This show is not for the squeamish. By any stretch of the imagination.
Yeah, yeah I’m underestimating you, right? After all, 21st century media-immersed Americans are 100% desensitized. We watch people get their guts ripped out on Game of Thrones. There’s non-stop cursing on shows like The Wire. Hell, a few months back I went into The Shape of Water expecting a quirky fairy tale (which I got), but found myself enjoying a woman masturbating every morning and a guy ripping off his own fingers. It’s whatever.
Yet The Santa Clarita Diet still manages to turn my stomach in the best way possible.
It’s all about the contrast. Joe (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila (Drew Barrymore) are suburban realtors who started dating in high school and have been the perfect couple ever since. They were literally the prom queen and quarterback. Now they’ve got a career, a gorgeous home, a wonderful daughter, and the only thing anyone (read: the in-laws) can criticize them for is that they only have one kid instead of two. How dare this white-picket fence family not round out to nuclear perfection? Still, Sheila and Joe are in a good place.
That is, until Sheila inexplicably wakes up one day, vomits, dies, and comes back as a zombie.
Now when I say she vomits what I really mean is that anyone with emetophobia needs to stay far, far away from this show. Sheila violently expels a greenish-yellow bile that coats the entire carpet. And the walls. And the ceiling! She upends ten times more liquid and chunks than a human stomach can logically hold and it was at this point that I knew the show wasn’t pulling any punches.
That contrast? Between simple suburban family and the stomach-churning undead? It works. But it’s not just a clear divide between seeing their immaculate kitchen and then the same kitchen coated in some dude’s intestines twenty minutes later. If it was that level of intense gore all the time I wouldn’t be impressed. Rather, it’s the way that the show blurs Sheila’s new eating habits with her previous life that keeps me going, “Oh no” at the screen. Blended thigh in a smoothie cup for breakfast power-walks with friends. Brain spaghetti and meatballs during a romantic dinner. Joe lovingly reminding Sheila to pack a snack for staking out her next murder victim and her reassurance that she already packed fingers. Yum.
Actually, let’s talk about Joe for a moment. He’s another wonderful contrast adding conflict to the show. Having left his quarterback days behind he’s not really what one would term traditionally masculine and Sheila’s newfound, violent tendencies frequently highlight his own empathetic nature. Need I say it? I will anyway: it’s rare to see that on television, especially when Joe is ultimately encouraged to be who he is instead of pressured to change. Joe just doesn’t want to kill people. Imagine that. He wants to dismantle the hammer-knife he made for slaying the undead, use the hammer to build them redwood bookshelves and the knife to cut brie. Maybe an apple if he’s feeling wild. Honestly, Joe is a little put-out that his wife’s new dietary requirements have taken away his normal life of building bookshelves and writing Yelp reviews. It’s an ongoing issue between them that’s handled beautifully.
Why? Because this couple—for all their murdering—has the healthiest relationship I have ever seen in a sitcom. The only ones I can think to compare them to are the Addams family. Sure, they’re unconventional and have a sentient hand running about, but at the end of the day they communicate, demonstrate respect, and have a fierce love for both each other and their kids. That’s Joe and Sheila, except Sheila is eating hands instead of keeping them as pets. There’s something about the unconventionality of these relationships that highlight how well they actually work. It’s easy to look at Wednesday Addams and judge her parents for how “weird” she turned out, completely missing that she’s a happy, intelligent young girl. It’s just as easy to look at a “perfect” family and miss how toxic they are. The Hammods' weirdness helps highlight everything that is going right in their lives.
Which brings me to Abby. Rounding out the family she’s the spitfire teen who is bound and determined to be a part of her parents’ crazy new lives. I love Abby. I outright adore her. I’ve had the show on my list for a while now—always a fan of works that subvert the zombie genre—but what finally got me to pick it up was a series of screenshots going around Tumblr. The cop who lives next door (yep, that’s a problem) drags Abby home one day and announces,
“A colleague pulled Abby over for running a stop sign. On a motorcycle. Without plates or VIN number. Wearing a jacket that says, ‘pussy magnet.’”
Joe: “My god that’s a lot for me to process.”
The entire show is just stuffed with witty, hilarious, rapid-fire dialogue. And you can’t beat Olyphant’s delivery. A transcription simply won't do him justice. In fact, if you don't mind a spoiler I HIGHLY recommend that you watch this thirty-second clip. This right here is the show in a nutshell.
What it comes down to is that yeah, Abby is dealing with some shit. Serious shit. So maybe she's rebelling a bit. Yet she finds out that her mom is eating people and simply announces that, given the circumstances, she’ll be cursing in front of them from now on. Which is fair. In fact, the whole family has the mouth of a sailor which is entirely justifiable given their situation. At least half the fun is in watching the show toss something disgustingly ridiculous their way and having them normalize it after a few creative strings of expletives. Then they move on with their lives. As Abby says, a corpse is far from the most horrifying thing she’s ever walked in on in her parents’ tub.
For all the humor and insanity though The Santa Clarita Diet has a true touch of warmth to it that I love. This couple cares for one another, they’ve just got thrown a curve ball in the “till death do us part” portion of the wedding vows. They want to do right by their daughter, even if that means including her in the insanity rather than trying to protect her. And they want to be good people.
...good people still need to eat though.
Watch The Santa Clarita Diet. If you’ve got the stomach for it, that is. It’s an innovative, delicious blend that you don’t want to miss.
GIF #1: https://imgur.com/gallery/ge9t4vq
GIF #2: https://tenor.com/search/john-mulaney-gifs