Santa Clarita Diet is both highly formulaic and also unlike anything else you have seen on TV before. The new TV show on Netflix is a dark comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as Sheila and Joel, a pair of married real estate agents living in California whose lives are disturbed after Sheila suddenly becomes a zombie. Consisting of ten 30-minute episodes, this show takes the admittedly overused zombie-trope and pulls it in a slightly different direction – suburbia.
One seemingly normal day, Sheila Hammond (Barrymore) realizes after losing her heartbeat and vomiting up her entire bodyweight (along with a pretty vital-looking organ) that she has mysteriously died in unexplained circumstances. Death in this case is unfortunate, but not debilitating to her career as she continues her role as real estate agent, a mother to Abby (Liv Hewson) and wife to Joel (Olyphant). In fact, being (un)dead has it’s benefits. Her libido is off the charts, she feels more liberated, and she can get a lot done with less sleep. The downside? She has to eat people.
With Joel, Abby, and Abby’s best friend Eric (Skyler Gisondo) by her side, these are mere obstacles rather than severe impediments. Sheila and Joel are able to strengthen their marriage by bonding over murder. They are moral people of course, so they only choose to kill people who deserve to die. This doesn’t always go to plan however, the results culminating in hilarious and oftentimes gross circumstances.
Does it work?
Santa Clarita Diet is, undoubtedly a fun show, but it’s also repetitive. There’s only so many time’s Joel can express shock at his circumstances by announcing aloud, “But I’m only a realtor!” and there’s only so many times Sheila can extract a laugh out of eliciting sex from her husband. Thanks to Olyphant and Barrymore, however, these jokes have a lot more mileage than they should.
After Sheila transforms into a zombie, her Id becomes unleashed, leading her to make impulsive choices like eating a coworker, but also going ahead and buying a Range Rover on a whim. As is the case with most traditional sitcoms, the jokes don’t always land, but it’s mainly when Barrymore and Olyphant aren’t the ones delivering them. The two stars have great chemistry and it’s their solid comedic timing that can somehow make murder joke after murder joke still seem funny. It’s also gory and bloody and it doesn’t ever shy away from showing Sheila chewing on a limb which contrasts nicely with the picturesque suburban setting.
In particular, it’s Olyphant as the father struggling to maintain a sense of normality in an increasingly insane situation that steals the show. It’s also clear that Barrymore is having a blast. While precisely what happened to Sheila is a mystery, it does add another layer to the story as the family search for a cure.
Ultimately, it’s an entertaining show that I enjoyed watching. While the premise is great, the show does surprisingly little to expand upon it besides the frantic search for the cure. The series also ends on a unfortunate cliffhanger in which we have to wait a year for additional episodes. In some ways, that cliffhanger ruins the flow that show had, but is intriguing enough to certainly have viewers streaming next year. And yes, while the show’s one joke occasionally gets old, watching Barrymore and Olyphant deliver it never does.