Stan Against Evil (IFC) is the horror-comedy equivalent of a pop-up Halloween store on November 1: messy, threadbare, vaguely depressing in its drab bereftness. What’ll replace it? you might wonder in the very second that you forget its existence. Populated by witches and demons but debuting the night after Samhain, Stan can’t help feeling like the leftovers nobody wants.
Which isn’t to say that the show doesn’t have a target audience. It does: in the sliver at the center of the Venn diagram of viewers who find Archie Bunker’s bitter-old-white-man jokes hi-lar-ious and Buffy fans who think the best scenes are the ones in which Willow looks up spells in the library. Even if Stan’s cantankerous humor and lazy disregard for entertainment happen to be your cup of tea, you’ll have to contend with the show’s casual indifference to its premise — and the fact that you’ll find greater character development in SNL sketches.
John C. McGinley dusts off his Scrubs skill set to play another surly, tart-tongued authority figure. Here, he’s the recently widowed Stanley Miller, a small-town sheriff who loses his badge after punching a giggling old woman, whom only he sees as decomposing, at his wife’s funeral. Replacing Stan at the station is Evie (You’re the Worst’s Janet Varney), a big-city transplant who’s only slightly more fazed than Stan is by the village’s unsettling law-enforcement history. “Every sheriff has died an early, violent, horrible death,” intones Stan’s deputy (Nate Mooney), who feels robbed of a promotion regardless. Salem has the fame, but their New Hampshire burg has the numbers: Several hundred years ago, 172 innocent women were burned at the stake for witchcraft. As vengeance, those guiltless women, uh, became demons to take the lives of every constable since. Stan, however, was able to enter his fifth decade because his wife — a witch, too, he discovers after her death — had protected him with her white magic.
There’s a lot to explore there: the different ways Stan must see his wife after learning of her true nature; the natural bond that arises between Stan and Evie, now both the targets of a blood curse; the paradigm shift upon realizing that the paranormal is their new normal. But the two sheriffs and Stan’s cartoon-chipmunk-voiced adult daughter Denise (Deborah Baker Jr.), their occasional sidekick, are inadvertently written as depthless morons. Evie comes home one night to find her young daughter’s babysitter reduced to a chatty head, the cranial creature enjoying the cool night air as her amputated neck drips blood onto the rocking chair on the porch. And yet the ostensibly resourceful Evie displays startlingly little suspicion toward everyone she meets.
Still, the series’s biggest letdown is in the utterly mundane ways it quells its fiends. If Stan wants to be a show where the characters are simply hooks to hang jokes on and the primary source of humor is a cartoonish crotchetiness (Stan on firemen: “Since when does pointing a hose make you a hero?”), it should be allowed those things. But even within the first six episodes, a formula quickly sets in: A baddie (sometimes just an actor in a bear costume) performs some mild mischief, is hexed by the new sheriff or physically assaulted by the old one, and explodes into a gush of scarlet gunk. Eventually, I began to care more about the characters’ laundry bills than their well-being. Stan makes evil look all too easy to vanquish. Bloodstains — now there’s a worthy foe.