In 83 episodes over 6 seasons, THE WALKING DEAD has captivated audiences the world over with grim character work, creeping dread and excessive zombie killing. I am no longer one of those captivated – the pilot was great and there were some compelling moments spread across Season 3 and 4, but I threw in the towel and gave up halfway through Season 5 due to the sheer monotony and tedium of the enterprise. After only 10 episodes (hoping to continue with Season 2 shortly), here’s a few reasons I already think ASH VS EVIL DEAD has surpassed its less groovy cousin.
It’s short and sweet. 10 episodes at 30 minutes apiece (pilot aside), Ash doesn’t waste time and much like CLONE WARS and REBELS reclaimed STAR WARS’ serial origins, this series doesn’t try to take EVIL DEAD beyond very fun and colourful schlock. Compare it to Walking Dead which goes on and on and on, always aspiring to be a filmic prestige show but has long outstayed its welcome.
It’s scary. Evil Dead has always been scary. Early on Sam Raimi realised that his home-made makeup and gore wouldn’t frighten anyone on its own terms, so he made up for that with creative camerawork, unsettling sound design and a genuinely terrifying premise that marked his undead out. The makeup is better now, but we also see on multiple occasions in the films and in this series, the Deadites go back and forth between their possessed and normal states. When a loved one is gone, they’re only a moment away from tricking you into dropping your guard by seemingly returning to normal. They prey on emotion and humanity’s willingness to believe there’s a hope their loved ones can get better. Walking Dead offs characters for good and doesn’t even often allow them to come back as zombies.
It cracks a smile. Evil Dead has always been funny. As compelling as Walking Dead was to begin with, as good as the performances still are, you can’t always be stoney-faced, even in the face of the apocalypse. Our heroes may be facing death round every bend, but our idiot protagonist Ash (Bruce Campbell) is never going to leave his ego behind, and a bit of goons slapstick (against an version of Ash, a demon baby or a possessed old lady) or barrel-scraping chat up lines help break pace and add colour.
Violence this extreme is funny. The zombie kills in Walking Dead are brutal and extreme, but our heroes are so supernaturally gifted at defending vulnerable areas and getting timely headshots that any jeopardy is quickly diminished. Dismemberment, disembowelment, disintegration, even death by firehose is doled out with a complete straight face. Ash knows its a ridiculous show, its characters know what they are doing and what is happening around them is funny as well as scary, which really helps with the tonal dissidence.
Our idiot protagonist screws up, but his friends will save him. We’ve seen the Evil Dead movies, we know when the icky stuff is going to hit the fan. No matter how much of the same he’s been through, how many times he somehow scrapes through, Ash remains wonderfully unaware. He’s good at killing Deadites, but throw enough at him or just wait for his middle-aged body to let him down and he’s toast. This would result in a short series if Ash didn’t have anyone else to rely on, but luckily the writers gave him good egg Pablo (Ray Santiago) and streetsmart Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) who know only to trust Ash so far.
Our idiot protagonist occasionally makes a sane decision. Despite being a complete moron, Ash has a survival instinct and is usually the first to point out when a situation doesn’t feel right. He may be an idiot, but he’s not an idiot. Chainsaw first, ask questions later seems to be his mantra (see the dinner table scene with Kelly’s definitely-deadite-mum), unless there’s a woman he thinks he’s got a chance with involved. Ever try the Walking Dead Stupid Character Decision drinking game?
It steadily expands on the mythos. Walking Dead had a revolving door of characters aside from the core leads, but every series amounted to the same thing: stay in a “secure” location for a while before things go south and the journey continues. It’s basically ANIMALS OF FARTHING WOOD with zombies. From a solid foundation, Ash builds on the world Raimi created, introducing new interested parties (a nice XENA reunion with Lucy Lawless’s scene-stealing killing machine Ruby), demons as well as deadites and leaves the world in a more interesting place than we found it by the end of Season 1. SSP