Santa Clarita Diet Explores the Human Side of Cannibalistic Zombies

first_img What to Stream on Netflix This Weekend11 Other Old-School Nick Shows That Should Get Netflix Movies Stay on target Netflix’s new zombie series premiered this weekend, showing us all how funny a zombie outbreak can be. And unlike The Walking Dead, this show does it intentionally. Santa Clarita Diet centers on a normal, boring suburban family. Sheila (Drew Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant) are two married real estate agents raising a teenage daughter in Santa Clarita, Calif. We don’t get much sense of their life beyond that before things start to get weird.While showing off a house, Sheila throws up in the master bedroom. A lot. She also coughs up a ball of… meat that looks like an internal organ. The next morning, she finds that she has significantly lowered inhibitions, along with an insatiable craving for raw meat. The family does some digging and, long story short, she’s dead. Thanks to the nerdy kid next door, they figure out that she’s a zombie. She’s controlled completely by her id, impulsively going after whatever she desires.If the plot sounds at all familiar to you, that may be because it’s almost the same premise as iZombie, the DC comic turned CW crime procedural. Both series feature zombies that don’t lose their personalities after becoming undead. They are pretty much the same people they always were, but now they don’t feel pain and crave human flesh. (Although in iZombie, they just eat the brain, and are then able to access memories of the person they eat. In Santa Clarita Diet, it’s all just meat.)Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore) enjoys a raw hamburger. (Photo via Netflix)The main difference is that Netflix’s series is a comedy. Sheila has no problem with eating people, though she does try to make sure they deserve it. Her first kill is a new employee at the real estate firm she and Joel work at. He’s a real dirtbag who tries to steal their clients, tries to sleep with Sheila and won’t take no for an answer when she doesn’t want to. After biting off his fingers and disemboweling him in their backyard, she can’t eat anything but human flesh. Barrymore plays this role so well. Her charming personality and excellent sense of comedic timing add an extra layer of absurdity to the violence on display.Olyphant is hilarious as the reluctant, but loving husband. A lot of the comedy in this show comes from the vastly different reactions Joel and Sheila have to their current predicament. Sheila takes a pragmatic, go-with-the-flow attitude toward her new diet. Joel on the other hand slowly unravels throughout the entire first season. He tries so hard to be upbeat and positive, only growing more manic with each episode. His character’s journey is a little flat, but Olyphant does some great things with what he’s given. His rationalizations combined with Sheila’s impulsive cannibalism lead to many genuine laugh-out-loud moments throughout the season. The show gets a lot of mileage out of having the couple bicker over things like how to properly murder someone, store the body and cover up their tracks. But there’s always a sense of love underneath the arguing that keeps the humor from getting too mean.My favorite character in the show, though, is probably their daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson). She has the most interesting character arc in the first season, from learning to accept her mom’s new diet, to building a friendship/possible relationship with the nerdy kid next door. Hewson’s wonderfully sarcastic portrayal gives us a well-rounded character who’s just trying to make sense of a really messed up situation.Liv Hewson and Skyler Gisondo (Photo via Netflix)Santa Clarita Diet is an easily bingeable show. Each episode comes in at just under half an hour, telling one engaging, continuous story. You’ll easily get through the entire first season in about half a day, making it feel like a five-hour movie more than a TV show. I mean that in a good way. Over the entire running time, the dark humor never gets old, and the show constantly finds ways to subvert your expectations and surprise you. For example, about halfway through the season, Sheila and Joel try and fail to kill someone, inadvertently creating another zombie. In any other show, that character would become a formidable threat to be defeated by the end of the season. I don’t want to spoil specifics, but that’s not what happens. The direction they take the character instead is completely unexpected and hilarious.What makes Santa Clarita Diet work is an enormous amount of heart. This is a family comedy at its core. It’s a very weird family, but aside from the murder and cannibalism, they deal with fairly relatable problems. Abby accepts what her mom has become and only wishes her parents trusted her enough not to lie to her. Sheila and Joel fight, argue and drive each other crazy, but are reminded over the course of the show how much they really love each other. That normal sitcom sweetness, combined with the gross-out violence makes for a cute, funny zombie tale unlike anything else.Obviously, the show isn’t perfect. It gets to the zombie stuff very quickly in the first episode, so we don’t see much of what their life was like before. We’re told it’s boring and unfulfilling, but the series doesn’t have time to show much of that beyond your standard suburban life cliches. Also, the jokes about how crazy it is that realtors are killing people do get old pretty quick. We get it Joel; murder isn’t something you’d normally expect from a real estate agent. Find a new schtick. Other than that, the rest of the jokes land well and don’t stop being funny.Joel (Timothy Olyphant) doesn’t handle change well. (Photo via Netflix)The stakes are low for most of the season and only pick up for the last few episodes, but that’s not a problem. This is a sitcom first and foremost. It doesn’t need high-stakes drama. It’s fine, and probably preferable that the show takes its time and focuses on the family coming to terms with their new life. It is a little frustrating that the show ends on a cliffhanger, but that seems to be the norm for a lot of Netflix comedies. It’s just a shame that after speeding through the series in five hours, I have to wait a year or more to see what happens next. But I guess it’s not such a bad thing if one of my beefs with Santa Clarita Diet is that I wish there were more of it.last_img

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