When IFC’s Stan Against Evil premiered in 2016, it suffered a bit when compared to Ash vs. Evil Dead. The two shows shared a similar premise, but only one had nearly four decades of horror history behind it.
Today, though, Ashis off the air — and Stan has finally found its own groove.
This happy fact (especially if you’re into monster movies, clever pop-culture references, and expertly delivered deadpan comedy) is made abundantly apparent in Stan Against Evil’s third season, which premieres tonight on IFC.
Stan fans will already know that season two ended on a huge cliffhanger; if you need a refresher, a helpful montage at the start of season three’s first episode recaps what’s happened on the show so far. But it’s really not that complicated. The title sums up the whole show rather efficiently, and while Stan does have overarching themes, it’s most eager to pit its characters against ghouls and beasties. So don’t worry if you haven’t seen all of seasons one and two. You can dive right in and have a hell of a good time.
When last we saw them, the two main characters — curmudgeonly former sheriff Stan Miller (John C. McGinley) and frequently exasperated current sheriff Evie Barret (Janet Varney) — were returning from their time-travel shenanigans to the demon-plagued town of Willard’s Mill, where the apocalypse had apparently happened in their absence. Season three quickly wraps up the doomsday scenario (so if you were hoping for a Mad Max storyline, you’re out of luck), but adds a fresh twist.
After Stan finally accepts that he has to say farewell to his beloved wife, who passed away before the start of season one but provided plot motivation throughout the first two seasons, he shifts his focus to a wider concern: ending the curse on Willard’s Mill once and for all.
Of course, he goes about it in a totally Stan-esque way — by secretly making a new deal with Duquette (Emmett Hunter), the sinister sorcerer who helped him go back in time in season two. And it involves teaming up with an evil more powerful than Constable Eccles (Randall Newsome) — the witch-burning deceiver who’s been tormenting Willard’s Mill since the 1600s. What could possibly go wrong?
With Stan’s own personal Operation Greater Evil percolating below the surface, Stan Against Evil — which, keep in mind, only has eight 30-minute episodes per season — has about a million other ideas it can’t wait to jam into the story. Without giving too much away, this season gives us a Mothra homage, a deranged puppet, an endearingly dated X-Files parody, and a vampire-themed teen soap starring Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse (just one among several excellent guest stars).
Stan’s energetic core cast — including Stan’s daughter, Denise (Deborah Baker, Jr.); Evie’s frequently unhelpful second-in-command, Deputy Leon (Nate Mooney) and Denise’s kinda-boyfriend Kevin (Dana Gould, who’s also the creator of Stan Against Evil) — has really gelled into an ensemble that clearly loves bouncing off each other. The show’s writing has also hit its stride. It’s become the kind of show you might need to rewind on occasion to catch all the fast-paced jokes, clever references, and sight gags (yep, that glossy magazine Evie’s reading is titled Bored Female Sheriff) as they fly by.
As always, though, the show’s heart is its title character, whose hero’s journey thus far has helped him evolve from world-weary arsehole to... Well, he’s still an arsehole, and he still hits pause on saving the world to do things like setting up an illegal brewery in his tool shed, but he has way more awareness than he used to. (He’s also begrudgingly accepted Evie as his equal, though he’d never tell her that.) McGinley has Stan’s hilariously gruff, crass misanthropy down pat at this point — but he’s also able to infuse a character who says things like “My kitchen smells like a fart threw up” with darker emotions like grief and despair.
If you still need convincing to tune into Stan Against Evil, as well as reassurance that the show doesn’t stray too far from its creature-feature bread and butter, please behold this outstanding image of guest star David Koechner (Anchorman), who returns as Evie’s boorish ex-husband.
What the hell? Let’s just say he drunkenly stumbles into this dilemma, and that the episode in question also features a guy in a gorilla suit, and leave it at that. But like many things on Stan, the situation ends up being more than a little gross, and very, very funny.
The third season of Stan Against Evil premieres tonight on IFC, with two episodes airing back-to-back on Wednesday nights throughout its eight-part run. The show is not yet available in Australia.