Sunday, July 1, 2018

Ash vs. Evil Dead - Family

Ash keeps on fighting the evil dead for a third season.

A behind-the-scenes shake-up turned the season 2 finale of the Starz television series Ash vs. Evil Dead into a bit of a compromised mess, in my perspective. When producers balked at showrunner Craig DiGregorio's plan to use time travel shenanigans to make Evil Dead franchise hero Ash Williams (the amazing Bruce Campbell) the biological father of his demon-killing sidekick Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo), that idea was abandoned (I'm not too bummed by that, I wouldn't want Ash to be Kelly's father) and instead the time travel shenanigans in the final episodes led to an ending that made no damn sense.

We saw that the cabin where Ash discovered the demon-summoning Book of the Dead in the original The Evil Dead film was destroyed in 1982 before Ash and his friends could get there, so when Ash returned to present day he should have found that the events of the three films and the two seasons of this show had been wiped from existence. He should have regained his place as a regular resident of Elk Grove, Michigan and should have been greeted by friends and family members who have died during his battles with the demonic Deadites, because they wouldn't have died since he would never have fought Deadites in this new timeline... Instead, his friends and family members remain dead, somehow the events of the films and show did still happen, and the people of Elk Grove are fully aware of Ash's heroism. That ending boggled my mind. I know we can't expect too much logic from Ash vs. Evil Dead, it's so goofy, but I can usually understand how this stuff works. The season 2 finale lost me. How does burning down the cabin only accomplish making Ash more popular in Elk Grove?

That confusion made me concerned about the future of the show, and if season 3 had just proceeded from that ending without acknowledging how nonsensical it was, that issue would have cast a shadow over the whole season for me. Thankfully, new showrunner Mark Verheiden did not leave me in the dark - the fact that their time travel adventure didn't really change anything is directly addressed by Ash's other loyal sidekick, Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago). If even Pablo was confused, I can relax, sit back, and enjoy the ride Verheiden is going to take us on with these new episodes.

Written by Verheiden (who previously wrote Campbell's film My Name Is Bruce and worked with Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi on TimeCop) and directed by Mark Beesley, who directed the season 2 episodes 'Trapped Inside' and 'Delusion', the season 3 premiere picks up with Ash using his newfound popularity to open up a store in Elk Grove. It's inherited from his late father, but he has made adjustments to the business that are pure Ash: at Ashy Slashy's Hardware Store Emporium, there are also sex toy and pornography aisles.

The grand opening celebrations haven't even come to an end before the forces of evil start to disrupt the good times, as they always do. During a live taping of a Antiques Roadshow-esque show called Treasures from the Loft, a woman brings in an old book she found in the mud. The Book of the Dead. When the expert evaluating the book reads from it, evil is unleashed into the world - and Lucy Lawless's Dark One character Ruby, a.k.a. Demon Woman of Fire, a.k.a. Fierce Mother from Hell, shows up to retrieve the tome she had a hand in writing. And she has some very weird plans for it.

Oddly, instead of coming straight for Ash, the force of evil head for Kenward County High School, where a delinquent teenager named Brandy Barr (Arielle Carver-O'Neill) and a friend are staying after class to clean up the obscene graffiti they're responsible for. This episode is packed with the expected hilarious, irreverent comedy, but during the scenes with the evil messing with Brandy and her pal in the high school, there's also a strong element of dark horror.

Soon, but not exactly soon enough, Ash and Pablo arrive at the school to save the day, having been brought there by Brandy's mother Candy... Candy Barr... Candy (Katrina Hobbs) is a stripper Ash had a wild time with in Branson some-teen years back, and now she has come back into his life to inform him that Brandy is his daughter. This show was determined to give Ash a daughter one way or the other, and I'm glad it didn't end up being Kelly. I'm looking forward to getting to know Brandy and seeing what her interactions with Ash are going to be like. She's off to a great start here; her tough, rule-breaker attitude makes a positive first impression.

When the absurdity-tinged demon-fighting action kicks in, and Ash has to do battle with such things as a teenage girl, musical instruments, and possessed cougar mascot (this thing has been featured heavily in the marketing of this season, because it looks awesome) 'Family' delivers another element we've come to know and love this franchise for: those excellent gore effects.

The premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead's third season has everything you could want from an episode of this show, and sets up some intriguing storylines for the rest of the season with the introduction of Brandy and another new character, Lindsay Farris as modern day Sumerian knight Dalton, as well as some strange goings-on with Ruby and Pablo.

The season 2 finale left me worried, but within the 27 minutes of 'Family' Verheiden has eliminated all worry. Ash is back, and I'm happy.

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