By Matthew E. Owen, Contributing Media Critic for SatelliteWerx.com
Viewer Comments Welcomed below. If you’ve seen the show, tell us what you think in the comment section below…
Santa Clarita Diet is the newest series from Netflix. Starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, the film follows a normal California family of real estate agents. Normal until one of them becomes an undead cannibal, of course. While this seems a bit weird, Santa Clarita Diet makes a point to base itself in reality, rather than fantasy. It’s also a comedy, mixing both gross-out humor and typical family comedy. While it’s not a show for everyone, fans of horror comedy and bloody fun will find quite a bit to enjoy here. With 10 episodes that span for about 20 minutes a piece, does the three hour experience stay fresh throughout? That’s what I hope to help you figure out.
WATCH VIDEO – Official Trailer Santa Clarita Diet
From the top, let me address a singular fact. Santa Clarita Diet is pretty gruesome. I’m not just talking about blood and guts; the show even made me cringe. That’s coming from the guy who was barely fazed by the reboot of Evil Dead, one of the goriest horror films of the last ten years. Whether it’s the juxtaposition of brutal violence against the otherwise cheery tone of the show, or just the actual visuals, Santa Clarita Diet can get pretty gross. It’s something you need to know going in, as this is probably the biggest detractor for most viewers. If you’re okay with body horror and some pretty gruesome visuals, consider yourself in for a treat.
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As I mentioned, the show follows Sheila and Joel, Californian high school sweethearts turned real estate agents. Both Sheila (played by Drew Barrymore) and Joel (played by Timothy Olyphant) are incredibly endearing characters. As the show progressed, I started to dislike Sheila and lack the empathy needed for her story. However, Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of Joel had me impressed the entire way through the season. Additionally, Sheila and Joel’s daughter Abby (played by Liv Hewson) turned out better than I originally thought. Although she starts off as your standard rebellious teen, she quickly becomes resourceful and heartfelt. This is also true for the “boy next door”, Eric Beemis (played by Skyler Gisondo). As a quartet, these characters are fantastic in every aspect, disregarding the waning empathy for Sheila. There’s some great performances and cameos across the supporting cast, as well. Nathan Fillion (of Firefly fame) has an excellent role as Gary West, but his time on the show is cut short. I was a fan of most of the performances in this show, with one exception.
As the show progresses, it deals with some pretty crazy story arcs. However, one of those arcs follows the “nosy neighbor” trope. This neighbor comes in the form of Dan Palmer (played by Ricardo Chavira), a sheriff deputy who’s a generally obnoxious person. As his subplot grew, I really started disliking Chavira’s portrayal of him. Whether it was the actor or how the character was written, I’m not completely sure. Regardless, Dan ends up being less of a menace and more of an annoyance. Whenever he popped up on screen, I’d find myself quickly losing interest. I firmly believe that swapping Nathan Fillion and Ricardo Chavira’s roles would’ve produced a much more entertaining Dan, but that’s purely my opinion.
As I said, Santa Clarita Diet does a good job continuing its narrative and never really getting dull. However, it’s also my biggest gripe with the show. After the initial situational humor of having a flesh eating family member wears off, the show does a good job digging into characters and producing some interesting narrative. As the season closes, it fails to answer some of the biggest questions I had. The show takes a considerable amount of time building up the mythology of how Sheila’s condition came to be. Keep in mind that Sheila is a (pretty much) normal person, except she can only eat human flesh and she’s technically dead. These facts aside, she still talks, walks, and acts just like you or I. The show coasts on this joke for a while, but does a great job building its lore. Unfortunately, you never get a good answer or closure on the reason why Sheila turned into a cannibal. She gets sick, starts craving flesh, and that’s about the only hard answers you get. The real answers seem to be in store for us in Season 2, but it was disappointing to see the first season end without any solid answers.
Besides all the gore, guts, and story exposition, there’s one last thing that needs to detailed. That’s the humor. In all honesty, it’s pretty hard to get me to laugh out loud at televisions or films. Thankfully, Santa Clarita Diet had me chuckling more than once. Maybe it’s due to my pretty dark sense of humor, or my ability to laugh instead of be disgusted. It’s mostly due to the witty dialogue and superb characters. Besides being interesting and bloody, the show is actually funny. That’s more than most television comedies can pull off. While you won’t be busting a gut every episode, there’s some truly hilarious moments that appear from time to time. A lot of this comes from Timothy Olyphant’s never ending “grin and bear it” choice of living, as he is a big proponent of comedy throughout the show. The daughter Abby is also incredibly funny, and she has some really good moments with neighbor Eric in a few episodes.
Santa Clarita Diet is funny, well written, engaging, and disgusting. If you’re not put off by that last bit, then you should totally give it a shot. If you can stomach a pretty hefty amount of blood and gore, Santa Clarita Diet provides you with heartfelt moments, excellent comedy, and an overall rewarding experience. Sure, there’s a few mistakes in casting and lack of closure, but these are easily forgivable because the rest of the show is so good. I imagine Santa Clarita Diet being a “love or hate” show, and I loved most of it. I’m interested in the world and characters enough to eagerly anticipate Season 2, so I can recommend Santa Clarita Diet with one caveat. Squeamish viewers sit this one out, but fans of horror comedy… eat your heart out. Check out Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix, available in full now.
WATCH VIDEO – Santa Clarita Diet Panel | There’s Never Enough TV | Netflix