Audiences have been known to become wildly obsessed with new genres every few years or so. Right now, TV junkies and casual watchers alike have been infected with zombie fever. The success of undead entertainers on shows like “The Walking Dead” has inspired Netflix to take a chance on an original series with serious bite.
The new Netflix original series “Santa Clarita Diet” features Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as Sheila and Joel Hammond, a husband-wife real estate team whose lives have gotten painfully dull. Their domestic routine is disrupted by Sheila’s unexpected transformation into one of the living dead. She now craves only raw meat, she cannot feel pain, and her blood has been replaced with a black sludge. Her unfailingly loyal husband Joel vows to support Sheila in her condition and tries to find a cure. However, Sheila’s transition does not stop at physical attributes. The once-mundane working woman develops a zest for the undead life. She becomes hilariously impulsive and energetic, often at the expense of her husband’s sanity; although, their 16-year-old daughter Abby is having the time of her life with the new Sheila. Aided by their geeky teenage neighbor Eric, the Hammonds do their best to maintain some sense of normalcy.
My interest in the show was first piqued by the attachment of Drew Barrymore’s name to a more edgy project. Recently, Barrymore has stuck to primarily romantic comedies like “50 First Dates.” However, some of her best performances have been in sci-fi and horror flicks like “E.T.,” “Firestarter,” “Cat’s Eye,” “Scream,” and “Donnie Darko.” She brings the same effortlessly unsettling energy to her role in “Santa Clarita Diet.” Barrymore’s ability to portray killer women with a smile is the lifeblood of the entire show.
“Santa Clarita Diet” is not the first show to explore the undead walking among us trying to fit into human society, but it takes that narrative to a whole new level. Sheila is a wonderful departure from the redundant roles given to actresses over 35, as she defies any and all expectations. She is unpredictable and a little selfish. It is interesting to see a mother in a TV show think about herself for once. The typical TV mom’s character arc is about one thing and one thing only: being a mom. Barrymore’s character is a brilliant “take that” to writers who consistently underestimate the independent female based on her age.
What is truly fascinating is how the show manages to be a freaky, disgusting gore fest one minute, and an irreverent family comedy the next. Olyphant’s character, the voice of reason, perfectly counters Sheila’s aggressive personality. Abby, played by Liv Hewson, and her lovestruck neighbor Eric (Skyler Gisondo) have the most endearing relationship of any two characters on the show. Both actors turn in appropriately awkward performances, amusingly and accurately capturing the weirdness of being a teenager.
Netflix’s answer to zombie hype is fairly well written and very well cast. It probably won’t change your life, but “Santa Clarita Diet” will make you laugh and leave you hungry for a second season.