REVIEW: ASH VS EVIL DEAD – SEASON 1

MAIN CAST

Bruce Campbell (Jack of All Trades)
Ray Santiago (My Name Is Earl)
Dana DeLorenzo (2 Broke Girls)
Jill Marie Jones (Sleepy Hollow)
Lucy Lawless (Spartacus)

RECURRING / NOTABLE CAST

Damien Garvey (Terra Nova)
Mike Edward (Power Rangers Operation Overdrive)
Sian Davis (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys)
Bridget Hoffman (Frozen)
James Gaylyn (Avatar)
Mimi Rogers (Ginger Snaps)
Ben Fransham (Legend of The Seeker)
Jared Turner (30 Days of Night)
Hemky Madera (Weeds)
Kelson Henderson (Power Rangers SPD)
Peter Feeney (Black Sheep)
Rachel Blampied (Shortland Street)
Mark Mitchinson (Power Rangers Megaforce)
Milo Cawthorne (Power Rangers RPM)
Samara Weaving (Home and Away)
Indiana Evans (H20)
Ido Drent (Offspring)

Well, we’ve had to be patient for nearly a quarter of a century to finally see Ash wield his chainsaw again, but trust me: it was well worth the wait. Ash vs. Evil Dead fires on all cylinders.  After so many years had passed since Army of Darkness (aka Evil Dead III) came out in 1992, it looked like a direct sequel just wasn’t going to happen anymore, yet apparently, the Raimi-Campbell gang had been working on one for some time. According to recent interviews with the show’s creators Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, what was first supposed to be a new feature film and the fourth entry in the franchise, over time turned into an idea for a TV-series, and I believe fans will be very happy with the result. Instead of a 2-hour film for a sequel, we now get 10 episodes  with Ash and the DeaditesAt the beginning of the show we meet Ash leading a lazy, but apparently happy slacker life, residing in a run-down trailer and working as a stock boy at a Value Stop (for some obscure legal reasons, the writers couldn’t use the name S-Mart from Army of Darkness’ iconic last scene). In the show, 30 years have passed since Ash’s last encounter with the Deadites, and while he might be well into middle age now, he hasn’t matured one bit. Ash is still the exact same guy we last saw fighting walking skeletons and other ghastly undead things in Army of Darkness, cracking wise and appearing as cock-sure of himself as ever. These days, he likes to spend most of his spare time either getting wasted in his trailer or picking up random ladies – or both . suffice to say that his rather irresponsible lifestyle ultimately won’t go too well with his duty as keeper of a certain  dangerous book, and  bloody mayhem soon ensues.In my opinion, Ash vs. Evil Dead does everything right. Instead of going down the “gritty drama” route of shows like The Walking Dead or taking the “straight horror” approach of Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead remake, creators Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell fully embrace the over-the-top goofiness and playful tone of Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, while still delivering the scares of the first film and plenty of gore. The Deadites are frightening. The production values in general are absolutely great; the writing is in the vein of the first three films (no wonder, since the episodes were mostly written by Sam and Ivan Raimi); the music, the pacing and the direction: really everything just falls into place. It’s clear that this wasn’t some lazy attempt to cash in on the name of a beloved cult-franchise, but a labour of love for all involved.Another great plus of the series is the cast. Seeing Bruce Campbell step back into this iconic character is simply hilarious fun; it still fits him like a glove (or, perhaps more accurately in his case, a chainsaw). But there was never a doubt in my mind that he would deliver (it seems Ash is a character Campbell was born to play); what really surprised me was how well the rest of the cast fits into the show. Ray Santiago as Pablo and Dana DeLorenzo as Kelly (they’re Ash’s co-workers at the Value Stop) are completely able to hold their own; they are fully fleshed-out characters and just as fun to watch as Ash. Also we have Lucy Lawless of Spartacus and Xena fame, who’s character is a mystery until episode 9 when all hell breaks loose and leads into a great Season One finale.Ash vs Evil dead brings back everything that we all loved about the original Evil Dead films, but it also manages to introduce interesting new characters and story lines which help maintain the element of surprise for long-time fans. And the show works just as well as a stand-alone story, so people unfamiliar with the original trilogy need not worry either: they will find just as much to love here as those who know and cherish Sam Raimi’s classics – as long as they have a certain affection for trashy, gory horror comedies and don’t expect serious drama. The good news its already been picked up for a season 2, so we got more blood and gore to come

