Monday, April 10, 2017

MTVP Binges Out: Santa Clarita Diet: Season One

Who knew you could have a comedy about zombies? Well, I guess “Warm Bodies” is kind of comedic, but I wasn’t sure if that sort of tone could hold for a whole series on Netflix. “Santa Clarita Diet,” which tells the story of a realtor who turns into a zombie and her family, attempts to do just that, and I think it does it fairly well. The characters are well developed, as is the world building, especially for a comedy. You have to have a strong stomach to get through a few of the episodes, though. Becoming a zombie involves quite a lot of vomit, and zombie feeding can be . . . bloody. If you can get past those moments, though, “Santa Clarita Diet” is an entertaining five hours. Many of the episodes have fun cliffhanger twists. The creative team also digs a little deeper and looks at the emotional toll that becoming a zombie takes on the whole family. There really are a lot of layers to this show if you can look past the initial gore.

The show centers around the Hammond family. Sheila (Drew Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant) are a husband and wife realtor team, and their daughter Abby (Aussie newcomer Liv Hewson) is kind of a typical high school student with a chip on her shoulder. One day Sheila vomits a whole lot (seriously, it covers an entire bathroom and I may never recover), including coughing up a small organ of some sort. That’s when she starts craving raw meat, then human flesh. Well, she develops the taste for human flesh after feeding off of a smarmy character played by Nathan Fillion, but I digress. The show’s mythology deepens as the season progresses. We learn that this has happened before, and in Serbia someone may have once come up with a cure, but the knowledge of that cure seems to have been lost. This isn’t good, as Sheila definitely starts to disintegrate.

I’ll admit, I almost noped right out of this show after the pilot. There was just so much vomit. And then in the next episode, the first feeding was really, really bloody. If it wasn’t for the interesting story twists and the well-drawn characters, I don’t think I would have stuck with it. In fact, I had to look past more vomit and blood in later episodes, especially as more zombies materialize. Nothing was quite as bad as the pilot, though. While the creation of a second zombie was plenty vomit-y, the camera didn’t seem to hold on the scene for quite so long. The significance of a room covered in yellow vomit was already burned into our brains in the pilot, so it wasn’t necessary to show it happening again for very long before we viewers could easily tell what had taken place.

There were a lot of really memorable performances throughout the first season. This is the first time I had seen Drew Barrymore work (she’s had plenty of work over the years, just not much that I have found myself watching), and I was impressed with her comedic chops. Timothy Olyphant also had fantastic comedic timing. I had only heard of him in connection to antihero dramas of the Golden Age like “Deadwood,” so his comedic sense was surprising. The newcomers who played the teens, Abby and Eric, were also quite impressive. Liv Hewson mostly plays Abby as a rebel, but she does have moments of clarity, too, where she realizes that what happened to her mother is a big deal, and it’s okay to not quite know how to react to it. I enjoy Eric for his game-ness to get involved in whatever paranormal hijinks the Hammonds get into.

I think what m¬akes the show more than a gore fest is that it genuinely tries to explore how Sheila’s transformation affects the rest of her family. Sheila is going through some pretty significant changes. Not only is she craving human flesh, her inhibitions in general have been significantly introduced. She used to be a very uptight, regimented person, but now she’s constantly horny and considering telling her daughter to find herself instead of go to college. This causes problems for the rest of the family, because the Sheila they knew is no longer, and she was the one who kept everything running. Joel feels out of control, and he feels like he should be doing more to protect Sheila, even if she doesn’t really need protecting considering she’s a zombie and all. He’s determined to stand by Sheila and help her figure out life as a zombie, even if she doesn’t think she needs help. The transformation also affects their daughter Abby, who was always a bit of a rebel, but she starts acting out even more after Sheila’s transformation. She starts skipping school and stealing motorcycles. There’s a really touching episode that I’ll get to in a minute where Sheila tries to have some mom/daughter time to right the ship.

Speaking of that mother/daughter time, my favorite episode of the season was the penultimate episode, “The Book!” It’s the episode where Sheila and Abby have that mother daughter time trying to involve a situation involving a stolen motorcycle and a storage unit chop shop that Abby finds herself in. I appreciated Sheila realizing she needed to slow down a bit and make sure her family would be okay through the coming changes, and I also realized Abby stepping back and giving some consideration to why she had been acting out. At the same time, Joel and teenage neighbor Eric (who is smitten with Abby, naturally) go to a paranormal convention to seek out someone who may be able to help cure Sheila. Eric is at home in this sort of environment, but Joel is immediately pegged as not belonging. I wish I could say that the defensiveness of the convention regulars was overblown, but I’ve spent enough time in fandom to know that isn’t the case. It was amusing to watch Joel eventually get what he thinks he needs, though.

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