Santa Clarita Diet Review
In an era where horror becomes comedy and comedy often turns to horror, The Santa Clarita Diet is a refreshing intersection of gore and chuckles. This Netflix Original Series stars Drew Barrymore, who surpasses the bounds of reality through her supernatural “condition.” It’s not quite “The Walking Dead” or “Resident Evil.” It’s more of a Desperate Housewives-meets-Dexter-meets-Arrested Development sort of situation.
I came across the show while scrolling through my newsfeed a few months ago. Seeing the title of the advertisement, I was less than eager to see what was coming. There stood Barrymore, smiling in a classic red dress, talking about a “new diet” that “isn’t like any other diet.” She smiled at the camera, and expressed how lively and sexy she now felt. As I started scrolling past, I heard the words, “I can eat anyone I want” in the background, and immediately scrolled back up. I went from eye rolling to googling, and stumbled upon the premise of this intriguing series. I had fallen victim to Netflix’s digital advertising, and I was excited to see if it was worth it.
As someone who loves conspiracy theories and controversial plot lines, I was hooked before I even started watching the series. I’ve also loved Charlie’s Angels for as long as I can remember, so seeing Drew Barrymore’s face again brought back my inner fan girl.
The series released on Feb. 3, this year, and was exactly what I wanted it to be.
The story revolves around Sheila Hammond (Barrymore), a realtor-turned-undead woman, who lives in Santa Clarita, California with her husband, Joel (portrayed by Timothy Olyphant), and her daughter, Abby (portrayed by Liv Hewson). The pilot carries us through Sheila’s transformation from a reserved human to a confident zombie, and sets the tone for many of the show’s subplots. What’s interesting about yet another zombie-based plotline? Barrymore’s character wants nothing more than to embrace her new life and live it to the fullest. The series lacks the notorious apocalyptic fear that has wiggled its way into the Zombie-flick archetype, and works to explore themes such as family values, morale, and (inevitably) death.
Naturally, Joel is constantly in jitters throughout the show, and on a mission to both find a cure for Sheila and help her in her quest for flesh. As Sheila’s co-realtor and high school sweetheart, the two have a truly endearing bond that gives rise to anxiety-induced, frantic banter that boosts the sense of urgency that resonates through the episodes.
Abby, on the other hand, is your quintessential sassy teenager with an insatiable hunger for adventure that is only fueled by Sheila’s transformation. Her escapades balance out the watch-through-the-cracks-in-your-fingers sort of feeling that the blood and guts give you. She is often seen with Eric, the “geeky,” incredibly knowledgeable next-door-neighbor who supports all three of the Hammonds in their time of need. Eric dotes on Abby, which is part of what keeps him motivated to keep helping a family, who really - probably by the second episode - need to be arrested.
The Santa Clarita Diet also hosts its share of guest stars, who are strategically eliminated from the plot either by being eaten, or being driven away by the notion of being eaten. Some are even drawn in by the zombie conundrum, and we are certainly hoping to see a lot more of them in the future. In just the first season we see Nathan Fillion, Portia de Rossi, Ravi Patel, and Thomas Lennon, amongst others.
While I thoroughly enjoyed binge-watching this season, I will admit that the show is not for everyone. There is a lot of what I would call content that is unsettling to the stomach, and a pretty large amount of killing and conversations about killing. To say the least, the graphic content of the show may not be for everyone, and if you’re planning on watching this with a younger sibling (or your parents), note that there is a hearty amount of swearing and a splash of sexual references here and there.
What is amazing though, is the show’s ability to push such an unsettling plot element to normalcy, and bring in smaller issues and blow them out of proportion. Somehow, everything does tie together, and somehow, the Hammond’s are able to survive without provoking any excessive suspicion. The undead brings out the unexpected best in this family, and shows how a horrific and unexplained incident can bring people closer together.
The show also boasts a very light-hearted, almost spacey acting style that elevates its dark comedic flair. While some critics have rendered this unappealing, I find that it is necessary to counteract the intensity of the murders in the show. This also brings all the actors, regardless of their age, on the same level, setting a tone for the show.
The artistic direction and staging of scenes is incredibly well-done, especially given the amount of blood and guts that the production team have put together. Live actors are recreated as lifeless, disemboweled corpses, and Barrymore is constantly chowing down on whatever they’ve sculpted into faux internal organs. The attention to detail, down to the coloration and anatomy of Sheila’s victims, is commendable, but, again, is what might make it difficult for many to watch.
So far the show has ten episodes released to make up its first season, and is well set up for many more seasons to come. For those who can stomach it, this show is worth it for the long haul.