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12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: SLEEPY HOLLOW – THE GOLEM

CAST

Tom Mison (venus)
Nicole Beharie (The Good Wife)
Orlando Jones (Bedazzled)
Katia Winter (Arena)

GUEST CAST

John Noble (Lord of The Rings)
Jill Marie Jones (Ash vs Evil Dead)

“The Golem” had some deeply unsettling moments, a running undercurrent of humor, answers to vital questions and some straight-ahead scares.   All these disparate elements mixed together comfortably, as they have since the pilot, and it looks so simple.  But the fact of the matter is that what Sleepy Hollow has been able to pull off in this first season is remarkable, as it has kept its high-degree-of-difficulty tone while never losing sight of the characters that make us come back each week.  As if there were any doubt, it began and ended with the most important relationship on the show, as Abbie and Ichabod worked through his emotions about having a son and shared the anxiety about Moloch coming for them.   The groundwork that the writers and actors have done made these two characters seem naturally close as they get to know one another better with every week.  The wonderful opening scene (and Crane’s explanation of the origins of eggnog) served as a lovely reminder that even as their team might expand it’s all about the two of them.

Of course, in between those bookends we had the marvelous John Noble returning as Henry the Sin Eater.  You would think that Noble showing up to guest star would overwhelm the proceedings and be desperately missed when he’s gone, but instead he fits right in with this show.  Here we found out that Henry isn’t just a one-trick pony, as his talents extend to sensing sin and providing valuable exposition on the miserable childhood of Ichabod and Katrina’s son.  Still, the coolest bit for me was his making the librarian with ease: “Lying is a sin. I can sense a sin a mile away.”

Meanwhile, Frank went back to the city to visit his daughter.  It might be that his story seems drab compared to the wild stuff going on elsewhere, but at the moment his ex-wife and daughter feel more like plot devices than actual characters.  It’s not something I’m all that concerned about, given this show’s brief track record, but tonight they were simply time-fillers to get us to that super creepy vendor in the park.  That last “we have one, too” delivered by the possessed woman might have been the freakiest thing in an episode that also featured a gigantic killer doll. As for the doll itself, they did a great job showing the violence he was capable of, and tying it into Jeremy’s rage made it all the more disturbing.


This was a Sleepy Hollow episode that covered a lot of ground and also managed to be alternately creepy, disturbing, scary and funny.

REVIEW: SLEEPY HOLLOW – SEASON 1 & 2

Image result for SLEEPY HOLLOW LOGO

MAIN CAST

Tom Mison (One Day)
Nicole Beharie (American Violet)
Orlando Jones (Evolution)
Katia Winter (Arena)
Lyndie Greenwood (Nikita)
John Noble (Fringe)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

John Cho (American Pie)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Nicholas Gonzalez (The Flash)
Monique Ganderton (Mutant X)
Carsten Norgaard (The Three Musketeers)
James Frain (Gotham)
Craig Parker (Reign)
Neil Jackson (Blade: The Series)
Erin Cahill (Power Rangers Time Force)
Jill Marie Jones (Ash Vs Evil Dead)
Laura Spencer (Bones)
Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards)
Matt Barr (7 Below)
Zach Appelman (Beaut yand The Beast)
Cynthia Stevenson (Dead Like Me)
Aunjanue Ellis (The Help)
Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)
Jaime Murray (The Finder)
Steven Weber (Izombie)
Shelby Steel (Powers)

