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Netflix's ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ Offers All-You-Can-Eat Absurdity
February 3, 2017  | By Ed Bark  | 2 comments

Getting grossed out by the first episode of Santa Clarita Diet is perfectly understandable.

But don’t touch that dial, or whatever else you’re touching these days. This latest Netflix original series, with all 10 Season One episodes available on Friday, Feb. 3, is to-die-for in more ways than its realtor turned zombie premise. Not that you should have anything close to a full meal before encountering the opening half-hour, in which projectile vomiting goes to a new level before Drew Barrymore’s central character curbs her appetite by imbibing a human. Then the fun begins in a sharply written comedy buoyed by Timothy Olyphant’s wide-grinning, goofball-ish, screeching U-turn from the dead-serious lawmen he played on Deadwood and Justified.

Sheila and Joel Hammond (Barrymore, Olyphant) are realtors by trade -- and pretty good at it. She’s kind of uptight and not crazy about his frequent pot smoking. But their marriage is on firm ground until Sheila gets violently ill both at home and on the job. For reasons unknown, she’s become clinically dead and also undead. And as a newly minted, free-spirited zombie, Sheila quickly discovers that her heightened appetite can be sated only by human flesh.

The Hammonds have a teen daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson, right), who soon learns mom’s secret. As does her introverted high school classmate, Eric Bemis (Skyler Gisondo, right, with Hewson). He conveniently lives next door and spends a lot of time alone with his comic books. “Always keep her fed,” Eric soundly advises.

These four core characters mesh very well together in a daringly different and exuberant concoction from Victor Fresco, whose previous off-center efforts include My Name Is Earl, Andy Richter Controls the Universe (he has a cameo in Episode 1) and Better Off Ted. Netflix made all 10 episodes available for review. In a week jammed with new series premieres, your friendly content provider watched the first five plus the season-ender to see how things are left standing.

Briefly put, nothing is really resolved in terms of Sheila finding a cure or learning how she got this way in the first place. So Season 2 is a must and almost a certainty because Netflix hasn’t been known to leave its subscribers dangling. Viewers who make it all the way through likely will also be left pining for a return visit from guest star Portia de Rossi, who’s sensational as the very clinically mannered Dr. Cora Wolf.

Olyphant crushes his role throughout, making Joel Hammond manic and flustered without seeming to chew scenery or careen into an embarrassingly madcap cartoon character. The chewing is left to Barrymore’s Sheila, who’s bloody well good at it. Gisondo, whose character wears a “Leave Pluto Alone” t-shirt in Episode 4, is appealingly nerdy but resourceful while Hewson, as Abby, is quick with a quip as the Hammonds’ rebellious but not bratty daughter.

There are obvious elements of Dexter in the periodic searches for suitably despicable humans to kill and the plastic wrap used in hopes of making things less messy. Still, Santa Clarita Diet very much has a comic beat all its own, with Joel reasoning that “the best prototype would be a young, single Hitler” before Sheila all but lip-smacks the line, “Man, this guy really hit the spot.”

The series also touches on whether feeling more alive as a zombie is preferable to going back to the old hum-drum basics. But without any form of a cure, is Sheila at risk of going uncontrollably feral and harming those she loves?

Santa Clarita Diet has only begun to scratch such “issues.” But humor is still its principal selling point. And once one gets past the gruesome goings-on in Episode One, it’s full tilt ahead in a crazily appetizing tale that’s easily swallowed whole.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

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George Ashur
The show is best enjoyed, I think, as a send-up of realtors and suburban California living.
Feb 8, 2017   |  Reply
BJ Harris
I love this show. The casting was perfect.
Where can I purchase the t-shirt worn by Eric (Skyler GisoTKnda); season 4 "Leave Pluto Alone?"
Feb 3, 2017   |  Reply
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