‘Ash Vs Evil Dead’ Turns What Seems Like A ‘Jumping The Shark’ Moment Into Television Brilliance
“Did you see episode two? The scene?” Ash vs Evil Dead newcomer Lee Majors asked journalists gathered around him at the 2016 New York Comic Con. Along with Bruce Campbell, Lucy Lawless and the rest of the cast, Majors had just debuted the second season’s second episode, “The Morgue,” to a packed house. And judging by the crowd’s collective mishmash of laughter, screaming and cheering, one scene in particular caught everyone’s attention. Or as comedian and panel moderator Doug Benson put it, it was “the craziest thing I’ve ever seen on television.” So what, exactly, happened during Sunday’s episode of Ash vs Evil Dead?
In the premiere episode “Home,” Ash (Campbell), Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) and Pablo (Ray Santiago) found themselves renewing their uncomfortable alliance with Ruby (Lawless). The latter’s villainous manipulation of Ash in season one helped her secure the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis for her own purposes, while the hero finally got to enjoy his long sought-after party in Jacksonville, Florida. Now that Ruby’s demonic offspring were trying to kill her and claim the Book of the Dead as their own, however, a new truce was necessary — one by which the four would recover the book and defeat the show’s newest scourge. That is, if anyone actually believes Ruby’s claims.
Hence “The Morgue,” in which Ash attempts to recover the book from Ruby’s last-minute hiding place — a corpse. “Dead flesh masks the scent of the book from the spawn,” she tells a bemused Kelly. “So in terms of quick thinking, not the worst idea.” Considering the program’s penchant for voluminous amounts of blood, guts and gore, the prospect of Ash chainsawing through a bunch of bodies to find the book seems like child’s play. Yet Ash vs Evil Dead and its cinematic roots aren’t bound solely to the horror genre. Comedy — be it wordplay or slapstick — plays just as big a role, so the episode’s titular scene was never going to be that simple. Not by a long, gooey, intestinal shot.
Yes, that’s right. Ashley “Ash” J. Williams of Evil Dead fame squares off with a corpse’s innards, and for much of the fight, the corpse maintains the upper
hand intestine. While Kelly battles with Ash’s hometown rival, Sheriff Thomas Emery (Stephen Lovatt), Ash finds himself on the receiving end of a dead body’s reanimated guts. And by “receiving end,” I mean something best described by a rather panicked line he exclaims several times throughout the scene: “Not up the butt! Oh god, I’m in the butt!”
This is an actual thing that happened on an American television show in 2016. 58-year-old actor Bruce Campbell — whose career includes such delights as Burn Notice, Fargo and pretty much anything directed by Sam Raimi — filmed a scene in which a possessed body’s large intestine pulled him into its anal cavity and tried to kill him. Of course, viewers accustomed to Ash vs Evil Dead‘s antics (and, to a lesser extent, those portrayed in the Evil Dead films) won’t be too surprised. Per the boisterous reaction at NYCC 2016, it will surely go down as one of the series’s best moments.
That said, newcomers may interpret it as something different — an egregiously over-the-top sequence reminiscent of The Fonz’s infamous “jumping the shark” scene from Happy Days. Depending on who you ask, Fonzie’s stunt — which didn’t really have anything to do with business as usual on the popular program — was either a ratings ploy, an unchallenged goofball idea from the writers’ room, an executive’s moronic interjection, or some combination therein. Whichever it was, the phrase — which nowadays means something has peaked in value — has taken on a life of its own. Similar sentiments, like the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull derived “nuke the fridge,” have since appeared in its wake, but “jumping the shark” will likely remain a part of the pop culture lexicon for all time.
Yet Ash vs Evil Dead defies such logic. It’s current cult status, which builds on the movies’ burgeoning fame via Raimi, showrunner Craig DiGregorio and executive producer Rob Tapert’s collective brilliance, hinges on its being fantastically absurd. (In what other show would a genuinely dramatic scene build up to a blow job joke delivered by a severed head?) Viewers who keep tuning in know this and love the show for it, and Starz in turn loves Ash vs Evil Dead back — so much that they ordered a third season before “The Morgue” premiered on Sunday.
As Campbell explained during an interview at NYCC 2016, the scene “was as gross as I thought it was going to be” and really, really “bad.” But, he added, “That’s the idea. That’s how you get water cooler moments. You want people the next day to go, ‘Did we see what we thought we saw?'” Or as Majors joked, “I’ve never seen anybody go up the butt. I said, ‘Bruce I think you’ve got more guts than me. I don’t think I could have filmed that scene.’ And I don’t think that will ever be shot again in my entire career. That’s for certain.”
Ash vs. Evil Dead airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.