To say that I was skeptical about Sleepy Hollow as a series would be an understatement. After all, how could Ichabod Crane vs. the Headless Horseman get dragged out far enough to fill all those hours and remain watchable? But in the most delightful surprise of the fall season, Sleepy Hollow quickly proved to be more than up to the task. With a perfectly matched pair of leads, the show hit the ground running and never looked back.
From their first scene together Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison displayed an easy chemistry that only grew stronger as the weeks went by, aided immensely by sharp writing that understood these two were the most essential ingredient for Sleepy Hollow’s success. In the first half of the season the small supporting cast suffered in comparison, as it took time for characters like Jenny and Frank to be brought into the fold and have us get to know them. But by the finale all the time spent with Abbie and Ichabod paid off beautifully in scenes where the emotions ran deep without having to spell everything out to the audience. By the time they had to dive into Purgatory together and eventually part ways all the decisions they made were believable since they were character-based and not simply the writers forcing them in directions for the sake of the plot.
 This attention to character was particularly impressive, since the show trades in some wild plots: Headless Horseman, George Washington’s secret war, Crane’s witch wife in Purgatory, etc. The creative team behind Sleepy Hollow seems to have an instinctive understanding that if the audience doesn’t care about these people, it doesn’t matter how cool it might be to see the Horseman with an automatic weapon. That being said, it is really cool to see the Headless Horseman blazing away, and when he showed up it was always a show-stopper. The season also had more than its share of other great effects as well, whether it was whatever was happening to poor Andy (head knocked backwards, cocooned and turned into a slithery bald dude) or some of Moloch’s freaky, fast-moving minions.
With all of the insanity going on it would have been easy to fall into the trap of letting the humor undercut the stakes, but Sleepy Hollow’s very difficult tone was maintained throughout the season. Oddly enough for a show about a British Revolutionary War soldier who wakes up in 2013 and partners up with an overqualified police lieutenant to fight a war against evil, the key to maintaining that tone has been restraint. Nothing overstayed its welcome on Sleepy Hollow. The Headless Horseman was a remarkably intimidating physical presence who immediately gave a jolt to any episode he rode into – he’s an ace in the hole that could have become all too familiar very quickly. But aside from the brief time that our heroes imprisoned him we rarely got a glimpse of him. His absence, sometimes for weeks, made his appearances carry far more weight and dread than if we had gotten a weekly dose of him riding around the forest.
The same goes for the show’s keen sense of humor. The comedic opportunities presented by Crane waking up in the 21st century are a rich vein, one that they’ve managed to tap each week without being repetitive or overwhelming. Instead it came in bite-sized portions while informing the character – Mison’s bemused reactions from everything from OnStar agents to dry cleaning were wonderfully understated and telling as Ichabod became more accustomed to life in the modern age. By the end of the season he was complaining about his apps failing to load in the middle of the forest, which was both hysterical and showed how much he had changed.
This attention to detail when it comes to Abbie and Ichabod was marvelous, but it didn’t leave much room for anybody else. It took awhile, but Frank and Jenny were eventually brought up to speed with their troubled histories and joined the team. Unfortunately Katrina remained in limbo in every sense – Ichabod longed for her (it’s a credit to Mison that this was always believable) but she never registered as anything other than a plot device/exposition delivery system. And while the Horseman and Moloch were scary, larger-than-life enemies they couldn’t do much more than occasionally show up and threaten everybody. There were few real, flesh-and-blood villains here and when there were it was usually because somebody has been possessed or otherwise coerced. The Hessians were a potentially far-reaching group that could provide all kinds of problems for our heroes, but they were largely forgotten in the stretch run of the season- hopefully they’ll return next year. Happily, the last 15 minutes or so of the finale signaled a change in all this, as Katrina was freed ( and a fantastic bad guy was introduced… …or was unmasked, to be more accurate. John Noble dropped by enough for me to stop questioning what secrets he might have – he had simply become loveable Henry, always welcome and able to help our heroes out of a jam. So when he finally revealed himself to be Ichabod’s son Jeremy and the Second friggin’ Horseman, it landed like a thunderclap. It was the rarest of things in today’s television landscape: a well-earned plot twist. It also doesn’t hurt that Noble seems to be able to do anything.
In addition to Noble, the guest star MVPs were Clancy Brown and John Cho. While their characters couldn’t have been more different, both had parallels in their relationship to Abbie. Brown was wonderful in his role as Abbie’s mentor and every time he showed up, whether it was a flashback or archival footage or a dream, his loss was felt. His quick exit was both disappointing and perfect, since his absence leaves Abbie without a safety net, personally and professionally. And Andy was the polar opposite: a weak-willed servant of Moloch who never stopped pining for her.

