Review: ‘Stan Against Evil’ is light, if violent, entertainment
With Wednesday’s premiere of IFC’s “Stan Against Evil,” while Starz’s “Ash vs. Evil Dead” continues its second season apace, basic cable can boast two similarly titled, bloody comedies in which a politically incorrect, reluctant hero battles a supernatural threat.
Both embrace B-movie conventions. But where “Ash” is epically mock-epic, transferring Sam Raimi’s big-screen “Evil Dead” aesthetic whole to the small one, “Stan” is very much a TV show. Created by comedian, podcaster and “Simpsons” vet Dana Gould, it’s a sort of “Mayberry RFD” strained through “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” with as many bad words as basic cable will allow. There is a bit of a through line, a low-lying arc; but it’s basically episodic television, each week giving its heroes a new sort of spook to understand and dispatch.
Evie Barrett (Janet Varney, “You’re the Worst”) is the new sheriff in a town whose previous sheriffs and constables have for more than 300 years met horrible untimely deaths, since a Colonial constable burned “172 falsely accused witches.” The single exception is the eponymous Stanley Miller (John C. McGinley from “Scrubs”), newly and significantly widowed and ruefully resigned from the post; his relationship with Evie will be, as one would predict, initially strained. Gruff in a squinty way, like a down-market Clint Eastwood, Stan has a penchant for colorful if not especially clever similes (“I’m going to rip you open like a bag of Pop-Tarts,” “come at you all eyes and teeth like a wolverine in spandex”). He worries that taking sugar in his coffee might make him look gay.
“Stan Against Evil” is light, if violent, entertainment. The jokes are moderately funny, the characters two-and-a-half dimensional. Contrasting Stan’s lazy misogyny, the series takes a vague but discernible feminist tack. Not uncommon to the genre, the storytelling can feel reverse engineered, with prophecies and curses crafted to prop up the desired plot points; the supernatural mechanics can seem at once practically necessary and not worth bothering about.
Directed by Justin Nijm and Jack Bishop, whose previous work is mostly in short-form comedy (Funny or Die videos and such), “Stan” is busy enough and its players — also including Nate Mooney as the Barney Fife deputy and Deborah Baker Jr. as Stan’s daughter, an awkward, aging young woman in a unicorn TV shirt — appealing enough to keep you interested if not really invested. McGinley does sprinkle a little pain and poignancy into his performance when the script gives him leave, but depth is not what’s on order here.
The monsters are made of masks and make-up and rubber molds. There is puppetry. Stage blood and slime are squirted and splattered higgledy-piggledy. Canted camera angles out of “Caligari” and “Batman” and the odd fish-eye shot provide quick, familiar shortcuts to spookiness. These are not marks against the show but essential rather to its low-budget, low-grade, handmade charm.
‘Stan Against Evil’
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)
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