Suburban zombies in ‘Santa Clarita Diet’: Entertaining, trite

Netflix’s new horror-comedy, “Santa Clarita Diet,” stars Drew Barrymore and Timonthy Olyphnat, as it explores the zombification of a seemingly ordinary suburban family. / Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The supernatural has always intrigued me. I love ghosts and I feel so-so about vampires, but I hate zombies. Zombies are usually so ephemeral—always rotting, usually with no human emotion and often featured in apocalyptic thrillers (in my opinion, the worst genre). However, what do you get when you put a zombie right smack dab into a suburban family? “Santa Clarita Diet,” a Netflix original horror-comedy whose second season came out on March 23, tackles the question headfirst. Equipped with a large supply of oranges and NyQuil—given that I was sick the week after spring break—I pressed play on the first episode, drawn in by the preview image of a bloody-faced smiling woman and a man with a wide worried smile and optimistic eyebrows.

The show stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as Sheila and Joel Hammond, respectively. The two are a real-estate power couple in the seemingly ordinary city of Santa Clarita, CA. The Hammonds lead neatly compartmentalized suburban lives: Sheila sorts pasta by its shapes and sizes to feel in control, the duo show houses for a living and they regularly find themselves at local Italian eatery Japopo’s for their Friday date nights. They have a daughter, Abby, who is portrayed by Liv Hewson. Abby’s best friend, Eric— played by Skyler Gisondo—is the stepson of one of the two cops that the Hammonds live between in their nice neighborhood. Considering that Eric is in love with Abby, who has to juggle school and family life with a zombie in the picture, it is safe to assume that “Santa Clarita Diet” is a run-of-the-mill-but-with-a-twist type of show, with the added dimension of encompassing the feel of the sitcom.

The action begins when Sheila throws up the majority of her insides during a house showing and, thus, dies. After a little bit of prodding from her worried husband, she wakes up and becomes a zombie who only lives by her unrestricted desires. The show’s casual, slice-of-life-sitcom mood immediately shifts to incorporate the wild consequences of having a member of your family be suddenly zombified.

The main concept of “Santa Clarita Diet” is to follow this family as they come to terms with the casual murder that they must commit on a nearly day-to-day basis. While the couple does live by the “we only kill bad people” philosophy, attempting to retain some semblance of morality, each character goes through dramatic changes throughout the show, constantly keeping the viewer thinking, “Man, that’s pretty messed up.” This involves the pair almost wholly justifying the assault of a few characters. Though these characters are ostensibly evil, the family’s reactions while reflecting on their actions are horrifying. At one point during season two, Abby is on a date and is asked why she did what she did to another student at school. She replies elucidating her motivation, and then states that she was terrified by how good the murder felt. This crisis of conscience also hits Joel when he realizes that he has the ability to kill people that he doesn’t like and then feed them to his wife. Thus, the Hammonds, along with Eric, who is dragged into the ordeal due to his convenient interest in the undead, come to terms with their new life in an ambiguous way. Their ponderings made me think, “Is this show about what happens when your mom becomes a zombie or is it about coming to terms with the fact that you are a murderer?”

Though the show is an interesting mix of comedy, family drama and the supernatural, what could be so wrong with it that it only gets three and a half stars? One glaring issue stands out for me, and it’s the main reason I initially subtracted two stars from the rating: this one formulaic joke that appears episode after episode. While funny at first, it loses its appeal pretty fast. It usually starts in the middle of a conversation, often with Joel and Sheila cleaning up some dead guy’s guts from their kitchen or shopping for supplies to make a “kill room.” One of the characters will end up saying something like this: “Oh, I’m so glad we got the listing! I got those utensils you asked for, I swept the floor and I put so-and-so in the freezer!” with a cheery tone at the end. Netflix’s summary of the first episode, “So Then a Bat or a Monkey,” exemplifies how the contrast between their seemingly mundane suburban lives and their zombified ways are constantly turned into a punchline, even when it starts to get old: “Joel and Sheila’s marriage gets a jumpstart when Sheila develops a truly killer new personality and an anything-goes menu. And they used to be so normal.” Emphasis on the “And they used to be so normal.”

I give the show an extra half star for season two’s extremely clever and unpredictable ending. Though it isn’t a cliffhanger, it kept me intrigued by the question of how the plot could develop in future seasons. However, “Santa Clarita Diet” is a three-star TV show overall. I usually wouldn’t recommend anything that gets only three stars for people to watch; considering that we have so many options to waste time with as it is, why not enjoy it to the fullest? This series is definitely not much more than a waste of time, but if you’re looking for a quick show to binge, it is fast-paced and interesting enough to stay entertaining, and you might get a laugh or two out of it.

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