fashioned way. And all things considered, if it killed a witch or demon every episode, it could go on for 13 Seasons. Plus there's always the chance that some of these demons or witches will get away on occasion.
The premiere episode Dig Me Up, Dig Me Down is just okay. Its snarky attitude is bordering on intolerable simply because we've seen it all before, and we've seen it done better. But it has promise. And the first 22 minutes is quite economic in setting up the over-all story. We first meet Stanley Miller midway through this particular tale. He's no longer the sheriff in his small town. But he's arrived to find the new sheriff tied to a post and about to be burned at the stake. How did we get here? Indeed. Let's rewind.
Sheriff Miller is grieving the death of his wife. And while at the funeral, he is taunted by a mean old hag who is only making her witchy-appearance known to the heartbroken law enforcer. He is forced to deal with the evil on his own terms, ripping the seemingly innocent woman out of her chair and beating her. Following this disgraceful event, which makes it appear as Stan has lost his mind, the sheriff quits his job. Enter his replacement, the new sherif, Evie Barret, played by Janet Varney, who is much more likable and comely here than she is on You're the Worst playing Jimmy's old girlfriend.
Once in office, Barret quickly learns that the town's sheriff suffers a curse. It appears that many moons ago the constable of the town killed 172 witches. And ever since, they have tormented this small New Hampshire township by gruesomely offing any and all new Sheriffs. Barret is next on the list. And she wonders why Stan made it out of his position alive.
As it turns out, Stan's deceased wife was a demon hunter who spent the past 12 years keeping Stan alive behind his back. Miller never knew the lengths to which his beloved spouse went in keeping him in that Sheriff's chair. But now she's gone, and all she's left behind is a room full of weapons and one big book of pure evil. And yeah, not only is this an Ash Vs Evil Dead redo, it also steals from Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, but it's okay, cause that Canadian show isn't around any more, and it being from the Great White North, not that many people have seen it.
This first episode mostly deals with Stan having to dig up his recently buried wife so he can get back a necklace amulet that has a stone embedded in it, which allows the user to read this book of the dead, or book of witches, or what ever it's called. I don't think this episode gives it a name. Barret catches Stan trying to dig up his wife. The two have a 'come to Jesus' moment. And then the witch steals Barret's kid. Did I mention she is a single mother with a dirtbag ex whom we've yet to meet? Pretty sure there'll be an episode where he comes to town.
While trying to save her daughter, Barret gets tied to a stake, and is about to be burned when Ash, I mean Stan, shows up to save the day. The pair defeat the witch, and think they've saved the day and the town. But unbeknownst to them, and knownst to us, there are 171 more of these beasties lurking in the woods ready to strike.
All and all, it's a struggle to get through the first episode of Stan Against Evil. One, because it's a purebred origin episode that hurries to set up the premise, one which we're all too familiar with. Going all the way back to Kolchack the Night Stalker. Two, because the jokes aren't that funny and the action isn't as good as Ash Vs Evil Dead. Let's face it, in Season 2, Bruce Campbell and his team are killing it this year with one spectacular, amazing episode after the next. Also, we've been with Ash for over 30 years now. Stan brings none of that recognition or love with it, so it will have to grow on you.
It does have promise. And it ends with a teaser for Episode 2 that could be very cool. There is a big Crow demon waiting in the wings to take out Stan and Evie next. Oh, yeah, there is also a Sheriff's deputy played with dimwit appeal by Nate Mooney. He doesn't get much to do here except spout a few lines of exposition, setting up the curse that haunts the township's doomed Sheriff. Next week's episode also revolves around a humanoid goat, which looks cool. So no giving up on Stan Against Evil yet. But it's going to have to go in a new direction and pull something very cool out of its aging Sheriff's pants to get me to stick around much longer.