Is there even one fan out there who wasn’t at least a little disappointed in the first half of season 8 of “The Walking Dead”? I mean, the ratings are pretty clear that a lot of people stopped watching in the wake of the grotesquely mishandled season 6 finale but millions of us stuck with it. I guess we all thought that if we could make it through season 2’s neverending stay on Hershel’s farm, we could sit through anything but who could have foreseen the non-stop dumpster fire of used diapers and Indian food that was the first half of season 8.
I have unfortunately watched way too much television in my lifetime and I can state categorically that I have never seen a show as good as “The Walking Dead” get so bad so quickly. And yes, despite what all the haters out there want to pretend, “The Walking Dead” used to be a damn good show. It had its problems but they were mostly due to questionable creative decisions like “Hey, let’s destroy Andrea’s character by making her cuddle up to The Governor” or “Hey, you know what viewers want? An entire episode focused on Tara and Heath!”
"Seriously, I'm begging you here. They're not casting me in any more Spider-Man movies."
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The first half of season 8 was some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen on a top rated TV show. And Negan and his men going from Seal Team Six to the Three Stooges and back to Seal Team Six for no reason wasn’t even the worst of it. What exactly was Rick’s plan when he went to talk to Jadis and the Garbage People? When they took him prisoner, I thought “Cool. This is some plan for Rick to get inside their junkyard and then Daryl and company show up next week to kick some Garbage-butt.” But no, it turns out that Rick’s entire plan was to show up and convince them to join the rebellion against the Saviors based on nothing but his irresistible charisma. AAAAARRRRGH!!!
Well, if you’re starting to wonder if it’s time to end your unhealthy relationship with “The Walking Dead,” there IS an alternative that is having its third season debut the same night the second half of season 8 kicks off. “Ash vs. Evil Dead” stars the incomparable Bruce Campbell in the TV continuation of the “Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2/Army of Darkness” horror trilogy. It picks up the adventures of the only hero with a chainsaw hand 30 years after the events of the films and it amazingly blends the gore and over-the-top theatrics of the first two “Evil Dead” movies with the absurd humor and attitude of “Army of Darkness.”
I previously wrote about season one of “Ash vs. Evil Dead” (click here), so this time let’s take a look at season two. It picks up with Ash (Bruce Campbell) having the time of his life in Jacksonville after making a deal with the mysterious immortal Ruby (Lucy Lawless) to free himself from the burden of the Necronomicon, the mystically powerful Book of the Dead. He’s joined by his comrades from season one, the relentlessly supportive Pablo (Ray Santiago) and the more-cynical-but-has-nowhere-else-to-go Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). But when Ruby’s plans for the Book go awry, she’s forced to call on Ash and his fellow “Ghost-Beaters” for help.
That leads to Ash’s return to his old hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan and reunions with his estranged father (Lee Majors), his ex-girlfriend (Michelle Hurd), his old high school running buddy (Ted Raimi), and a town full of people who hate and fear “Ashy Slashy” as the guy who murdered his sister and friends at a cabin in the woods. It turns out the help Ruby needs is to prevent the resurrection of a demon named Baal (Joel Tobeck), who loves to psychologically manipulate we humans into tearing each other apart, and it eventually involves Ash and company time-traveling back to the early 1980s.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers because season two is quite enjoyable and, at 10 half-hour episodes, you can binge-watch it in a single weekend. The “Evil Dead” films and Bruce Campbell’s B-movie shtick are something of an acquired taste but it you’ve enjoyed them in the past, “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is definitely something you should check out. In all honesty, season two isn’t quite as strong as season one, which had a basic quest plotline that carried through all the episodes. Season two essentially has a four episode prologue, followed by a four episode story with the main villain, and concludes with a two episode epilogue.
Those middle four episodes are really strong, with the show even managing to take one of the most hackneyed plots in drama and turn it into something pretty interesting, but those bookend episodes aren’t quite to that level. The prologue is very focused on Ash’s return to Elk Grove but it doesn’t appear they completely thought through that premise. Not only are both Campbell and Ash a little long in the tooth for the “man returns home to confront the sins of his youth” storyline, the writers treated the premise like it was a punch line. If a bunch of young people got butchered in the woods and one survived, what actually happened next? Was Ash prosecuted for murder? Was he sent to an insane asylum for all his talk about Deadites? Has Ash been a wanted fugitive all this time? The show offers no explanation at all, which is kind of a problem when that’s the main linchpin for the first four episodes.
And there was reportedly some behind-the-scenes conflict with the “Ash vs. Evil Dead” creators and I believe it after watching the last two episodes. They start out fairly strong, though hamstrung by echoing the ending of season one, but the final episode of season two ends with a scene that legitimately makes not a lick of sense and has three “Force-ghosts” show up like it’s a Star Wars spin off.
Those issues, though, don’t detract that much from the really fun and funny good time to be had watching season two. The prologue episodes have one of the craziest scenes I’ve ever watched in my entire life. Dana DeLorenzo is absolutely outstanding. Kelly is kind of third wheel when it comes to the plot but DeLorenzo is so good you can’t imagine the show without her. There are some truly surprising twists and things are even flat out scary at times, which is damn hard to do with this kind of program. Most horror TV shows rapidly turn into action shows with monsters but there are moments when season two will creep you out. And Bruce Campbell, of course, is and remains THE MAN.
“Ash vs. Evil Dead” season two is extremely gory and has a buttload of profanity, so it’s not something to view with the whole family unless it’s The Addams Family or The Munsters. But if you want to watch a show that only wants to entertain you, rather than one that seems to be deliberately trying to frustrate and anger you…give it some sugar.
And don’t forget about season three.
Ash vs. Evil Dead: Season Two
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Lucy Lawless, Lee Majors, Ted Raimi, Michelle Hurd, Joel Tobeck, Pepi Songua, Stephen Lovatt, Stephen Ure, Nicholas Hope, and Jeremy Dillon.