Zombie films and shows seem like a dime-a-dozen these days. Between tired shows like The Walking Dead (yes, I said tired. Fight me.) and undead franchises like Resident Evil there is no shortage of shambling corpses in the world of fiction. However, even now, a film or show will come along and bring a refreshing twist to the genre. Such is the case with the new Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet. Starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as happily married couple/co-realtors Sheila and Joel, the series follows their exploits into the world of crime after Sheila mysteriously becomes a human flesh craving member of the undead.
Show creator Victor Fresco is probably best known for his work on the horribly underrated comedy series Better Off Ted, and that show’s brand of humor takes on a dark twist in this series. Taking some pages out of Dexter Morgan’s book the show follows Sheila and her increasingly frustrated, yet steadfast, husband as they try to satisfy her newfound hunger by killing “those who have it coming.” What ensues is a somewhat kooky show with a unique brand of humor that is as full of blood and gore as it is laughs.
What makes Santa Clarita such an enjoyable show is how it contrasts the life Sheila and Joel have built for themselves in the idyllic suburbs with the seedy world of murder and undead-cannibalism that has become their new normal. The deeper they go, the more unsavory secrets are revealed and they slowly begin to realize how imperfect their seemingly perfect lives were. For instance, before her transformation, Sheila is a somewhat stuffy housewife who cant even decide if she wants to buy a Range Rover. Afterward, her impulse control goes out the window and she begins, ironically, to actually live her life to the fullest. And her newfound carefree attitude sends ripples through the fabric of her family’s life and the lives of their neighbors. However, it comes with an insatiable need to consume human flesh.
Sheila and Joel try to control her new hunger with various things like raw meat, live chicken, and even going so far as to attempt to procure human flesh from a morgue, all with disastrous results. Nothing but fresh human meat seems to satiate Sheila’s ravenous appetite, and eventually her pent up desires culminate with the brutal murder of one of her co-workers in the family’s back yard (Said co-worker is played by a surprisingly smarmy Nathan Fillion I might add). This doesn’t exactly sit well with Joel, who is having a doozy of a time coping with Sheila’s new tastes. Despite enjoying his wife’s supercharged sex drive, he finds their relationship being tested in ways he never expected.
Needless to say, true love means burying Nathan Fillion’s half-eaten corpse in the desert.
Joel is more focused on finding a cure to his wife’s zombification, and trying to find ways to curb her bloodlust. All the while both of them work to keep the situation hidden from their teenage daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson). However that proves to be short lived, and soon Abby finds herself inspired by her mother’s new carefree attitude and begins ditching school and hanging out with the nerdy boy next door, Eric (Skyler Gisondo), who proves to be more than knowledgeable about Sheila’s condition. Soon the four of them form a pretty tight-knit group as they soon come into conflict with Eric’s jerkass stepfather, who also happens to be a cop.
The cast is rather spot on here in their performances, managing to keep things light hearted and zany even when faced with truly terrifying situations. Barrymore is a joy to watch as Sheila, who throws caution to the wind, often speaking her mind even when it does more harm than good. Yet she doesn’t cross the line into full blown unlikable as it’s clear that, despite her change, she still deeply cares for Joel and Abby. There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t enjoy her performance.
However, Olyphant manages to steal the show as Joel. He proves himself to be a serious comedic force within the show, eliciting many of the laughs as he struggles to cope with his wife’s condition. Many who know him for his more serious roles will get a kick out of him playing the bumbling husband. However, while he is undoubtedly goofy, you also feel for Joel’s plight. All he wants is his old life back, and you admire him for his loyalty and determination to stick with Sheila through thick and thin. Even when it means trying to kill a man twice his size.
Hewson and Gisondo are also fun to watch, though some may find Eric’s stereotypical one-sided crush on Abby to be a little trying. A good majority of the episodes deal with how Abby is coping with both her struggles growing up and coping with the bizarre situation. As well as how Joel and Sheila should try to be good parents whilst also being, essentially, cold-blooded killers. Still, the kids’ manage to round out the episodes with their own shenanigans which are just as fun to watch. The most enjoyable of which is when they find themselves needing to dispose of a corpse of their own.
While some may find the show’s unique brand of humor difficult to digest initially, the show definitely grows on you after the first couple of episodes, and you find yourself craving more as it goes on. It’s definitely a show for those who’s sense of humor is gauged more towards the dark end of the spectrum. It also isn’t a show for the squeamish, as this show doesn’t hold back when it comes to blood and gore (it is a zombie show after all). Even still, when you finish binge watching this show, you’ll be hungry for more.