Sometimes they come back (my thoughts on Santa Clarita Diet)

For as long as I have been able to construct a full sentence, I have enjoyed zombie-related media, be it; games, movies or TV shows. My love affair with zombies starts on a cold day in 1997, I found a VHS tape called Braindead,
Peter Jacksons seminal gore-fest turned me on to the undead in a way which I never expected. Be it the famous “I kick arse for the lord” scene, with its heavily humour saturated tones or the scene where Lionel uses a lawnmower to kill EVERYONE – which is obviously a hark back to Raimi’s cult hit Evil Dead – each blow landed with the force of a sledgehammer attached to an anvil – it’s fantastic. It is due to this that it saddens me to see our decomposing coffin dodgers ridiculed in a way which is, ridiculous, disheartening and offensive in productions such as Warm Bodies, and Wasting Away. It would be entirely fair to say that The Walking Dead has ignited a love which we didn’t know we had, for those brain slurping ‘cuties’ – (that’s pushing it).

Zombie-related productions of any medium are scarcely impressive in narrative AND presentation. It’s either a gore-bonanza with NO discernible story or it’s a heavily-narrated ‘woe is me’ story of how zombies aren’t ‘so bad’  See Colin for more on this. This being said, The Walking Dead carefully treads the line which ensures it never falls into EITHER category, and the result is a fantastic drama series, which uses Zombies as a plot device rather than a real threat. This allows us to see into the characters hearts and minds – before they are subsequently torn from their still beating bodies – and gain a real empathy into each of their stories, this makes watching them die all the more horrific and adds a real sense of loss to a show which could quite easily just have been another Kingdom Hospital – ugh, relish the thought.

Netflix have a strong history of producing original content which attracts millions and is always ingenious and clever enough to stand out in the humdrum world of streaming service endorsed products, which is why when I saw Santa Clarita Diet advertise as their, ‘newest show’, I just knew I had to check it out, there was, however, one problem – it wasn’t being released for another week. Over the next week I played Red Dead: Undead Nightmare, COD: Zombies and read a substantial amount of Night Of The Living Dead fan-fic, this prepared me in no way for what was about to be revealed to me.

Finally, the day, I clicked ‘Play’ – I was ready.

The show started very generically, Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila (Drew Barrymore) – who is looking fabulous at 41 by the way – play two real-estate agents – or ‘realtors’ if you will, they have one child, a teenage girl, Abby (Liv Hammond). They all live a very suburban existence in ‘the middle of frigging nowhere’ as stated by Abby who so desperately wants a car and constantly makes references to it throughout the show. Shortly after the beginning of the episode we find that they have been trying to secure a particularly difficult listing. While showing a family around the property for the FOURTH time, Sheila spontaneously vomits in the master bedroom and subsequently retires to the bathroom to ‘take a minute’, as Joel continues to play straight-faced and show the couple around the rest of the house, putting specific interest in the ‘kitchen.’ The family decide to leave and Joel seeks Sheila out to ensure she is okay.

Joel finds her in the master bathroom, vomit surrounds her and she’s slumped under the sink, not moving. Naturally, Joel assumes the worst and displays a wonderful indictment of international medical knowledge by ‘testing her pulse’ entirely incorrectly. After Joel ascertained that Sheila has passed, he proceeds to emulate a ‘Romeo and Juliet’-esque display of “Oh god why”, which is very impressive if a little satirical.

Sheila – as you can imagine – is not dead, and comes to in Joel’s arms. Joel spurts out a very creative expletive outburst and the tone for the series is revealed.

Welcome to Santa Clarita.

Santa Clarita Diet is a satirical horror drama which relies heavily on sarcasm and slapstick comedy elements, it treads the line between funny and horrific in every episode, be it the pilot episode where Nathan Fillion gets disembowelled or the fantastic moment where Sheila launches herself across the yard to catch a rogue rooster – every beat lands with a squelch or a guffaw.

The series progresses into a twist-filled familiar fun fest which follows Sheila’s development into one of the undead and all of the challenges which came with that, be it: not being able to eat human food or not suffering from death, along with a sprinkling of some ‘lesser’ known attributes which the undead possess, like, high sex drive and deterioration into a full ‘Romero’. Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal as doting husband lines up perfectly with the often-understated performance given by Drew Barrymore’s ‘Mombie’ character. The script, peppered with real-world references to American culture, one-liners which often land with all the force of Thor’s hammer and the chemistry between the on-screen characters is palpable and enticing, provide laugh after laugh.

What could have been a terrible mess with low-level actors and washed-up talent actually combines all the perfect elements which we have seen in low-budget movies and tv series since the late 80’s and culminates in a tremendous horror/comedy experience which will honestly leave you wanting more by the season finale, which – SPOILER ALERT – is tremendous and a perfect end to a great series.

With something as simple and uninteresting as the plot which this series revolves around, it could have been very easy to slip into the classic pitfalls of previous series and movies. With the lowest expectations and no promises at all, Santa Clarita Diet offers a ton of laughter, horrified averted gazes and periods of internal disgust but never fully over steps its boundaries as a zom-com feature.

Do what makes sense, grab Netflix on ANY device that matters and allow yourself to be enveloped by blood, sweat and tears – zombies are back and they are better than ever.



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