Santa Clarita Diet REVIEW
Netflix new horror comedy series The Santa Clarita Diet is an odd sort of show but not for the obvious reasons. The premise is fairly wacky, but also kind of fun. It’s also not what you may expect; this is a sit-com first and a gory horror a distant second.
The plot revolves around real estate agents Sheila and Joel (Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant), a rather boring married couple. Sheila and Joel have a pretty ordinary life. They’re childhood sweethearts who just fell into the real estate business. Their home is lovely, both their neighbours are cops, they live in a good part of town and their daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) does okay at school. Everything is fine.
Until Sheila pretty much throws up the entire contents of body, coating the walls of one the houses they are trying to sell. Joel and his family aren’t too bright, but they figure out what’s going on with Sheila. She’s dead, but still walking and talking. Sheila has become a zombie and as long as she eats plenty of live human flesh, she’ll be fine. At least that’s the plan.
Joel loves Sheila. Sheila loves Joel. They want to be together. But Sheila has to eat. Most people get a little bit angry when they’re angry, but it turns out that zombies really take it to the next level. Luckily for Sheila, Joel likes to help his wife and the murders begin. The family that slays together, stays together.
The series opener quickly establishes the premise of the show and the likeability of the characters. It doesn’t bother to explain much of the “how” when it comes to zombies – a few quick lines and we are away. Because this is a character-driven comedy show, not Resident Evil with some gags thrown in. It has a closer resemblance to The Simpsons than it does to Evil Dead, but that’s not a bad thing. The situational comedy comes first, which means every drop of blood is spilled in order to make it funnier, rather than to scare the viewer.
Olyphant is perfect as Joel; a former high school quarterback and dethroned king of the jocks. He has spent most his life relying on his looks and charm to get by. Likeable but a little bit dim and not really one for conflict, Olyphant makes Joel charming. Drew Barrymore (in her first TV role) has brilliant timing and is deceptively lovely. Her character, after all, is a horrific monster but a rather sweet one. Her condition has made her truly embrace life; all she had to do to get there was to die.
They both sparkle as a lovely but utterly incompetent couple who simply cannot cope with the challenges that lie ahead.
It’s the chemistry and dialogue that really make the show work. Anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship will recognise the signs of a couple who have become exceptionally comfortable with each other. Add the zombie thing and you can have constant conflict between the two protagonists without feeling the need to side with either one. This allows the humour to be vicious and free-flowing, which is a recipe for laugh out loud fun.
The supporting cast ia just as fun. Nathan Fillion plays a rival realtor, Gary, pretty spot on. Fillion is an excellent comic actor and the interplay between himself and Drew Barrymore is extremely entertaining. You can see where the relationship between the two is going pretty much from the start, but it’s the journey that matters. The first episode does rely a little bit too much on Fillion’s presence to carry it forward, but this is a Netflix show; it doesn’t need to sell you on the first episode because it knows you’re probably going to watch the next one.
And if the gore and vomit don’t put you off, you absolutely are going to keep watching. The Santa Clarita Diet gets funnier as you become more familiar with the leads; it’s a quintessential sitcom in the sense the more you understand their situation, the funnier it becomes.
The other major character here is the daughter, Abby. She is the voice of reason and brings a much sense of clarity to The Santa Clarita Diet. She’s backed up by her friend and neighbour, Eric Bemis (Skyler Gisondo) who is conveniently a huge nerd and fan of creepy things. He also has a huge crush on Abby and this leads to the sort of teenage angst we’ve seen a hundred times before.
Except of course, the whole zombie thing makes everything all the more intense and unreal. Scenes that would be very dark are simply funny, because zombies aren’t real. Whereas Sheila and Joel’s story is one of a couple desperately trying to hold onto the magic of the past and facing their mortality, Abby and Eric are simply kids trying to grow up and escape their childhoods. The two themes work perfectly alongside each other and frequently meet in the middle.
As the blood, vomit and body parts stack up, the drama becomes a little more intense and a lot funnier. For example, there’s a whole episode in which Sheila and Abby attempt to bond as mother and daughter. Except they don’t just go shopping and get a pedicure, the stakes are somewhat higher. Its light entertainment for those who like their humour dark, but not too dark. Ironically, The Santa Clarita Diet doesn’t go in for the kill often enough to make it truly memorable, but it is quite funny.
Overall, this is a clever show and unique product of made for streaming television. All the signs are there. It’s an odd idea with a slow burn. It relies on a stellar cast at the start to keep you engaged. But once it gets going it’s horribly funny. The season end feels a little rushed and the cliffhanger feels a little awkward, but that’s okay; we’ll binge season two when it arrives as well.
Review by Ed Fortune