IFC debuted the first episode of their newest series, Stan Against Evil, at New York Comic Con Thursday evening. The series stars John C. McGinley as the titular Stan, a newly-retired sheriff of a small town. The town just happens to have a curse upon it because of a constable burned 172 witches to death centuries before. Legend of Korra star Janet Varney is the new sheriff in town, a single mom from Boston who has to prove herself to the townsfolk.
Showrunner Dana Gould is friends with special effects legend Greg Nicotero, and he wanted to write a story Nicotero could create effects for. The result of that is Stan Against Evil, a half-hour horror comedy about grief, forging partnerships, and, of course, witches.
The Stars and Creator Talk Shop
The show opens at the funeral for Claire, Stan’s wife. A witch crashes the funeral and he ends up punching her in the face (repeatedly). The incident is cause for his retirement from the sheriff’s office. McGinley chose to center his portrayal of Stan around his grief.
“All of the questions I asked Dana were about Claire, Stan’s wife, because I figured that was the way into Stan’s part,” McGinley said.
Gould found the inspiration for Stan in his father, who was generally unfazed from whatever life threw at him. One of Stan’s favorite epithets is even directly taken from Gould’s father.
“A barrel of as*holes is something my dad said,” Gould said with a laugh.
There have been some comparisons between Stan and Starz Ash vs. Evil Dead, but the two are tonally different. Gould describes the shows as cousins, though he said that he draws more inspiration from films like An American Werewolf in London and Shaun of the Dead. There is a scene in the pilot, however, where a witch spews black vomit all over Varney, and it feels very much like something from the Evil Dead world.
What drives the show is the fraught relationship between Stan and his replacement, Evie Barrett. Stan doesn't like the fact that he was replaced by a woman, and Evie just wants to prove to Stan that she's capable. The two go back and forth frequently, and their inability to agree on anything serves up some truly funny moments. When Evie catches Stan digging up his recently deceased wife, she asks him why and he takes her back to his house to show her his wife's witch hunting room. (He had only discovered it hours earlier.) Before answering any more of her questions, however, he wants Evie to admit that Starsky and Hutch was gay.
"The absurdity of that is what rounds the scene - neither of them can let that stuff go," Varney said. "I love that there's this obstacle to get past while everything else is going on."
McGinley explained that Varney's acting chops drove the horror and the comedy, and that he's just along for the ride.
"As Stan starts to more and more "adopt" the daughter he never had in the Evie character, Janet starts to drive the scenes. Stan just wants to get back to that goddamn chair and watch the History channel," he said. "He doesn't want to fight witches, what's the point? Janet really drives the scene, and that's where that screwball thing comes in and she crushes it."
Stan does have a daughter, though the two of them don't seem to be on the same wavelength. Played with adorable bizarro glee by Deborah Baker Jr., daughter Denise is more interested in getting Buns of Steel while eating candy than she is spending time with her dad.
"Claire was their connection, and now that Claire's gone they have to kind of forge this connection," Gould explained.
Fans of another genre-bending show should be on the lookout, as there's a connection between Stan Against Evil and a much-loved Netflix show. The sheriff's station in Stan is the same as the one used in Stranger Things, and no one knew until after filming had wrapped. Gould remembered the exact moment he realized it while watching Stranger Things with a laugh.
"Oh my God," he said. " I have totally pooped in that room."