Show in review: “Santa Clarita Diet”

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Nathaniel Nelson / Winonan

Let’s just cut right to the chase: the entertainment world is flooded with zombie narratives these days, and they’re beginning to hit a wall. “The Walking Dead” is seeing its lowest ratings in years, George Romero hasn’t made a good film in decades, and even Marvel Zombies has lost its luster. To make a solid zombie story, creators need to look out of the box and find a new angle. Luckily, Netflix’s new show “Santa Clarita Diet” does just that, with a few bumps along the way.

Starring Drew Barrymore in a surprising turn for the actress, “Santa Clarita Diet” is a horror-comedy (though predominantly comedic, the horror is mainly in the concept) about  husband and wife realtors and their daughter, and how they deal with a surprising change in their routine. Namely, a mother who suddenly has a craving for human flesh.

Barrymore plays Sheila Hammond, an uptight and overworked real estate agent who, on an otherwise typical day of work, begins to vomit an excruciatingly large amount. After the potential buyers leave due to the noise coming from the bathroom, Sheila’s husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) returns upstairs to check on her. He walks in to find the walls covered in a thick sludge, and his wife apparently dead on the ground. Of course, Sheila wakes up feeling better than ever.

As I said in the opening, to make a zombie show really shine in this day and age, writers need to do something different and unique. Take CW’s “iZombie” for example. In that show, the lead character is a zombified mortician who, after eating the brains of the recently deceased, begins to have visions of their past and joins forces with a detective to solve their murders. That is a star example of flipping the zombie script on its head. Here, show creator Victor Fresno goes a different route, by focusing on making the zombies more human than ever.

In fact, there is not a single stereotypical, brain-dead decaying zombie on the show. Sheila is the sole undead character for the vast majority of the season, and her change from human to zombie isn’t signified by decay or a loss of mental function; instead, she becomes more outgoing, joyous, and sexual (which becomes a long-running gag). The undead in Fresno’s show are powered not by their hunger, but their ID – their innermost desires. For Sheila, that means being free and living life to the fullest.

This approach to the zombie myth leads to an absolute blast of a comedy. Not since Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” has there been a zombie comedy so outrageously funny. The emotional changes Sheila goes through, and some of more physical alterations, are played realistically and hilariously. For example, after her toe falls off, she goes to great length to fix or hide it, including super glue and persistent socks.

The supporting cast is great, too. Olyphant’s Joel is a riot, and as the series continues he begins to become more and more twisted himself. The Hammonds’ daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), sees the zombification of her mother as a reason to skip school and enjoy her time instead. Partaking in normal teenager stuff, like throwing smoke grenades into the homes of drug dealers and stealing motorcycles from dead heroine addicts.

Let’s not forget their neighbor’s son Eric Bemis (Skyler Gisondo), who acts as the voice of reason in most situations as the resident paranormal nerd, but that sometimes falls to the wayside in favor for his awkward attempts at romance with Abby.

That said, “Santa Clarita Diet” does have some problems with pacing, especially in the final few episodes. The season starts strong, and picks up steam steadily, but by episode eight it begins to stall. A last-minute shift in focus stops the show in its tracks, leading to an anti climactic season finale that creates more questions than it answers.

Pacing aside, “Santa Clarita Diet” is a fun and gore-filled romp that is an excellent addition to the Netflix canon. The casting is near perfect, the blend of humor and horror is exemplary, and the dialogue is some of the best comedy that the streaming service has ever put out. If they can knead out the last few kinks and bring a little more closure to some of the plotlines with season two, Netflix could have another hit on their hands. 4/5

By Nathaniel Nelson

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