Marriage is messy — especially when mom has an insatiable hunger for human flesh and dad is trying hard to rock the suburbia lifestyle. At least, this is what “The Santa Clarita Diet” reminds us when real-estate agents Sheila (Drew Barrymore, “Blended”) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant, “Justified”) navigate a new normal as Sheila makes a sudden departure from the land of the living.
In a time when most couples face the demons of menopause and the infamous midlife crisis, Sheila seems to experience the opposite — her sex drive has tripled, she’s less uptight about parenting and she begins to experience the joys of clubbing. After all, the show is a satirical look at the zombie phenomenon. Where zombies drag themselves aimlessly, Sheila is excitable, rejuvenated with the newfound energy that accompanied her sudden death. Her complete one-eighty in regards to personality is what makes a zombie, ultimately, a zombie. This phenomenon is noticed most by her teenage daughter Abby (Liv Hewson, “Before I Fall”), who notes the transformation on multiple occasions.
Where Sheila once worried about her daughter’s SAT scores, she now couldn’t care less if Abby were to drop out of high school altogether. Though at first she enjoys the more carefree side to her mom, as the series progresses, Abby’s distress regarding the current situation continues to grow. Her tough-girl exterior around neighbor and resident geek Eric (Skyler Gisondo, “Vacation”) slowly begins to shatter when she comes to realize the true extent of her mother’s condition. While they’re all eating spaghetti, mom is eating human brains. Hewson does remarkable work in the emotional baggage department, balancing acts of badassery with background depression as her cries for normalcy begin to make cracks in her stony exterior.
At the same time, as Sheila slurps on her blood-flavored protein shake, Joel just manages to keep it together. A former jock who has never fully adjusted into the suburban lifestyle, Joel struggles even harder to find balance when his wife joins the ranks of the undead. Perhaps it’s because of his insecurities that he chooses love over ethos, but Joel’s inability to get over the past is what ultimately drives him to agree to harvest people for food. As high school sweethearts, he can’t imagine, nor function, in a world without Sheila. Extremely protective, he spends most episodes desperately searching for a cure whilst dragging his sweetheart off hapless pedestrians. When neighbor and police officer Carlos (Ricardo Antonio Chavira, “Desperate Housewives”) becomes suspicious, Joel pushes the nervous smiles and half-thought out excuses with a fervor.
At times, however, Olyphant’s performance can feel forced and a tad overplayed, as his normal role as the Hollywood villain is tossed aside for the nervous and obedient husband. However, his chemistry with Barrymore is more believable than most on-screen couples. Practically picture-perfect, the two complement one another in a manner that evens out their polarized personalities well, an aspect that many network shows spend episodes to even out. With the chemistry of the show constantly shifting from one episode to the next, “The Santa Clarita Diet” is a show that, though not binge-worthy material, will keep viewers coming back for the satirical sarcasm. Once the initial overkill, both literal and figurative, of the pilot passes, the series develops a steady rhythm accentuated by a passionate cast and the irresistible draw of brain smoothies.
The first season of “The Santa Clarita Diet” is currently streaming on Netflix in its entirety.