Santa Clarita Diet is Netflix’s latest offering. It stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as a pair of upper middle class, married, suburban realtors who live in sunny Southern California. They are devoted to each other, and seem to be living the American dream, until something goes terribly wrong. But this couple has a can-do spirit and a willingness to work through their problems together, which is frankly refreshing to see on a TV series these days.
What goes wrong and threatens to ruin their nearly perfect lives, you ask? Well, Sheila, the wife, dies during a house showing and comes back as a zombie. Now she needs to eat people to survive. And her impulse control is nearly nonexistent. Other than that, she feels great!! Better than ever, in fact. As long as she doesn’t get too hungry.
But, let’s start at the beginning. We meet Joel and Sheila as they’re waking up in the morning. Joel would really like to have a quickie, but Sheila needs to be romanced first. Over breakfast, Sheila muses that she’d like to be 80% bolder. Joel hates the new toaster oven. Their teenage daughter, Abby, wants a new car. Or, she wants Sheila to get a new car (Sheila votes Range Rover) and then to pass her old car down to Abby like normal families. Joel vetoes the idea. Sheila has a stomach cramp and needs to sit down. Ominous foreshadowing. Their mundane lives are about to change. The toaster oven will still suck though.
Outside, they run into their neighbors as everyone leaves for work and school. They have cops living on either side of them. One of the cops, Dan, works for the LA Sheriff’s Dept. He’s very observant and nosy. He asks about the light in the den that was on all night. Sheila explains that she had trouble sleeping.
The actor who plays Dan, Ricardo Chavira, is also Xo’s new boyfriend, Bruce, on Jane the Virgin. I’ve had a hard time warming up to Bruce, and this makes it worse. It’s difficult to switch gears between the two characters. He was also Carlos on Desperate Housewives, which is what I thought Santa Clarita Diet was going to be modelled after, before I found out what it’s really about.
The other cop, Rick, works for the Santa Monica PD. The two cops have a rivalry going on, and throw insults at each other. Dan’s wife, Lisa, asks Sheila if she wants to join the neighborhood wives for their girls night out. Sheila refuses. She’s too straight-laced to hang around with Lisa and her friends. Lisa tells Abby that Lisa’s son Eric has a huge crush on Abby, including using her for his spank bank. Eric is sitting right there. He tries to sink down through the floor of the car into the earth below.
When she gets to work, Sheila’s boss Carl, played by Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter, introduces her to the new Realtor in the office, Gary. Gary is played by Nathan Fillion in full *sshole mode, which is how I like him best. Carl yells at Sheila in front of Gary about getting an offer for the house they’re showing that day. They’ve already shown it to this couple three times, and they need to seal the deal.
Once they’re at the house, Sheila vomits all over the bedroom floor in front of the clients. She closes herself in the bathroom and loudly projectile vomits what looks to be the entire contents of her body. The clients can’t deal with the situation and leave, understandably enough. Joel finds Sheila seemingly dead on the bathroom floor. He holds her and mourns, but then she wakes up. She’s okay, except for the obvious, and a strange looking thing, that might be an organ, that also came out of her.
They make a trip to the ER, which goes about as quickly as most trips to the ER. After a few hours they give up and leave without having been seen. Gary meets them at home to tell them that the vomit’s been cleaned up and he’s stolen their house listing.
Sheila discovers that she doesn’t have a heartbeat, but she is okay with quickies now. Frequent quickies. Or sex of any kind. So the zombie situation isn’t all bad. Her blood has also turned black and thickened, and she only wants to eat raw meat.
She refuses to go to a doctor, which is a good call, so Abby takes them to Eric, the neighborhood zombie expert. Eric says that word has negative connotations, though, so we are now going to say undead, instead, to be respectful. I do my best to use respectful language and attitudes toward the living and non-living on this blog, at least when it comes to terminology.
Eric goes through a checklist of undead symptoms and determines that the word does apply to Sheila, even though she feels very alive. The undead are driven by their ids, the part of the brain that demands the fulfillment of desires. Sheila likely became undead by catching a virus from an animal, like a bat or a monkey. As we humans, in our zombie-like need to consume, destroy more and more natural habitat, we’re exposed to more animal diseases by the animals we displace, thus destroying ourselves as well. Eric has consumed a lot of undead fiction. Sheila needs to be kept fed and if she deteriorates, physically or mentally, she might have to be put down.
On the way back to their own house, Sheila stops to eat a snail off of a plant for a snack. Joel goes to the store to buy more raw meat. Sheila and Abby promise not to leave the house, but sneak out to buy the Range Rover. Abby is discovering the perks of an undead mom.
Sheila goes out with the neighborhood wives after all. They go to a bar to drink and dance. Gary follows her there. Joel shows up to take Sheila home. Gary gets in the middle of the argument and drives Joel away.
The next morning, Joel wakes up alone. He goes to make toast and the toaster oven breaks. He smashes it outside on the patio, then goes shopping for a new one. It turns into an existential crisis. He doesn’t want to dance, and he doesn’t want another lousy toaster oven.
Sheila is in the backyard gardening. She spent the night walking around, thinking, and eating raw meat out of Chili’s dumpster. That’s close to normal, right? Gary shows up and tries to blackmail her into sex. She responds by eating his fingers, then follows that up by eating as much of the rest of him as she can fit in her stomach.
Joel gets home from the store and finds Sheila in the yard, crouched over Gary’s body, drenched in blood. She tells him that she really wants to find a way to make things work.
I love the way this show juxtaposes everyday life with both the comedy and horror elements. There are some gory moments that I turned away from, but they were fleeting. The dialogue is smart and hilarious. There aren’t any quotes here because I couldn’t choose which ones to pull out, they were all so good. It was either quote most of the script, or leave the quotes out.
It’s set up like a classic sitcom, I Love Lucy, for example. Sheila is Lucille Ball, the lovable wife who can’t quite keep herself out of trouble. Joel is Ricky, the husband who is devoted to her, bails her out of her messes, and joins in on the adventures. We’ll follow the main couple as they navigate life in the suburbs as a slightly off-kilter, out of place family, surrounded by neighbors and coworkers. We haven’t seen much of the office yet, other than the stern boss and douchey coworker. The douchey coworker seems to be out of the picture. We have the wise-cracking neighbor wife, the grouchy neighbor husband, and the nerdy neighbor kid who’s in love with the protagonist’s daughter. Abby and Eric also function as Fred and Ethel, the partners in crime who are in on the secret, take part in the adventures, and help clean up the messes.
There’s just that one tiny difference between Sheila and Lucy.
We’re sung out by Lyrics Born with Chest Wide Open. No irony there.