This article was first published on March 30, 2017 @ Superficial Gallery
Last week, subconsciously looking for a distraction from cleaning, I binge-watched the Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix) & big little lies (HBO). I will discuss my thoughts on big little lies later because I find it compelling on a few levels, but for now, let’s talk about a mysteriously undead Drew Barrymore.
If you’ve seen the trailer for the Santa Clarita Diet, (& if you haven’t, see below) you come into episode 1 knowing that Drew Barrymore’s realtor Sheila Hammond woke up one day suddenly lacking a heartbeat & craving raw red meat, a development that is alarming in itself to her straitlaced husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) & teenage daughter Abby, though they handle it with a NBD attitude. Sheila, aside from this new wrinkle, is normally as boring & predictable as her husband, the pair of them also the most vanilla couple in their vanilla neighborhood.
Things get hairy when, while showing a house with Joel, Sheila projectile vomits an incredible amount of pea-green vomit to the horror of the clients, the other realtor, & her husband. This scene was the point where my husband tapped out because it was like a firehose in volume and force; rather than being grossed out I laughed at first because it was comical…and then it went on so long it became ridiculous. Sheila’s situation gets more complicated when her lack of impulse control, a side effect of the initial transition, leads to her craving fresh human and not store-bought chuck.
Throughout the series, the Hammond family navigate the banal existence of suburbia with the added complication that zombiism might bring and what effects it has on her relationship with her supportive husband & surprisingly unfazed daughter. They are helped in their periodic quest for answers by paranormal nerd-next-door Eric. Aside from having a convenient wealth of knowledge about the undead, Eric has a crush on Abby and a set of incredibly awful parents.
One of the key questions, ‘What caused Shelia’s zombie state?’ isn’t explored as much as I would have wanted (like, say iZombie) because the series wants to spend time on how comical it thinks the day-to-day interactions are. It wants to be a dark comedy series, but the jokes seem easy and wear thin quickly.
Aside from the core four characters, the rest of the cast come off as flat, underdeveloped, and criminally underutilized. The supporting cast includes Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives), Mary Elizabeth Ellis (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia), Nathan Fillion (firefly), Patton Oswald & Portia di Rossi – all comically gifted and should be helping to flesh out the comedy and potential drama of discovery.
Drew Barrymore is fabulous in her portrayal of Sheila and Liv Hewson is a standout as her daughter Abby, but Timothy Olyphant is hit-and-miss for me. He normally plays very macho, ‘in control’ tough guys (see Justified, Damages), so I was intrigued to see him portray a buttoned-up suburban husband. I found myself somewhat annoyed by what felt like near constant mugging for the camera, eyes goggling out of his head. Olyphant has done some comedy before, but from what I can tell he seems to play characters that aren’t too far afield from the damaged alpha male he normally plays (The Office).
When the credits rolled on episode 10 I felt mostly unsatisfied and only a little curious about where the story will go for the Hammond family.