Bruce Campbell really wants an Emmy. Point of fact: Starz really wants its Ash vs Evil Dead star to get at least an Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series category — the same award won by Transparent‘s Jeffrey Tambor last year, and The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons nearly every other year prior. They want it so bad, they’re lobbying Emmy voters with the #Ash4Emmy Twitter campaign and commercials featuring Campbell in character as Ashley “Ash” J. Williams. And you know what? The 58-year-old actor deserves the nomination and, if possible, the award itself. Not because Ash vs Evil Dead was one of the year’s best television comedies, because it wasn’t, though the clever series had more ups than downs. Rather, Television Academy voters should honor Campbell for how heartbreakingly funny his portrayal of a loser-turned-heroic loser often is — even in the midst of monsters, mayhem and general debauchery.
Campbell is one of the country’s most famous B-movie actors, a fact he embraced long before the 2002 publication of his first book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. With high school friend Sam Raimi, he made The Evil Dead in 1981 — a cult classic among horror and comedy aficionados that spawned two sequels, a remake, and the current series. Yet Campbell’s acting prowess extends well beyond the confines of his iconic chainsaw-wielding anti-hero. From an aging Elvis impersonator in the 2002 horror-comedy Bubba Ho-Tep, to presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in the phenomenal second season of Fargo, the popular character actor’s oeuvre is a banquet of tasty treats.
Unfortunately, none of these other roles put Campbell in either the “leading” or “supporting” awards categories. Sure, Bubba Ho-Tep earned him Best Actor trophies from Fangoria, the Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Festival, and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival; the Evil Dead movies and show have picked up occasional accolades; and, yes, his turn as Burn Notice‘s Sam Axe scored Campbell a Satellite Award nomination. But the Emmys? Nada. But this year offers several possibilities, including one for “Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series.”
On Monday, November 9, 2015, “The Gift of the Magi,” the fifth episode of Fargo‘s fantastic second season, aired on FX. It’s also the day audiences saw Campbell’s brilliantly homey take on Reagan. His Gipper never devolved into straight mimicry, instead bringing to life writers Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi’s plausible lines. As our own Brian Grubb wrote, almost nothing compares to the scene in which the White House hopeful “[stands] at a urinal and [compares] Lou’s story about the evils of war to a movie he starred in once that he doesn’t remember the ending of.” The first season received a whopping 18 Emmy nominations, and the second is bound to garner a few more, so why not acknowledge Campbell with one?
It’s fun to think that the man who told us about his hatred for Alpo dog food and fake blood would wind up with a nomination or a win for his Reagan, but that’s not why we’re here. Campbell does deserve something from the Television Academy and acknowledgment of his Fargo appearance would be nice. But it’s Campbell’s stellar performance in Ash vs Evil Dead that should be earning him trophies. The work is consistent throughout the entire 10-episode run, and while he and Raimi’s over-the-top style often drowns Ash in blood-drenched slapstick routines, it doesn’t obscure Campbell’s soulful, funny performance.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the series’ eighth episode, “Ashes to Ashes.” Following the previous episode’s Walking Dead-like escape scenario, Ash abandons his traveling companions and heads back to the original cabin in the woods from the Evil Dead films. He tells himself it’s for the others’ benefit, so that they don’t have to witness the same horrors he saw in the Michigan woods over 30 years ago. But today is a different age, one that no longer welcomes Ash’s overdeveloped machismo and blatant sexism. Strong supporting female characters like Dana DeLorenzo’s Kelly Maxwell and Jill Marie Jones’s Amanda Fisher don’t put up with his bullsh*t, so Ash takes his chainsaw and shotgun and runs. However, his plan doesn’t last as Jill catches up with him at the cabin, while Kelly and Pablo (Ray Santiago) search the area nearby.
Though he maintains all of the character’s swaggering bravado, Campbell introduces two qualities never before seen in his prior appearances as Ash — age and regret. The Evil Dead films will recognize the character’s pride and sexism, which have always been a part of who Ash is. But 30 years have passed since the events of first movie, and this anti-hero has witnessed a great deal of death and destruction in that time. Be it the friends and acquaintances he lost in the first two films, or the trauma he endured thanks to Army‘s impromptu trip back to the middle ages, experiences like these are bound to take a toll. Or as Campbell told us in December, “He hasn’t been doing anything. He’s been hiding. He’s been PTSD-ing.”
As for regret, neither Campbell nor Raimi mentioned this particular aspect while promoting Ash vs Evil Dead. Yet anyone can see it. It’s all over Ash’s face when he first walks into view of the cabin in “Ashes to Ashes.” Episode director Tony Tilse and writer Michael J. Bassett include plenty of allusions to the events depicted in the films — be it shots of certain props in and around the cabin grounds, or sound bites extracted from particular scenes. Easter eggs like these were bound to appeal to older fans, but they also work for greenhorn audiences, especially when they see this crotchety anti-hero slowing his pace at the sight of a grave marked by two tree branches tied together. Or when he literally encounters a blast from the past in the tool shed, one that debilitates Ash with so much guilt that it’s almost too much for him to bear.
At least until he grabs his chainsaw and goes back to work.
Members of the Television Academy can participate in first-round voting online until Monday, June 27.