The Santa Clarita Diet: Season 1 — a review

SantaClaritaS1

I’m late in jumping on this bandwagon. Obviously, since Netflix just dropped the third season of this original series.

The only excuse—or, if you prefer, explanation—I can offer is that there must be a limit to the number of television series you watch that somehow feature zombies in them. I had already watched The Walking Dead, perhaps one season too long, in fact. And, it had been Netflix that got me into iZombie, which is just about to wrap with its final season. Then there are those Supernatural episodes featuring the different classes of undead. Add to this the various movies, both of the Romero-sanctioned variety and otherwise, and the comic book events that enjoy playing with the concept of super-powered individuals becoming full-on zombies, and then . . .

Well, you get the picture. Zombies are the most over-represented minority group on the planet. There’s just gotta be an upper limit to how much zombie content you expose yourself to, even if you are a self-professed, completely out-of-the-closet nerd-geek-dork as I am.

Turns out I had room for one more television show. Perhaps because I’ve stopped watching TWD and iZombie is about to end. I decided to give it a three-episode audition. If I still liked it, I’d watch the season and write about it here. If not, no one would ever be the wiser.

It’s a rare occasion when I’ll invest my time writing about something I don’t like. That sounds like something a critic would do.

I’m here, after ten episodes, writing about the show. That can only mean that I like it.

I do like it. Quite a bit. The series melds familiar horror and comedy tropes in ways that are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, shocking and gag-reflex triggering at the same time. The first episode scene in which Sheila Hammond expels a ridiculous amount of green vomit onto the carpeting while showing a house to potential buyers genuinely made me bray with laughter and shoot Coke Zero through my nose. We learn that this is one of early signs of someone turning into a zombie, along with throwing up a ball-like red organ-thing. The way this bit of show mythology is woven into the real-life milieu of suburban realtors is part of what makes this show good.

We spend a lot of time with Joel and Sheila (Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore) as Santa Clarita realtors whose lives were perhaps in a bit of a rut before Sheila becomes a zombie. It is important that we like these two characters since we invest so much of our time with them. I found them both to be likeable, even relatable (except for all the murdering and eating people stuff). I’ve gotten used to Olyphant playing characters who seem to have everything figured out. Joel Hammond isn’t that character. He’s a pot-smoking, kind of nebbishy guy whose life seems to have peaked when he was quarterback for their high school football team. Watching Joel have a slow-motion breakdown throughout these first ten episodes is a big component in the fun-quotient of the show.

Shelia, as the newly minted zombie, is also dealing with her own changes. It turns out that there is a plus side to becoming the undead. She’s bursting with confidence and energy, enjoying her “life” in ways that seemed to escape her when she was actually alive. Becoming a zombie has also reignited her sex drive, which is one of the perks for Joel as well. The two begin to look at Sheila’s new dietary requirements as another potential marriage roadblock they have to navigate around. They make the transition to cold-blooded murderers far more easily than you might expect.

The Hammonds’ daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) and next-door neighbor Eric Bemis (Skyler Gisondo) round out our main cast. Abby is a teenaged girl having to add zombie-mom to the things she’s having to deal with in her world. Eric, naturally, has had a not-too-secret crush on Abby for a long time. His encyclopedic geek-boy knowledge about the undead is his admission price into Abby’s inner-circle. He handles most of the heavy lifting when it comes to presenting exposition to the viewer in entertaining ways.

The series itself mainly concerns these four main characters: Joel, Sheila, Abby, and Eric. There are plenty of secondary characters and guest stars, but most of the story movement comes from our main cast. In spite of the horror movie/romcom trappings, this series is definitely character driven. We find out more about the zombie virus and its possible origins as the season goes along, but that becomes less important than whether Joel and Sheila will be able to smooth things over with Abby’s high school principal after Abby begins cutting classes. The relationship between Joel and Sheila seems genuine, and the growing friendship between Abby and Eric has its poignant moments. I have to point out that Skyler Gisondo, as Eric, is a terrific actor. His character, in the wrong hands, would have been another Steve Urkel.

I like where the season ends up. I am already looking forward to watching the next season.

This is a funny, relationship comedy with horror overtones. If extreme violence and gore are major issues for you, you will not enjoy this one. The language, likewise, is adult and uncensored. So, not for the kiddies or the especially easy to offend. If you fall in neither category, you may like this one as well.

Firewater’s Season 1 Report Card: A

A

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