Review: 'Santa Clarita Diet' is the zombie show we need right now
Does the world need another zombie show? No. Does the world need a zombie show starring Drew Barrymore as an undead real estate agent who devours humans in between showing suburban ranch homes? Yes.
Barrymore stars as Sheila Hammond, the other half of a real estate agent duo with husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant). They're high school sweethearts who live in the titular town of Santa Clarita in southern California with their daughter Abby (Liv Hewson).
They've all hit plateaus in their mundane lives. Sheila wishes she could be more outgoing, Joel wishes he could take charge more and Abby just wants a car to escape her bland parents.
Then Sheila becomes a zombie.
Her transition is sudden, gross and almost without explanation. But the why and how Sheila becomes one of the undead isn't important. At least not yet.
Creator Victor Fresco (Better off Ted) brings together elements that makes this horror-comedy so successful — gratuitous gore, viscera-spraying chaos and foul-mouthed humor.
Santa Clarita Diet blends campy horror with suburban marriage drama, but without the nonsensical chaos of Ash vs. Evil Dead or Stan Against Evil. It treats the absurd as mundane, like iZombie and Zombieland but without the crime procedural or end-of-the-world storylines. In fact, the show's first two episodes were directed by Zombieland helmer Ruben Fleischer.
Barrymore is clearly enjoying her role. Her character quickly evolves from woman in a rut to one who exudes excess energy now that her id has taken over. She becomes a loud mouth with no filter whose hunger and sexual appetite is almost insatiable.
As the series picks up the pace through its 10 half-hour episodes, Barrymore matches its manic energy with hard-hitting punchlines.
In one exceptional scene in the fourth episode, Sheila chips some frozen meat off a corpse in her freezer to make a power smoothie. Her friends admire her newfound energy, to which she tells them she's upped her protein intake. "How many grams?" they ask. "All of them!" she replies gleefully.
In another, Joel stresses over who Sheila's next meal will be while she frets over the impact on their daughter. "I know we have to kill someone today," she says. "But we have to be parents every day."
Olyphant is the doting, accepting husband. Joel and Abby treat Sheila's transition as coolly as if she had decided to become vegan rather than a member of the walking dead. It's all still a whirlwind for them, only having one shared meltdown in the first four episodes. As luck would have it, the Hammonds also have two cops for neighbors, which produces some great, high-pitched Olyphant freakouts.
Abby copes with her mother's penchant for people meat by skipping class and getting revenge for her best friend and boy next door Eric (Skyler Gisondo), who happens to be an expert on zombies.
The show also touches on the implications of keeping Sheila fed and happy, but doesn't delve into any moral implications. This is a B-movie horror comedy after all.
Santa Clarita Diet is a delight for a certain type of horror fan, and probably unpleasant for others. You'll either lose your appetite or start craving a very rare steak while watching.
Where many would expect the series to trudge through various zombie storylines, it surprises with its plot points. The show keeps you on your toes for the next deadpan punchline or blood bath. Mostly a bit of both.
It's not afraid to marry gore, murder, suburban life and high school drama; it brings it all together perfectly.
And it's certainly more satisfying than that frozen foot Sheila gnaws on like a turkey leg.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @chelseatatham.
If you watch
Santa Clarita Diet, all episodes available at 3 a.m. Feb. 3, Netflix.