February 21, 2017

Santa Clarita Diet Satisfies the Appetite

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When I first heard that my hometown was getting its own Netflix Original series, I was amused but thoroughly skeptical. What on earth was in Santa Clarita that could support a genuinely good show? I expected something in the mold of 90210 (though a step down — after all, Santa Clarita is quite a bit removed from the wealth of Beverly Hills), but when the Santa Clarita Diet trailers were released, I was both confused and intrigued to see that the show was actually about… zombies?

Turns out that’s not quite the best description. Eric, the show’s geeky next-door expert on the supernatural says he prefers not to use that term as it has a “negative connotation.” Even after I knew it would involve cannibalism, I underestimated its potential. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Santa Clarita Diet is one of the best shows I’ve watched, I will definitely be back for season two. For a brand new show trying to get its footing, season one did its job well. The show centers on the Hammonds — Sheila (Drew Barrymore), Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Abby (Liv Hewson), a seemingly normal family living in Santa Clarita, California, and the chaos of their lives after Sheila mysteriously becomes undead. The cause of her condition seems at first a little incredulous and cheesy — she vomits what seems to be the entire contents of her stomach and then some, including a small red organ – but then again, the premise of the show itself is equally so. From then on, the Hammonds’ greatest problem is how to sate Sheila’s appetite for humans without being caught by their policemen neighbors. With help from Eric (Skyler Gisondo) and his vast knowledge about all things unhuman, they’re able to live their extraordinarily unusual lives (mostly) under the radar in an otherwise usual town.

Though Drew Barrymore’s casting is primarily what drew attention to the series before its premiere, Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of the confused, yet supportive and loving, husband Joel surprisingly outshined her. He’s eccentric and sarcastic in a way that provides much of the show’s comedy and his maddeningly logical approach to a completely illogical situation keeps the show moving forward. Of course, this is not to say that Drew Barrymore’s performance was subpar. In fact, her lighthearted portrayal of a character with such a deadly appetite makes the genre label “dark comedy” seem almost inappropriate. She’s bouncy, she’s fun and she holds the show together — the type of humor she provides just doesn’t necessarily elicit laughter. And while the adults’ adventures call for the audience to truly suspend disbelief, Abby and Eric ground the show just a notch, providing a twist on the stereotypical normal-adults-with-crazy-kids storyline. They’re mostly-average high school students with bigger problems at home, something many teens can relate to, and they’re navigating the mayhem of adolescence the best they can.

The only thing that seems to be greatly lacking is an overarching plot throughout season one. The search for a way to satisfy Sheila’s appetite understandably establishes a foundation for the series, and season one was likely written to set up future seasons. I just can’t help but wonder where the writers can take this moving forward. Beyond the show’s premise, what more could the Hammonds have to deal with? After all, the novelty of having an undead character can only last so long.

Though I was initially quite skeptical of how Netflix would be able to pull off Santa Clarita Diet, I was pleasantly surprised. I began watching only to see if I could recognize any of the settings, as it was filmed on location, but three or four episodes in I found myself clicking “next episode” because it was genuinely entertaining. Its subtle references to the nuances of Santa Clarita culture made me chuckle (weed, realtors and Magic Mountain were the main ones). Though it’s not a standout, it’s quite well-balanced between fantasy and reality and full of potential.

Verdict: perhaps not rewatch-worthy, but definitely binge-worthy.


Natalie Fung is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].