Santa Clarita Diet
Creator: Victor Fresco and Clay Graham
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Timothy Olyphant, Liv Hewson
A review by Nicole Brenser
CAUTION: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Santa Clarita Diet, the dark comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, premiered on Netflix on Februrary 3rd, 2017. A zombie tale that attempts to combine humor, campy gore and some endearing Hallmark moments, the show has some funny material, but the ultimate package just doesn’t come together.
Santa Clarita Diet begins with a typical morning in the household of Sheila (Drew Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant). Sheila rejects a quickie, then ponders what percentage “bolder” she wishes she could be while the couple’s daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) pesters her parents for a new car. Sheila has a momentary spell of stomach pain, but brushes it off and the day continues. We are then introduced to the Hammond’s neighbors. On one side is Dan, an overzealous macho sheriff. His wife Lisa is a bit preoccupied with sex. On the other side is Rick, a local police officer with a wife and newborn baby. The two men don’t care for each other, which is played out in a brief but funny scene and the characters and their wives go on to provide some of the more entertaining comedic scenes in the show. I daresay they are a welcomed break from the less effective interplay between Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, which is a consistent issue throughout the show.
Cut to the chase. There is some projectile vomiting, Sheila discovers she has no heartbeat, and an insatiable desire for sex and raw meat ensues. Sheila’ status as a zombie is confirmed by Eric, Dan’s stepson and the family’s geeky teenage neighbour, who also has a crush on Abby. I had a little trouble with how readily this was accepted as fact by everyone involved. Even for a fantasy comedy, it was a bit quick. The science geek in me needed an explanation. As Santa Clarita Diet progresses, hi-jinx ensue as Joel and Sheila try to find an ethical way to feed her, and agree they will kill only bad people to keep her “alive.” The kills never go as planned, and Joel follows leads searching for a cure for his wife. As Sheila begins to become more aggressive and her body begins to deteriorate, Joel enlists the aid of Dr. Cora Wolf (Portia di Rossi) and her ancient Serbian book believed to contain a cure, but this plan also goes awry and the series ends in limbo, with Sheila entering a phase of pure zombiehood from which she can never recover if fully transformed.
Santa Clarita Diet made me laugh out loud more than once and Olyphant is entertaining, if not slightly over the top. The problem lies with Drew Barrymore. Her lines should play out as funny, but there is a lack of comedic timing and an over-reliance on Barrymore’s own personal brand of cuteness which doesn’t translate well for the role. Personally, I’ve always liked Barrymore, and she can be quite adorable, but the role of Sheila requires an actress that can play both the prim and proper Stepford Wife and unbridled impulses of the zombie. The manner in which Barrymore delivers her lines seems trite and uninspired, and falls short in comparison to Olyphant’s frequently amusing responses. As the couple tries to balance the mundane business of real estate with the need to kill people, the chemistry just isn’t there, and the mix flops on Barrymore’s end.
Both a bright spot and a flaw of the series is the relationship between Abby and Eric, which is played as pure lighthearted drama, with no hint of the off-color horror the rest of the show puts out. The performances of the young actors are real and poignant, as Abby and Eric become close friends amidst the zombie chaos around them. A father-daughter scene between Olyphant and Hewson similarly provoked some feels, but the pathos and warm fuzzies are so discongruent with the tone of the show. It’s almost as if they’re part of another series. It’s distracting and takes the viewer out of the show, perhaps even makes them forget which what kind of show they’re watching. It’s a sweet coming of age story one moment then BAM! zombies and bodies the next. This change in tone can be executed effectively. Films like Shaun of the Dead showed us it can work even in horror and comedy, but Santa Clarita Diet misses the mark.
Check It Out. It was the frustration of witty lines being delivered without wit and potentially funny scenes falling flat that overrode my ability to fully enjoy the show. That said, I think there are many people who will find Santa Clarita Diet entertaining, horror and comedy fans alike. I had high hopes for it, as the pilot was one of the funnier episodes, but ultimately I would not recommend investing any time in this muddled production.