In recent years, there have been an excessive amount of films and TV shows that were undead or zombie-themed. The most noticeable films are the sci-fi horror drama “28 Days Later” and the horror comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and the most popular zombie TV series being the horror drama “The Walking Dead.” Netflix’s half-hour horror comedy, “Santa Clarita Diet,” brings an alternative spin to the zombie themed premise and also presents itself as an absurdist family sitcom that is highly aware how free they are from the traditional constraints of network television. What the show has going for itself is its great set of actors and unique twist of a family sitcom. Although, there are some parts where the show falters particularly in the structure.
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The series centers on Sheila (Drew Barrymore) and Joel Hammond (Timothy Olyphant), a married couple that lives happily together as real estate agents with their teenage daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson) within the beautifully quaint suburban region of Santa Clarita. That is until Sheila feels ill, vomits profusely, dies for a bit, and then returns as part of the undead which seems like a normal start to a family sitcom. Surprisingly enough, Shelia is not like a zombie normally seen on “The Walking Dead” and abstains from killing and eating every human she sees. However, Sheila’s life does take a dark turn and she begins to eat human flesh but not in the normal instinctively undead way but in a way that boosts her confidence, audacity, and lust for Joel. Right after this turn, Joel realizes that she has changed and has become part of the undead and quickly discovers that she can only survive on the consumption of human flesh. Instead of running away in fear from her, Joel helps his wife find the most awful and despicable people for his wife to feast on all while trying to maintain the appearance and feel of a normal suburban family. As the show progresses the Hammonds realize that their lives will never be normal again.
Throughout each episode, it was pleasing to see how both Barrymore and Olyphant were able to click together as a married couple in an abnormal situation. In all the films that Barrymore has been in, she seems to be the unsure character in the scene. However, in this TV series as Shelia, she is mostly this sure character that goes through a dynamic change and brings this surreal courage while also balancing the humor and emotion of her character. As the show progresses through each episode, it was funny to see the irony of Barrymore’s character; Barrymore shows how Sheila feels alive in her personality when she turns towards her cannibalistic activities. Olyphant’s Joel presents a lighter side to Olyphant, which is different compared to Olyphant’s darker and more serious roles in past TV shows and films such as “Deadwood” and “Justified” and another zombie horror film, “The Crazies.” There are some moments where his execution of jokes tends to fall flat, however, Olyphant is able to break the normally troubled hero tone he conveys with this show. He is a more eccentric, comedic, and vulnerable person as Joel and is able to highlight all the complexities and triumphs in an experienced marriage. The viewer can understand how Joel is just trying to find a piece of normalcy in this hectic predicament. Shelia’s and Joel’s daughter, Abby, has the right amount of cheekiness, sarcasm, and humor that resembles a younger Ellen Page in “Juno.” Abby’s personality combined with her friendship with her neighbor’s awkward and nerdy teenage son, Eric (Skyler Gisondo) offers a great foil to the series.
The show reflects an alternative depiction of a family sitcom normally seen on a normal network channel such as ABC, NBC, or CBS and a pack with bloody action sequences seen on HBO or AMC. Some of the faults of the show are the pace and structure of the plot. There were some moments where the pace would slow and rush unexpectedly, especially in the middle of the season. The mystery and the root of Sheila’s current nature are not the central focus until the second half of the season. Santa Clarita Diet overall is still the right mixture of humor, horror, and heart that highlights a new side of Barrymore and a lighter comedic tone for Olyphant. The series just needs to improve the pace and structure of the plot. I give it a B.
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Santa Clarita Diet Review: The Ups and Downs of a New Diet. Photo courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.