The first season of Santa Clarita Diet managed to push through the zombie malaise that’s over-saturating the television and film industry with boisterous laughter. It has a story to tell, but it doesn’t force it down your throat or go for mere jump scares and buckets of gore— there’s plenty of the latter for sure, though it’s garnished with a healthy dose of charm and wit.
For those of you who haven’t seen the show, the premise involves the suburban Sheila Hammond coming to terms with becoming a zombie. Not a shambling, mindless, joyless zombie, but a lovable, zombie with renewed vigour that just happens to crave human flesh and gets it from “immoral” hosts. Her husband Joel, now an enthusiastic but uneasy accomplice, is trying to make sense of it all, as is her daughter Abby—who thankfully is fully clued in almost instantly and eschews the stereotype of “annoying child weighing down the show.”
Drew Barrymore, Timothy Olyphant, and Liv Hewson as Sheila, Joel, and Abby respectively, all make this show sing in solidarity. Barrymore and Olyphant, who share quite a bit of screen time together, are a match made in heaven, and I sincerely hope we get to see them again outside of the confines of this project. Barrymore has always had a penchant for comedic timing but Olyphant really comes into his own here, spouting hilariously gruesome lines, often through his teeth or with a smile.
It helps that all of these antics are actually going somewhere as the show moves into its second year. The gang is in dire straits with Barrymore progressing to a more feral state, and the show, despite its jubilance, sometimes gives off an unsettling defeatist tone. Its tales of grief are often very brief indeed, to the point where one really doesn’t need to worry about the long-term fate of the principal cast, but I find myself invested and wondering how they’re going to get out of it.
This connection is chiefly strengthened by the bonds that the characters, and by proxy its cast, forge with its audience. While there’s plenty of lampooning to be had there isn’t an ounce of true cynicism in the soul of the show. Its delightful handling of the macabre really reminds me of Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies, an utmost compliment. There are myriad laugh out loud moments in any given episode, helped in part by the freedom of the Netflix network, which allows the script to go wherever it pleases.
Santa Clarita does encroach on a few sitcom tropes, but always shows a certain degree of restraint, the epitome of which is probably the “buddy in the basement” trope. Thankfully there isn’t a strong sense of lingering when it comes to any given plot thread and in the rare instance where something might not work, it evolves. While other more dramatic projects might write themselves into a wall, Santa Clarita can just chalk it up to a plausible silliness that eventually works itself out of the realm of the absurd.
The show is also always focused on what lies ahead and is not keen on wasting our time. We get quite a bit of movement on the in-house zombie lore this season, as the cast gains more insight into the origin of the disease while the fate of the Hammond family plays out. It has a clear sense of pacing to keep up with the constant capers, and even small talk pertaining to juggler documentaries and Joel’s Yelp reviews are a joy to behold.
I’m fully invested in Santa Clarita Diet at this point, following two stellar seasons. Showrunner Victor Fresco has positioned himself as an underrated gem in the writing business, having produced the ill-fated but ahead of its time Better Off Ted among other small single-episode victories. Almost all of his shows have been cancelled and I’m pulling for Santa Clarita Diet. It was pretty risky delivering two cliffhangers without an ahead-of-time renewal for two seasons in a row now, but with any luck, we’ll be seeing this tale through to the end.