Debuting this Friday on Netflix, Santa Clarita Diet is a well crafted and entertaining look at the repetitiveness of suburban life through an undead lens.
Shelia (Drew Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant) are high school sweethearts who marry at a young age, have a daughter, and are realtors living the American Dream in Los Angeles. Shelia longs to be more impulsive. Joel wishes that he could handle confrontation well. Their daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson) can’t stand how mundane her parents have become and just wants a car so she can be away from them.
During what appears to be a typical showing off yet another house, Sheila falls ill and proceeds to projectile vomit all over the place (think Exorcist level of vomit). Then if that wasn’t enough, she then continues to cough up what appears to be her heart. Joel immediately takes her to the hospital, but after a long wait, they leave. Shortly after returning home it becomes apparent that something is different about Sheila. Perhaps it’s her desire to eat human flesh? It’s at this point that the show quickly pivots from being your typical martial comedy to an atypical horror comedy with a marital twist.
What I liked:
I loved the way Victor Fresco crafted the narrative of Sheila and Joel. Rather than waste time building up to the moment of her transformation, we see her go through this change at about the ten-minute mark. This dramatic moment immediately takes the focus off their life before she was a zombie and puts the focus where it needs to be on, how the whole family adapts to her new eating habits.
Also, by having her undergo that change so rapidly it allowed the audience to accept this new reality for the couple immediately. Instead of being grossed out by her eating habits, you just nod and say “Of course she’s eating the man’s leg, I hope she gets enough to eat.” Creating an odd reality isn’t anything new for Fresco, he was one of the driving forces behind My Name is Earl and Better off Ted.
It was refreshing to watch how they were able to take the whole Zombie phenomenon and use it as a vehicle to tell this tale. On the surface, this show looks like any typical zombie themed program. In reality, it’s about how after years of marriage, Sheila and Joel’s marriage is evolving. Before this unfortunate turn of events, it seems that their marriage is stuck in a holding pattern, but now they’re discovering new ways in which they love one another. For example, what better way to say I love you than to help your wife stuff a dead guy in a meat freezer so she can gnaw on his fingers later.
Finally, Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play the roles of Sheila and Joel to perfection. Seeing Barrymore play off of her syrupy sweet demeanor and proceed to drop F-bombs and devour people on screen was not off-putting, it was charming. Olyphant steps out of the comfort of playing the tough guy and pulls off loving husband and partner in crime wonderfully.
What I didn’t Like:
There is another narrative that’s ongoing throughout the series about the neighbor’s son having a crush on Abby, which at times tended to distract from what I felt worked in the series. It’s obvious that the writers were trying to create a reason for the neighbor’s son to eventually help out Abby’s parents, but rather than having him lust over her, maybe they could have just been friends at school.
I was at times wondering about how Sheila caught the virus that transformed her. They touch on it slightly, but it’s not the primary focus driving the narrative. I would like to see them make some progress towards finding out how she contracted it. My guess is the reason they left it alone is that they are saving some parts of the story for a potential second season.
Santa Clarita Diet is a thoroughly enjoyable show. The humor may be a bit dark for some, but the timing and execution of the jokes are done well. Netflix in recent years has branched out into original programming and has been behind such binge-worthy hits as Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Santa Clarita Diet is set to join those ranks as a slew of audience members are going to want to sink their teeth into this one.