THE SANTA CLARITA DIET -- Better Than a Magic Bullet
e interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging to bring you a gushing review of Netflix's newest comedy -- THE SANTA CLARITA DIET.
No spoilers beyond the premise of the show -- we're not animals.
Centering around hubby and wife Joel and Sheila Hammond (Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore respectively), the show follows the pair as Sheila is afflicted with a strange disease...death. But her heart keeps on ticking, so long as she feeds on human flesh.
Yeah, she's a zombie.
But from a bit of an atypical premise comes some of the most amazing comedy I've seen in the past year+ -- and another in a chain of comedies that zero in on hometown charm to find the universal in the specifics (Broad City, Portlandia, Atlanta, Detroiters, etc).
First and foremost, comedic praise should go to the showrunner and creator, Victor Fresco, who cut his teeth on ALF and created the cult hit Better Off Ted in the mid-2000s. (And if you haven't seen Better Off Ted, it's another gem that Netflix still kindly hosts for the world. Check the reviews if you don't believe me). Once again, Fresco creates a compelling and distinct cast of characters who are, as a favorite writing professor used to say, "a part of this world and none other." But the dialogue is where his influence really shines. Self-aware, surreal, and pithy as shit, every character is given amazing material to chew on. In a show that gets as wild as Santa Clarita, you're going to want to hang a lampshade on the insanity, and most every major player has an abundance of 'WTF are we doing' moments -- and hearing their rationale will make you laugh out loud harder than pretty much any other element of the show.
But on screen, the real treat is the magnetic presence of Timothy Olyphant, who gives one of the best comedic turns I've seen in a very long minute. As an actor who first entered my awareness as the baddie in Live Free or Die Hard, his brilliance in comedy came as a lovely surprise. And he's just so consistently pitch perfect as the coming-apart-at-the-seams dad -- trying to keep his life together while his wife craves human flesh and their combined antics give their daughter the ultimate moral high ground -- that I found myself in legit giggle fits when watching. Barrymore's performance is less inspired, but god bless her willingness to eat pretend human flesh on screen. The performances are sharp across the board -- everyone bringing in their own angle of absurdity -- but Olyphant cranks it up to the Nth degree.
In fact, it's its willingness to go to extremes that really makes Santa Clarita Diet pop for me. Taking full advantage of the Netflix carte-blanche, Fresco hits the gross-factor hard, with a massive CGI puke early on in the pilot, and a trail of bodies, blood, and guts along the course of the season that the faint of heart will probably enjoy. That said, if you saw any of the promo art -- aorta sandwich anyone? -- this should come as no surprise.
And it's not just the blood and guts of Santa Clarita that don't pull any punches -- the production value is top notch (especially for a comedy), evoking the sunny suburban veneer of SoCal perfectly. The camera work is just gorgeous as well -- always a welcome change from the locked down, shot-reverse-shot dullness that plagues a lot of modern comedy. Form should follow content, and a show that isn't afraid to take risks in its writing is equally unafraid to sex up the visuals.
Debuting to 70% on Rotten Tomatoes (with an audience score of 84%), Santa Clarita Diet is off to a great start for a new comedy. I hear negotiations for a Season 2 are already underway, and with the social media buzz and star power already attached to this one, I'm hopeful for a long, healthy, heart-y run for this killer new comedy.