IFC’s latest horror comedy, Stan Against Evil is the latest in a barrage of horror comedy shows released in the last year. With the success of Ash vs The Evil Dead and horror television in general, it seemed inevitable that the sub-genre would grow to help sustain the appetites of newly converted and long time horror fans. The IFC network had many horror and comedy fans (not to mention horror-comedy fans) interested when they announced that John C. McGinley would be playing the unlikely hero Stan Miller. McGinley, whose career has spanned over 70 feature films and myriad television roles. He’s most widely recognized for his portrayal of Dr. Cox in Scrubs. His counterpart, Janet Varney, is an accomplished actress with roles ranging from voice acting (The Legend of Korra) to comedy (Burning Love, You’re the Worst).
The characters in the Stan Against Evil universe are one dimensional at best, but it is difficult to expect more from a show whose purpose is clearly to provide laughs above all. Everything from the plot to the behavior of characters is exaggerated to the point of absurdity, but the series doesn’t make the fatal mistake of taking itself seriously. This allows what might initially be perceived as flaws in the series to shine. Stan Miller (McGinley) is a sarcastic, sexist ex-sheriff who’s set in his ways and seems to despise everyone but his late wife. He resigns from his post shortly after her death and is the only sheriff in his small town’s history to survive the appointment. His replacement, Evie Barrett, is a single mother and a competent police officer. (The only one in the town of Willard’s Mill history, evidently.)
In the pilot episode, written by series creator Dana Gould, audiences are introduced to the cast and learn more about the plot. The punny episode name ‘Dig Me Up, Dig Me Down’ should give audiences an idea of what they’re getting into. The title sequence reveals some of the details, like the fact that 172 women were burned at the stake due to alleged witchcraft and that the final witch placed a curse on the law enforcement of the small New Hampshire town. Naturally, former sheriff Stan doesn’t see eye to eye with his female replacement Evie. Especially since it is she that ultimately discovers the curse on sheriffs in Willard’s Mill is real, and that Stan’s competency isn’t necessarily why he survived all those years. This episode isn’t as strong as later ones, but it does a good job of setting the stage for what’s to come. The practical FX are decent, and if you’re a fan of Evil Dead humor and exaggerated Archie Bunker stereotypes, you’re sure to enjoy the show. (If you were a fan of Scrubs, just imagine Dr. Cox ended up leaving the hospital to pursue a career in law enforcement. McGinley has played many types of characters throughout his career, but Stan Miller and Perry Cox are cut from a very similar cloth.)
Episode two dives deeper into Stan’s relationship with his airheaded daughter, Denise. She wants to take him blueberry picking, but he sends her off alone. Denise is a strange character who often says bizarre things, so getting to spend an episode following her around makes for a unique experience. While blueberry picking, Denise finds a goat and decides to bring it home. (Because of course she would; the episode isn’t called ‘Know, Know, Know Your Goat’ for nothing.) The goat turns out to be Baphomet, a goat-demon who wants both Evie and Stan dead. This serves a few purposes. First, it lets audiences know that the show will be drawing from lore in addition to creating its own mythos. Second, it also reveals that the show isn’t going to be a ‘monster of the week’ series featuring a new witch to battle every Wednesday.
‘Let Your Love Groan’ is the third episode in the season, but is the first one where audiences get to see the collaboration of Gould with Jessica Conrad. Conrad has been nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards, two Writers Guild of America Awards, and won two more Writers Guild of America Awards for her writing on Saturday Night Live. (The writing team on Stan Against Evil is as strong as the casting!) In this episode, the characters are thrust into an absurd situation; speed dating! Stan, Evie, and Denise all find their perfect matches, but when they suddenly begin feeling weak and rapidly aging they realize something must be amiss. Practical FX in this episode, as in the ones before it, are really well done. It’s difficult to make rapid aging look realistic, gradual, while simultaneously making subjects look diseased, but somehow they pull it off.
In ‘Life Orr Death’ Stan discovers his prized hockey memorabilia has been donated to the local church. While attempting to get it back, he nearly comes to blows with the local priest in true hot-tempered Stan fashion, and Evie comes to save the day. Unfortunately, nothing is ever easy and Evie finds herself trapped in the spirit world and on trial for witchcraft. Yet again, our heroes trade roles and it’s up to Stan to recover both his Bobby Orr hockey stick and the current sheriff. Although Stan Against Evil doesn’t try to reach for the stars in terms of concept or plot execution, this particular episode was a bit weak in the storytelling department.
‘Ouija Bored’ is set to air November 16 at 10:00 PM EST. This episode deviates from the standard creature feature formula and instead focuses on… botany? Five mysterious flowers which reek of decay pop up over town and Evie must stop their ill effects before all of the plants successfully bloom. This episode is interesting because the audience gets to learn more about Stan’s wife Claire as Evie, Stan, and Denise attempt to summon her to stop the evil plants. This episode is very strange but gets points for originality and overall weirdness. Don’t be surprised if you have Little Shop of Horrors flashbacks during the ‘flowers blooming’ scenes.
The sixth episode of the season, which is set to air November 16 at 10:30 PM EST, brings the show back to its roots and focuses from start to finish on witches. Denise gets caught up with a group of goth kids who come to Willard’s Mill hoping to summon a demon by conducting a ritual in the place where a famous witch died. Unfortunately for Stan, Evie, and Denise, they succeed. Although this episode, ‘I’m Gleaning My Coven’, seems like it has the potential to be frivolous, the writers return to the overarching story arc and remind viewers of why Stan and Evie are cursed in the first place.
‘Spider Walk With Me’ will debut on November 23 at 10:00 PM EST. As one might expect, this episode features a giant spider that is attacking residents. Stan and Evie meet a stranger they hope will become an ally who has inside information about Claire and about the curse the two have been fighting against. The effects in this episode are great as far as the spider webs and wounds from those who are bitten or otherwise maimed go. Unfortunately, when compared with the effects in the rest of the series the spider creature was a bit disappointing. This is the only episode in the series where the FX team fell short of the writer’s lofty goals.
The final episode of the season, ‘Level Boss’, is a complex one. The episode will air November 23rd at 10:30PM EST. It features a girl running out into the street in front of Stan and Evie, and through a series of unfortunate events Evie finds that if harm comes to the girl, Evie, or Stan the day must be restarted. Sure, the “day that gets repeated” trope has been featured in numerous sci-fi and horror shows from The X-Files to Supernatural, and this likely will not be its final implementation. (Who else appreciates the irony of a plot device featuring repetition being repeated?). Evie is the one who must navigate the puzzle scenario and keep herself, Stan, and the mystery girl safe. This episode manages to keep even grim demises light, and overall remains fairly upbeat as Evie faces repeated death scenarios and Stan is oblivious. Although I would not say the season finale disappoints, it definitely leaves viewers eager for the start of season 2.
Overall, this is a very promising start to a series. With solid writing, characters and actors who can deliver laughs, and absurdly good special effects, given the absurdity of elements required, Stan Against Evil is all you could ask for in a horror comedy.
Wicked Rating: 7/10
(Keep in mind, this rates the show as a horror comedy. There is plenty of blood and gore, but also expect to laugh.)