John C. McGinley as the irascible Stanley Miller

Irascible.

John C. McGinley spent nine years practically personifying that word on long-running medical comedy Scrubs. (Along with a few other choice expletives as well.) So when it came time to cast the crotchety former sheriff of Willard’s Mill, New Hampshire, a town suddenly under the sway of powerful dark magics, the producers could hardly have done better than to choose the obnoxious Dr. Perry Cox that was.

And indeed, McGinley shines as Stanley Miller, a man beset equally by tragedy and his own sense of superiority. After the death of his beloved wife Claire he is ousted from his 28-year position as town sheriff after a (somewhat cliche) vision of an evil, cackling witch causes him to freak out at the cemetery. (“Dad! Why can’t we just have a nice funeral?!” laments his shocked daughter.) But is the sheriff really going “crazy bananas,” as the expository town newspaper would have it, upon his resignation? Or is there something else afoot?

Thrown headlong into the insanity is new town sheriff, Evie Barrett (Janet Varney), the first female to take on the role “in town’s history!” (Thanks again, expository town newspaper.) And before long she and Stan discover that, hey, Claire was a witch! The good kind, the guardian kind, who has been protecting Willard’s Mill from the encroaching forces of darkness. Now, with Claire gone, the wolves — black cats? bats? — are circling, and it is up to Stan and Evie to figure out all this occult craziness before the town becomes Sorcery Central. Oh, and there were witch trials in the town back in the day, you know. (Or, the Daye. It was that long ago.) Except for, instead of those abominations being a tool of the patriarchy to strike down women of independent thought in the most heinous manner imaginable, instead there really were witches in this particular New England town.

This is all pretty familiar territory, of course, but Stan Against Evil injects a fun sense of playfulness into proceedings. Even when throwing around jump scares willy-nilly and employing foreboding, crescendoing music to unsettle and upset, it is all so very tongue in cheek that it is possible the tongue is permanently fused there by some form of genetic anomaly. (Or a spell!) True, McGinley plays his Stan pretty straight, and Varney as Evie is definitely of the sarcastic, skeptic school of investigation, as perhaps best exemplified by one Special Agent Dana Scully. But comic relief can be found in Stan’s awkward, unhelpful daughter Denise (Deborah Baker, Jr.), and Varney’s new deputy Leon (Nate Mooney), who smiles even as he throws around insults so insidious it takes a moment to realize how much of a sexist jerk he really is.

Not that Stan is any kind of enlightened prize, his rants towards Evie bordering on the Trump-esque. Indeed, the whole town is so regressive and parochial — the annual pie baking contest is a highlight of the calendar that Evie is encouraged not to enter, so as not to ruffle important matronly feathers — that it is hard not to side with the witches. And that is perhaps what makes this show so interesting. Highlighting modern misogyny against the background of the witch trials is intriguing, and the show is fun enough, and funny enough, that even if this feminist didacticism doesn’t end up being the series’ endgame, it’ll still make for entertaining viewing.

GRADE: A-
SEASON PASS: Yes.

Stan Against Evil airs Mondays on IFC at 10PM

About the author

RACHEL HYLAND

Rachel Hyland is Editor-in-Chief of Geek Speak Magazine and, she is pretty sure, the one true queen of Fantastica, raised in obscurity to protect her from the dark lord Sinisterium. If you see her magic sword, get in touch via twitter: @rachyland or Instagram: @rachelseesdeadpeople. The fate of the many worlds may just depend upon it.