Of course it all comes down to Abbie and Ichabod in the end. Their relationship was so carefully constructed by the writers and actors over the course of the year that by the end they were able to have whole conversations with just a couple of looks. This can be one of the craziest shows on TV and it’s such a blast when it is, and yet when I look back on the season as a whole I keep coming back to their quiet scenes in the cabin, teasing each other about plastic or finding hidden messages from George Washington. All of this has added up to a thoroughly entertaining show which is, after all, the whole point. Sleepy Hollow’s freshman season set the bar high with the expected scares, unexpected humor, and impressive lead performances. And a Headless Horseman wielding automatic weapons, which is always nice.
Making the balance between humor, horror and action look easy, season 1 of Sleepy Hollow set the bar high. An expanded season 2 (jumping to 18 episodes from 13) more than met that standard in the first half, throttling though the high-stakes plot of Moloch trying to escape Purgatory and the Witnesses gaining more allies. And while the series struggled to find itself after that story came to end—likely due to the network-mandated order to become less serialized—the show always remained worthwhile and very enjoyable due to the solid characters and relationships that had been established.
 This season felt inspired from the start, with the terrific premiere episode “This is War” displaying sly storytelling as Abbie and Ichabod struggled to escape Purgatory. The later introduction of Benjamin Franklin (in flashbacks), more revelations about the Mills family history and the remarkable episodes leading up to the midseason finale all made for a rollicking first half. Despite meandering with the back half standalone episodes, the finale more than made up for any aimlessness by giving us what we watch for in the first place: Abbie and Ichabod, BFFs.
With Abbie and Ichabod already firmly entrenched as partners in the war against evil, the show was able to widen its focus to other characters. The best results were with Jenny, who became better-rounded and an integral part of the team. But Abraham/Headless benefitted from more attention as well, as we got to know his motivations. Even the risky addition of Hawley paid off better than expected, and by the time he got his send-off episode his connection to Jenny and the Witnesses felt earned and real. Irving also wound up being a bit shortchanged, as the show had written him into the corner of the psych ward for murdering cops. When he was tricked into signing over his soul to Henry it looked like a rich storyline in the making but nothing much ever came of it and everything involving him seemed made up on the fly, almost as an afterthought (for instance, the cloudy reason behind him being released but not exonerated—I’ll admit I glided past that as a viewer, but the more you pay attention to his story over the season, the shakier it gets). Despite this I was glad to see him get some terrific moments, both big and small—his sacrifice (which wound up being temporary) in the midseason finale and his intimate scenes with Jenny towards the end.
 John Noble continued to be a tremendous presence whenever he appeared. The reveal at the end of season 1 that he was the Crane’s son gave him plenty to dig into this year and Noble made Henry’s bitterness and hurt come through with intensity. Once he dispatched Moloch, though, the show didn’t seem to know what to do with him and his death wound up being pretty anticlimactic, even it did serve to set off the season endgame for the marvelous “Tempus Fugit”. More problematic was the character of Katrina. She simply never worked. Not as a damsel in distress, not as the third wheel and not as an abruptly-turned villain. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, as the writers tried to integrate her into Team Witness several times with lukewarm results. I didn’t buy her sudden shift from ally to enemy, but it was a quick and painless way to give her character a good exit in service of the story. The trouble was that Beharie and Mison had established such rare buddy chemistry that Ichabod finally getting his lost love out of Purgatory threw a wrench into it. Even at her best, as in “Pittura Infamante”, it wasn’t enough to match any given scene between Abbie and Ichabod. That pretty much left the show with few options; either relegate her to the sidelines or kill her off.
But the biggest stumbling block this season came down from on high: FOX wanted to series to become less serialized, and Sleepy Hollow tried hard to accommodate the order. The result was an awkward stop-and-start second half, with several scenes of Abbie and Ichabod wondering out loud what their purpose was now that Moloch had been defeated. I had no problem with the death of Moloch, since he wasn’t much of a bad guy, but the absence of a Big Bad was immediately felt. Knowing full well that this might have been it for the series, the show rallied and came up with a very satisfying ending that conclusively wrapped up loose ends while leaving the door wide open for a possible return. Sleepy Hollow’s best hours have been the ones dealing with ongoing stories while the self-contained episodes were much more hit-and-miss, but this is a creative team that’s proven it knows how to put together a great show I’m hopeful that they get a chance to find that balance because when this series is in a groove it’s a joy to watch. Despite any problems Sleepy Hollow ran into, though, Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison were the rocks at the center the show. Their extraordinary chemistry has been the single greatest asset of an awfully good series from the start, able to shift gracefully from easygoing humor to partners in lockstep to dear friends dealing with life and death stakes in a single hour. They’re a microcosm of the show itself, one that at its best could deliver laughs and thrills side by side with terrific characters we cared about throughout.
Despite difficulty adjusting to less-serialized storytelling in the back half, season 2 of Sleepy Hollow started and ended strong enough to measure up well with its stellar first year.