One would think that movies or TV shows about zombies has hit a saturation point. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is now in its seventh season and has been renewed for an eighth. “iZombie,” “Z Nation,” “Fear The Walking Dead,” “World War Z” and “In The Flesh”… that’s a lot of the undead, right? Well, maybe not. Owing a debt the 2004 film, “Shaun of the Dead,” Netflix’s “Santa Clarita Diet” is a series that’s taking the genre in a direction that hasn’t been explored in for over a decade: zombie comedy.
Starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, “Santa Clarita Diet” is about a middle-class couple (Sheila and Joel) who work as realtors — and who, by the way, incorrectly say realtors as “real-a-tors” throughout the show. Sheila and Joel’s life is pretty comfortable on the surface. They seem have all the nice trappings of middle-class life, and are raising their teenage daughter (Abby as played by Liv Hewson) in an unremarkable way. However, things get strange from the get-go. Sheila claims she’s not feeling all that well during the family’s morning breakfast in the first episode, but thinks she’s okay enough to show a house with her husband later that day. Abby, however, is quick with the wisecracks when Sheila starts to feel a shape pain in her stomach.
“Is mom dying?” Abby asks.
“Stop it,” Joel cautions her.
“I don’t know? Parents die,” Abby retorts.
“I’m not dying honey. I probably just ate something…I’m fine. See? All better,” Sheila assures Abby.
“Are you sure? You scared me,” Joel asks Sheila
“Me too. Makes you think. Life is short,” Abby deadpans.
“You’re not getting a car,” Joel says.
Only later, after spewing gallons of vomit while showing clients a home, does Abby come to the realization that something maybe a little off about her health. The lack of a heartbeat, a desire for raw meat, and the absence of pain (and blood) when she cuts herself confirms that she’s basically undead – but otherwise the same person she always was.
That’s the set up. How to have a normal life when your wife is now a zombie? Joel adapts to the new reality as best he can, and Sheila is surprisingly fine with her new state of being. Indeed, she likes the changes that are happening to her. In addition to her new dietary restrictions, she finds that her libido has increased, as has her assertiveness. In a way, she’s a new, better version of herself. Yeah, she’s craving human flesh, but other than that, she’s becoming a person who embraces life and goes after what she wants – while Joel has to keep up and often clean up after her feasts of human flesh. And Abby? Once she finds out her mom is a zombie, she slowly comes around to the reality of her mom’s plight and accepts it, too.
Drew Barrymore, who’s not really known for comedic actress, is very funny in the show. Timothy Olyphant is also wonderfully manic as Joel. He seems to nails that fine line between just keeping it together, to totally losing his shit in scene after scene. In a couple of the middle episodes, that act got a little tiring, but Olyphant was able to dial it back a bit when needed. Barrymore seems to be having a terrific time as Sheila. She portrays the characters with a healthy dose of both sweetness and savagery. It’s the combination of opposites that makes her slow transformation over the course of the show so much fun to watch. It also helps that the pacing of the show is quick. The jokes come fast, the characters are also very self-aware and often talk to each other with pop cultural references and layered jokes that roll off the tongue with a frequency that’s impressive – if these were real people. But, of course, they are characters created to entertain us in a comedic way, and the show delivers that comedy in episode after episode. It also delivers in the gore department with lots of blood, dead bodies, entrails, and fingers that pepper scenes. If you have a weak stomach, you might not enjoy the ride because even though the show is very funny, it’s also kind of gross. But that’s what the makers of the “Santa Clarita Diet” were going for. It’s the contrasts that make it an effective dark comedy. And while the humor is Gen X to its core, it’s not so overboard that those born before or after this style of comedy became mainstreamed won’t get the references or the rapid-fire pace of the carefully constructed dialogue. So, if the heaviness of the world is making life really glum, “Santa Clarita Diet” may be the right amount of levity — and gore — to lighten things up a bit.