“The Santa Clarita Diet” is delicious if you’ve got the stomach for it.
This Netflix original mashes together two classic genres — the family sitcom and zombies — with just the right amount of aplomb, whimsy and outrageousness. It also manages to glide along on bizarre one-liners that gleefully juxtapose the normal and abnormal.
“I know we have to kill somebody today, but we have to be good parents every day,” Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore) tells her infinitely patient and loving husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant).
Sheila, you see, has developed a problem. Out of nowhere she’s inexplicably become a zombie. Not the grunting, drooling type. But dead anyway. And, as the couple realize early on, only capable of eating human flesh.
This is inconvenient. Because Sheila and Joel are middle-class California Realtors raising a teenage daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson). How will they fit this in their schedule? Plus, who should Sheila eat?
“Do you remember that dinner we had in Tuscany?” Sheila asks Joel. “I keep thinking about how good that waiter would taste right now.”
In the show’s opening episodes, Sheila and Joel ponder their new situation while trying to keep things under wraps (it doesn’t help that cops live on either side of them). Joel tries to find the source of Sheila’s new condition — could it have been the clams at that Italian place? — while Sheila tries to rein in her suddenly raging id.
And there are family discussions. After driving to a mountaintop and generally freaking out about Sheila’s condition, Abby asks Joel, “I mean, like, did Mom die when Mom died?”
“I wish I had more answers, honey,” a weary Joel replies.
The big initial visual joke here is, of course, the dewy, ever-innocent, wide-eyed Barrymore happily munching on a human, blood everywhere. E.T., where are you when we need you? But as central as Barrymore is, and as much as she gets the good lines, it’s the befuddled, this-can’t-be-happening reactions from Olyphant (“Justified”) that move the show forward.
They’re ably aided by the wily Hewson, along with the literal boy next door, a nerd named Eric (Skyler Gisondo) who is both an expert on zombies and hot for Abby.
Is there any great meaning in all this? Of course not, but there’s sly fun to be had. The gore level is playful, not scary, and the idea that true love conquers all, even a craving for human flesh, permeates the show. Sheila, Joel and Abby can still live the American dream, it will just taste a bit odd.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic
‘The Santa Clarita Diet’
Contains violence, gore, language, sexual situations
Now streaming on Netflix