“Well we can’t start killing people! We’re getting life back to normal, and killing people isn’t normal, sweetheart!”
Joel Hammond (Timothy Olyphant)
It took me a few weeks to watch this new show from Netflix, not because I didn’t want to, but because I have been slammed at work and trying to get other writing projects done. But a couple of weeks ago I hit a wall and needed to unwind in the evenings, and over the course of a week I watched a couple of episodes of Santa Clarita Diet per night. The first season is made up of ten episodes, each about thirty minutes in length, so it wasn’t too much of a time commitment, and because it’s a comedy, it was exactly what I needed to relax before bedtime.
The show focuses on a married couple of realtors whose idyllic cul-de-sac American dream of a life is suddenly rocked when the wife comes down with a series, and I do mean serious, case of vomiting and wakes up the following day with no pulse. That said, she is alive… sort of. Is she a zombie? All clues point to yes. Especially when she eats a colleague in her backyard in front of her husband. The show is a comedy, but its highly satirical tone and gross-out horror-esque visuals make it less of a laugh out loud riot and more of a fun and glossy ride towards gross-ville. That is not to put the show down, it just isn’t comedic in the sitcom stylings of laugh tracks and easy jokes. But it’s still a whole lot of fun!
Drew Barrymore is the perfect choice to play the newly zombified Sheila Hammond. Barrymore has made a career out of playing the flower-child easy going fun girl who isn’t too dangerous (at least in recent years). She has enough charm to keep you on her side when she suddenly begins chomping on unsuspecting victims to feed her flesh cravings. Even better than Barrymore is Timothy Olyphant as her husband Joel. Olyphant plays his character as a loving and loyal husband, desperate to keep it all together and to ensure that his family isn’t destroyed by something as inconvenient as a dead wife. The lengths he will go to in order to protect his family and keep a smile permanently etched on his face is what ultimately sells this show. It also should be said that the cast is wonderfully diverse without ever bringing attention to it. The Hammonds are a well off family surrounded by neighbors of color, and not a second is paid to explain it away. It just is. And that is a breath of fresh air.
While other 30 minute comedies might just rest on the laughs that can result from being married to a zombie, Santa Clarita Diet also works on building a mythology for the show that pays off over the course of the season, and future ones to come. There are clues that Sheila’s situation has ties to Eastern European folklore, and her degrading body provides very real stakes for the show.
If I had to compare the show to other series of recent years I would say the setting and even a lot of the tone is indebted to Desperate Housewives. The choice of who Sheila chooses to dine on owes a lot to Dexter. And some of the comedic elements as well as what happens to her body reminded me a lot of Death Becomes Her, a movie I absolutely love. A lot of guest stars and special effects provide plenty of fun, but the show belongs to Barrymore and Olyphant, and they do such a great job I will be looking forward to season 2, coming sometime in 2018.