Santa Clarita Diet is Netflix’s latest venture into the land of the sit-com, and it comes with a large dose of blood, guts and vomit. Starring and executive produced by Drew Barrymore, Santa Clarita Diet follows Sheila (Barrymore), her husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and their 16-year-old daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) as they attempt to uphold a regular family lifestyle upon learning that Sheila is now a zombie.
As the show speeds through Sheila’s transformation into the undead without any explanation whatsoever, we are quickly thrown into the situations that follow; these include simultaneously trying to be a good parent and killing people to feed your hunger for human flesh, a husband having masculinity issues because his wife can kill people whilst he struggles with the idea, or attempting to maintain a healthy sex life with a woman who just yesterday ate another man’s testicles.
Now, Sheila is not your standard zombie – she is rejuvenated, she feels better than ever and when asked about her new-found energy, she says it is all down to her high protein diet. This is a new take on the zombie genre that we can agree with. Long gone are the days where a zombie could barely move without groaning or holding its arms out in front of itself, but Santa Clarita Diet also takes us away from the overdone rabid zombie concept. Sheila is dead, but more alive than ever. She still functions as a regular human being, but requires a diet of blood and guts to sustain herself.
The cleverness behind Santa Clarita Diet largely boils down to the setting, a small Californian suburban town filled with stereotypical middle class families striving to live the desired Californian lifestyle. It parodies the obsessions now seen in modern day culture; how we eat, what we buy, what car do we drive and how good our kids are doing. Sheila drinks a smoothie of blood and biceps whilst at a neighbour’s barbeque with her friends envious of her restrain from unhealthy foods, her impulsiveness leads her to buy a brand-new Range Rover that her neighbours wish they could have, and the tough decision of what stethoscope to buy to double check that she doesn’t in fact have a heartbeat. This is about as far as the intelligence behind the show goes – there are a few pop culture references thrown in that work, but many that don’t and some of the jokes leave a lot to be desired.
The writing isn’t the best we have seen in recent years, especially with the boom in television production. As previously mentioned, within about 10 minutes of the first episode, Sheila is already full-blown zombie, and we do not know why, and that is something we never find out. Furthermore, some of the one-liners feel a bit forced and unnatural. We can see the type of humour that the writers were trying so hard to achieve, but trying too hard in comedy ultimately leads to failure. Don’t get us wrong, there are some genuinely funny moments throughout the series, however not enough as we’d have hoped with such a strong premise and storyline.
Barrymore is great as Sheila. Her delivery is far more well executed than that of Timothy Olyphant’s, whose comic ability is sub-par to say the least. His acting mirrors that of a school play, where his effort to be ironic just comes across as over-acting and completely forced. Some facial expressions he makes throughout the season are a sorry attempt to stifle his own laughter, and as this is not a traditional sit-com (i.e. filmed in front of an audience) the covering up of one’s own laughter is something which should not be present at all. Barrymore thankfully overshadows Olyphant’s poor acting skills and makes the couple somewhat likable.
Abby, their daughter, is your typical teenager, but throw in some witty quips and tone down the superficial characteristics sometimes portrayed in TV teenagers, and you get a well-rounded character who really comes into her own. Abby’s own storyline is somewhat on a different level as the rest of the programme, but it works well because it runs deep into the reasons behind what makes teenagers so rebellious. What more do you need to make you skip school and get into trouble than your own parents murdering civilians to feed your blood-thirsty mother? Her relationship with the awkward Eric (played by Skyler Gisondo) is well portrayed, and doesn’t delve too deeply into the cliché. Eric is besotted with Abby, but Abby keeps him well in the friend zone and helps him to come out of his shell whilst he uses his “nerd” knowledge to help Sheila with her new behaviour.
With some unexpected cameos from the likes of Portia de Rossi and Thomas Lennon, and some truly funny scenes dotted throughout the season, Santa Clarita Diet is a meagre yet pleasant watch, despite the overly goriness of the killing scenes – however we imagine it was far from the finished product that the creators envisaged. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this is what it makes it watchable, but being simply “watchable” doesn’t quite allow for greatness.
We give Santa Clarita Diet an average 3 stars for being an easy watch, occasionally amusing and a little original, but are disappointed that the premise wasn’t pushed to its full potential. Perhaps a few more episodes per season would have allowed for greater detail, a more leisurely timeline and room for some more development.
See the trailer below, and let us know what you thought!