At first glance, Stan Against Evil’s choice of soft filters and vintage 1970s clothing—despite the series being set in 2016—seems like it might be part of a subversive statement about the horrors of Making America Great Again. In the hands of a more creative writer or director, such as Joss Whedon or George Romero, a sexist, glowering archetype like Stanley Miller (John C. McGinley) might have been used as a contrast to Evelyn Barrett (Janet Varney), the highly competent sheriff who’s replaced him, to make a powerful statement about how far America has come in terms of social progress. Instead, characters like Stan’s dependent, brainless daughter, Denise (Deborah Baker Jr.), and the incompetent, womanizing Deputy Leon Drinkwater (Nate Mooney), mostly exist to serve up cheap laughs and non sequiturs.
The series takes place in the quiet New Hampshire town of Willard’s Mill, cursed since 1692 when Constable Eccles (Randall Newsome) burned nearly 200 so-called witches at the stake. Now those damned souls are taking form again to punish and kill Stan now that his wife—a secret witch hunter who was working overtime to keep the oblivious lunk alive—has passed away. There’s a surprisingly complicated mythology to the story, but given how thinly that backbone is treated, the series is strongest when it focuses on its light comic characters as opposed to the darker elements of the plot.
Stan Against Evil’s second episode, “Know Know Know Your Goat” (and yes, the punny titles are often as good as the show’s groaning attempts at comedy ever get), eschews the witchy storyline in favor of a shapeshifting satyr. The more unconventional the foe, the freer the characters are to expose themselves through the ways in which they deal with each monster, hence a scene in which Stan crawls within one of those metal geodesic domes meant for children to climb on, doing his best to reenact the climax from Jaws, only against a bloodthirsty goat. Ridiculous moments like these almost manage to excuse the show’s cheesy, Hobgoblin-level special effects.
Though Stan Against Evil has an overarching plan, the characters and jokes don’t evolve along with the plot. Ditzy Denise is so underwritten that when she’s briefly turned into a black-blood-drooling zombie in “I’m Gleaning My Coven,” it’s hard to see how that’s really much different from her usual state of childish dissociation. Of course, the same could be said for McGinley’s almost tiresome rants: Close your eyes and you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching him berate a medical student on Scrubs.
The show is clearly inspired by The Evil Dead, right down to the blood geysers and one-liners like “Geeze, lady, anybody ever tell you you look like a barrel of assholes?” But whereas The Evil Dead’s Ash was capable of change, Stan’s nothing more than an insufferably sexist and homophobic throwback, willing to risk everyone’s life in order to prove that Starsky and Hutch were secretly gay. At best, Stan Against Evil could be described as a campy mash-up, some sort of would-be Wet Hot American Horror Story, but Gould’s no Lloyd Kaufman, and his series will be lucky if it runs longer than the buffoonish cartoon of a series it most echoes, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo.