Just when you think the zombie genre has reached an over saturation point, and that if you see one more zombie movie or television show you will surely explode, along comes one that not only takes a nice little spin on the genre but is so goofily charming and downright delightfully hilarious that you can’t help but enjoy it. Santa Clarita Diet is a Netflix original series created by Victor Fresco who moves the zombie genre into the world of sitcoms where it would fit right in with shows like I Love Lucy or Father Knows Best, but with a lot more gore and death than Lucy or Ethel ever got into.
Now a comic take on the zombie genre is certainly nothing new, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and television’s iZombie have well illustrated that this horror subgenre is rife with stuff to laugh at, but with Santa Clarita Diet it’s a more straight up situational comedy, iZombie though comedy is also a police procedural/mystery show, while Santa Clarita Diet is a classic “single-camera” sitcom where the typical hijinks of your average middle American family have been supplanted by mom and dad having to go out and murder people so she can feed.
The premise to Santa Clarita Diet is as simple as it is bizarre, one day while showing potential buyers a house Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore), who are a husband and wife realtor team in Santa Clarita, California, their sales pitch is put on hold when Sheila starts vomiting as if she were auditioning for a part in The Exorcist. Discovering that she may also have vomited up an organ Joel rushes her to the local Emergency Room but after a long and excruciating wait to see a doctor, the admitting nurse not being too impressed by the vomit story, they decide to go home. Joel soon notices some radical changes in his wife; before the vomit incident getting some bedroom playtime was an effort but now his wife’s libido seems in overdrive, she also seems rather overly energetic and with almost no impulse control. When Sheila points out that she no longer seems to have a heartbeat, and that when cut her blood comes out as a congeal black ichor, the family becomes duly concerned. Not wanting to try the hospital again they seek answers from Eric (Skyler Gisondo), the nerd next door who is madly in love with their daughter Abby (Liv Hewson).
Eric informs them that, “One thing we do know about the undead is that they are completely driven by their Id.” Which explains her increased sex drive and shift in personality, but he also warns them that Sheila must always be fed, and if she degrades they may have to kill her. Not your typical heartwarming family discussion, yet at first it seems her eating raw hamburger and chicken can sate her lust for flesh, but when Gary (Nathan Fillion), a new realtor in town, aggressively comes on to her, not taking no for an answer, he finds himself quickly on the menu.
What makes this show work brilliantly is Timothy Olyphant’s beautiful portrayal of a suburban dad desperately trying to hold his family together despite the complete insanity of the situation, it’s downright hilarious, and there hasn’t been a better straight man since George Burns faced off against Gracie Allen. Those who know Olyphant from his tough guy roles in shows like Deadwood and Justified will be pleasantly surprised to see how good he is in the comic arena, sure having Drew Barrymore as your co-star helps but the stand-out comedian in this show is clearly Olyphant. His deadpan delivery and exasperated looks at his wife’s undead antics are priceless and had me laughing out loud multiple times each episode.
Santa Clarita Diet is certainly not for everyone as the gore does reach extreme levels, but if you can get passed that and the violence you are in for a real treat. The first season is ten half hour episodes that just fly by as we follow the zany happenings of the Hammond family as they try to keep mom fed while hiding the murders from their neighbors, both of whom are cops, while Eric’s asshole stepdad Rick (Ricardo Chavira) makes things especially sticky as not only is he a cop but he’s a corrupt one as well. The central problem with having a zombie in the family is of course solving such interesting problems such as “Finding bad people to kill to keep Sheila fed” and “Convincing their daughter college is important while trying to get a dead body out of the house unseen” you know, typical sitcom stuff.
Drew Barrymore as the housewife with an eating disorder.
Showrunner Victor Fresco keeps ratcheting the tension up throughout the season with Joel manically searching for a cure while Abby’s condition goes from bad to worse, all while dealing with nosy neighbours, suspicious cops, and an asshat school principal. As a rule I avoid most modern sitcoms like the plague but Santa Clarita Diet is a brilliant breath of fresh air and one I can highly recommend.