Created by Victor Fresco
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Drew Barrymore, Liv Hewson, Skyler Gisondo
Streaming only on Netflix
I think we can all agree that zombies have been done to death. The world has yet to recover from the “Everything is Zombies” plague that was making its rounds a few years ago. We’ve had fast zombies and slow zombies. Smart zombies and dumb zombies. Enraged zombies and engaged zombies. Some zombies make us sad, and others make us glad. There are zombies that fight crime and zombies that fight Rick Grimes. Hey, screw you; I never said I was a poet.
So even with its relatively interesting premise, “Santa Clarita Diet” isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel. Residing in a pleasant suburb in the titular Santa Clarita, Joel and Sheila Hammond (Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore) are two mild-mannered real estate agents struggling to close their next big sale. Between taking their daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), to school and listening to their bickering neighbors, their lives are the kind of comedic boring just waiting to be shaken up. Things don’t stay normal for long, as Sheila very soon turns into a zombie. There isn’t a lot of faffing about on it; she throws up an organ in the first 10 minutes, figures out she’s dead a few later, and makes her first kill by the time the credits roll.
I was lukewarm at the end of this first episode. It felt in too much of a rush to establish that this was a “funny” show, and a lot of the jokes fell predictably flat. Still, some solid performances and the guest starring Nathan Fillion kept me intrigued, and I queued up Episode 2. I’m glad I did because “Santa Clarita Diet” grows into its own very quickly. Through a mix of stellar performances and some genuinely good writing, “Santa Clarita Diet” kept me on the couch for all ten episodes in an all-night “regret this in the morning” binge.
Between the tight cast of characters and simple premise, “Santa Clarita Diet” has charm in spades. We get a good amount of time to learn about each of the main characters, and the supplementary cast is flooded with enjoyable cameos and great personalities. Seeing Patton Oswalt show up as a filler character was great, elevating a mundane scene to a memorable moment. The main cast is equally talented, with some great performances from each of the four main stars. Honestly, I wouldn’t consider myself a Timothy Olyphant fan, but he kills it in this role. Mad props also to Liv Hewson, whom I in no way have a crush on due to her performance in “Dramaworld.”
Though my overall sentiment is plenty of warm fuzzies, that isn’t to say “Santa Clarita Diet” is without flaws. Without getting into any spoilers, the ending is total shit. It’s clear that Netflix is going for a multi-season story arc, but to call the story unfinished would be an understatement. I’ve never seen a season end with this little resolution. It felt like Episode 10 was the lead up to an epic Episode 11 finale, but without the finale.
A more minor complaint… the nerd jokes really missed the mark. Next-door neighbor Eric (Skyler Gisondo) is your typical modern nerd, more comfortable with forums than fun. He’s predictably in love with the Hammonds’ daughter, and she would never have noticed him if not for his extensive pop culture zombie knowledge. The amount that his “nerd” and her “cool” clash is embarrassing. We live in an age where The Avengers movies make more money than some countries, and “The Walking Dead” needs a supplemental show just to talk about it. Nerds are no longer the slighted minority; it’s not quirky or weird that they would talk to a girl. That all being said, Gisondo’s performance completely saves the part. His believable and unironic portrayal of an awkward teen is stellar, if not somewhat curtailed by the writing.
There are some smaller plot complaints I could address, but I’ll stay spoiler-free. Besides, none of that is as important as the simple fact that “Santa Clarita Diet” might just not be your kind of show. It lists itself as a horror-comedy, but horror veterans will definitely consider it the latter. This show is not scary at all, and though the blood flows freely, it’s far more of a black comedy. Do not watch this if you want to be on the edge of your seat. The comedy also might be a tad too hammy for you. There are some well-crafted jokes, but it frequently relies on predictable marital humor and schlock. That being said, I’m the kind of guy that would say this isn’t my type of show, and I still loved it.
If you need a bit more elucidation before deciding whether or not “Santa Clarita Diet” is worth your time, I’ll compare it to “iZombie.” If you like “iZombie,” you’ll probably like “Santa Clarita Diet.” It delves into similar issues on the practical impacts zombification would have on love, life, work, and meal planning. They both have initially smart zombies that might go feral if something goes wrong. If what bothered you about “iZombie” was the massive amount of dicking around, then “Santa Clarita Diet” is more your thing. Without the procedural format need to thwart a villain of the week, “Santa Clarita Diet” is free to tell a much more concise story. If what you liked about “iZombie” were the weekly bad guys, then you’ll probably dislike “Santa Clarita Diet’s” lack of episodic closure.
I’m incredibly excited to see what happens to these characters in Season 2. That being said, I have to end on the massive dower note that if this does not get renewed, I will consider “Santa Clarita Diet” one of the worst shows on Netflix. Seriously, the way they ended it is that bad. While once I considered Netflix to be the champion of finishing unfinished stories (thanks, “Arrested Development”!), the cancellation of “Marco Polo” has rattled me. I of course understand the profit nature of television, but you can’t make shows like you assume they have a next season if that future is uncertain. This is nothing new; cancellations into unsatisfying finales are the nature of TV. But honestly, is Netflix even really TV anymore? They aren’t releasing on an episodic timetable and don’t need to wait for a mid-season renewal to know if they are getting another year of funding. I love 99% of what Netflix does, but if they become another station that just keeps tantalizing us with interesting shows only to kill them as soon as ratings drop, then the dark side has truly won.
“Santa Clarita Diet” has received enough critical acclaim that we’ll probably see a Season 2 announcement soon. If you want a quick, fun watch, each of “Santa Clarita Diet’s” sub 30-minute episodes are a great choice. This isn’t an event series that will pull you through a mind-blowing journey, but that isn’t the vibe it’s going for. This is an enjoyable little show chronicling the day-to-day lives of a family that suddenly has a zombie in it. I wish the conclusion was better, but it didn’t stop the overall ride from being a blast. I normally say check out the first episode for a new show, but in this case check out the first two. Give it some time to grow on you, and you won’t be disappointed.