There is a scene in the first season of Netflix’s new horror comedy Santa Clarita Diet where Drew Barrymore does jaw relaxation exercises and stretches before she attempts to eat a 200 pound man in one night. If that sounds funny to you, congratulations, you’ve found your new show.
Created by Victor Fresco, who previously created the comedy Better Off Ted, Santa Clarita Diet follows two mild-mannered realtors, Sheila and Joel Hammond, played by Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant respectively. Their lives take a turn for the weird when Sheila suddenly starts vomiting her insides at an alarming rate and dies, but Sheila does not stay dead. She is reanimated as a fully functional woman with a new sense of purpose, energy, and agency. The only catch to this new Sheila is that she also has to eat people, so she and her befuddled husband begin to kill the bad people in their neighborhood to keep Sheila fed. The premise sounded funny, the cast was game, and with guest stars like Patton Oswalt, Portia de Rossi, and Thomas Lennon, this show seemed like an exciting new find.
Like all exciting new finds, Santa Clarita Diet seemingly came out of nowhere, simply advertised with a brilliant teaser trailer that was intriguing, dark, and pretty hysterical. Take a look at this wonderful piece of marketing here.
Now, is the actual show on the level of subtlety and class of this teaser? Absolutely not. Santa Clarita Diet early on announces itself as one of the least subtle television shows in recent memory. Its over-the-top humor and excessive (but not poorly done) gore mixed with family drama feels like if Sam Raimi took hold of a season of Desperate Housewives, with all the trappings of those safe, simple ABC dramas. Except here people swear and disembowel other people.
The most intriguing and the most disappointing thing about this show is how tightly it sticks to that mold. If you have an idea on what this show is like from the previous paragraphs, you’re already 90% there. A zombie comedy by way of Dexter is not a particularly novel idea, and Santa Clarita Diet seems to think it’s the most brilliant concept this side of a convention for paranormal enthusiasts. But its earnestness and confidence is infectious, and while there’s nothing under the surface to really bite into (I’m so sorry), it’s an easy watch that doesn’t ask a lot of its viewership.
After binging the entire first season over 24 hours, it’s clear that Santa Clarita Diet is not the next evolution of horror comedy, but a sort of Law & Order for the desensitized: it’s easy, simple, very entertaining, and the twists and turns of the plot keep you coming back for more. Also, Barrymore and Olyphant are so game to ham this material up that you begin to have a lot of fun in spite of yourself. The best way to describe Santa Clarita Diet is just that: you have fun in spite of yourself. Although they brought in some very talented directors like Ruben Fleischer and Lynn Shelton, the whole show is visually flat, with nothing to dig into as a viewer, and the writing, while consistently entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, misses so many opportunities for compelling drama that the whole endeavor feels empty at points.
However, with every missed plot point, there’s a joke around the corner ready to make you laugh. With every boring series of shots that hints at a rushed production, there’s a bug-eyed Timothy Olyphant wondering what in the world is going on. There are so many positive things in Santa Clarita Diet that watching the whole season is not a chore, but a necessary brain relaxer. It’s like a funny airport novel. It’s not terribly memorable, none of the action is all that exciting, but we get to see Drew Barrymore tackle people and eat them, so this is a meal I’d be happy to have seconds on (again, so sorry), even though it takes you a while to reconcile your hopes for the show and what the show actually is.
And here’s the final mark against the show: once you’re finally in its groove, the season ends on a cliffhanger that feels far too blasé to be a season-ender. With only 10 episodes each clocking in at under 30 minutes, Santa Clarita Diet is only starting to really rev up its plot when the final credits sequence rolls. The whole show feels less like a slice of comedic gold, and more like an exercise to see if the Netflix audience responds to this show, so hopefully the next outing can take a little more time and have a little more care put into it.
Ultimately, Santa Clarita Diet is worth your time, if for no other reason than I want to see a higher-budget, more thought-out season two. So watch it. For me.
Santa Clarita Diet: Season One gets 7/10 Dislodged Eyeballs