Santa Clarita Diet : Review *Spoilers*
Sheila Hammond isn’t the sort of woman who has an adventure. With her button down, nine to five life as a realtor in a cookie cutter home in the unremarkable suburbs of Santa Clarita, she’s about as far away from excitement as anyone could possibly be. But that milquetoast life comes to an end one afternoon while showing a home to potential buyers alongside her equally banal husband Joel. As a torrent of projectile vomit -including an unfamiliar red organ- splatters across the plush white carpet Sheila drops dead on the bathroom floor only to revive as a completely new person. Free of all of the inhibitions and concerns that had been holding her back her whole life she starts to take wild chances. Her teenage daughter Abby immediately embraces her newly free spirited mother despite Joel’s concerns for the long term health and relationship complications her new lifestyle is going to bring. Looking for answers the Hammonds turn to teenage neighbor and undead lore nerd Eric for help as an unofficial expert on the undead.
Before any answers can be found, however, Sheila’s new and overly impulsive nature results in what will be a series of gruesome murders as she devours Gary, a fellow realtor who's spent the last two days making a persistent stream of sexual advances towards her while undercutting her on a sale. As if hiding one dead body wasn't enough, a road rage inducing fender bender ends in an unexpected episode of cannibalism that only adds to the family's troubles. Just as they manage to find a new normal for themselves their neighbor Dan, a socially repugnant LA Sheriff’s deputy and crooked cop begins to suspect that something isn’t quite right. After finding one of Gary’s fingers in the yard he blackmails the family into becoming his personal hit squad, ordering them to murder potential scumbags who, in fact, turn out to be his romantic and criminal rivals. The couple makes one terrible murder attempt after another, turning a violent criminal into a lovelorn folk singer after unwittingly infecting him with the zombie virus. Finally Joel snaps and kills Dan in a fit of rage. Meanwhile, Sheila is trying to hold herself together, more literally than figuratively, as parts of her body slowly begin to deteriorate.
This is a story, at its core, about love, family, and not getting caught as each grisly murder leads to an even more bizarre and unnaturally hilarious attempt to cover it up.
The first season, a series of ten half hour episodes, was so addicting that I couldn’t help but binge watch it Saturday afternoon. The writing is a twisted mixture of dark comedy and bizarre horror reminiscent of classic films like The Burbs and Death Becomes Her from the late 80’s and early 90’s while keeping up an almost normal feeling front as a sitcom about family life in suburbia. The show follows the major story arch of trying to figure how Sheila became a flesh crazed zombie while hunting for a possible cure but each episode manages to create a more singular plot focusing on some aspect of the family and how the bizarre change in their collective life is effecting them all. As if the writing itself wasn’t stellar enough, the cast assembled is phenomenal. Drew Barrymore is just the sort of quirky, excitable free spirit to play the undead, bipolar Sheila as she jumps from down to earth realtor and mother to crazed cannibal while Timothy Olyphant as an uptight straight man to her comedic chaos is just a huge departure from his past on Justified. They turn something as grisly and horrific as burying a plastic tote full of dead guy in the desert into something entertaining and hilarious. The entire show is a comedy of errors going from bad to worse that has to be seen in order to be believed. With guest appearances by Nathan Fillion, Ricardo Chavira, Thomas Lennon, Patton Oswalt, Deobia Oparei, Portia de Rossi and others, the casting is superb, fleshed out with very few people you’d normally expect to see in a horror comedy.
It’s also a relatively fresh take on a zombie story, especially after the wave of emo zombies in the last five years that have been in television and movies. Sheila isn’t the typical brain eater, maintaining a relatively normal afterlife once the inexplicable plague forces her to join the ranks of the undead. They don’t dive deep into the origins of the zombie virus only to explain that it has happened before, most notably in Serbia in the 1600’s. They also suggest that there may be a cure to be found in the mystery of that 400 year old outbreak. The loss of inhibition and the thrill of murder are also apparently huge turn ons which lead us to a truly overlooked question about the couple. Even is she isn’t rotten (yet) are the copious amounts of sex that the Hammonds are having considered necrophilia? I mean, there’s some twisted comedic gold in that one question alone.
The season ends somewhat unexpectedly with Sheila chained up in the basement, Joel locked up in the nuthouse, and Abby and Eric working to find a way to make everything right again courtesy of an ancient book loaned to them by a researcher in the field of undead studies. If you haven't already binged this incredibly funny, dark comedy, you're missing out.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories.