If you hadn’t heard of the Netflix Original Series Santa Clarita Diet, it’s okay. I get it. I hadn’t heard of it until I was randomly on Netflix and saw the promotional header as I logged in one day. I took a chance, then and there, and I’m so intensely glad I did.
I’m going to admit a few more things, while we’re here. One, I’m not a fan of Timothy Olyphant. Yeah, yeah. I know. “What about Justified!?” and a thousand other examples will get thrown at me but I just never really liked how writers and casting directors painted him. And two, while I loved Drew Barrymore as a teenager, I didn’t really grow with her as an actress so much as I felt she wandered her own path and I stayed in my lane. So, if you were to tell me about this newer series on Netflix, I would’ve probably nodded along but not gone out of my way.
Then I saw the trailer. That was the moment that it all made sense to me. Hell, if anything, the casting directors may have felt the same way as me and wanted to throw two very strong actors in to very different roles than they’re used to. Shake it up a bit. Give them a new descriptor to add to their brand, so to speak. It was during the very first episode that suddenly I found myself enjoying Olyphant for the first time and falling back in love with Barrymore’s sweetness and range. Toss in some clap-worthy little cameos from folks like Nathan Fillion, Patton Oswalt and Andy Richter and everything comes together beautifully.
Barrymore and Olyphant play Sheila and Joel Hammond, two realtors (or as they’d say it ‘real-a-tors‘) who live in lovely Santa Clarita with their one daughter and zero pets. When an unknown scenario makes Sheila incredibly sick during a house showing, it’s quickly found out that she’s, well, undead. As quickly as it all happened, the family has to pull together and figure out how to handle the non-stop escalation of having a wife and mother who is also dramatically not alive. It doesn’t take the moody selfish route of shows you’d expect but more of a “Nope, no matter what, we’re getting through this as a family.” and that’s rather refreshing.
In a show where you’d imagine it’s all about the gore and/or the goofs, it’s remarkably charming and warm in all of the right ways. At certain moments, you could almost be convinced Sheila and Joel are truly in love and not just actors in a role and that’s thanks to whoever thought up the peculiar-yet-perfect casting of Barrymore and Olyphant. I never in a thousand years would think those two would work but, here we are, and they’re my favorite couple on television. The love Joel has not just for Sheila but for Abby, their teenage daughter, is palpable. The courage Sheila has in planning ahead of her undead escalation, wondering how to make sure Joel and Abby will be okay without her in the unfortunate event of her going ‘too far‘ is very real. To a certain end, these aren’t things true parents don’t have to think about at times. Be it illness, an unfortunate situation befalling the family unit or whatever comes, it’s a very realistic core dynamic that gets flipped upside down often and the fun is watching them balance back out.
I’ve got my own teenager and she mirrors Abby, the Hammond daughter played by Liv Hewson, in several ways. One such thing is the fact Abby used the leverage of the burgeoning crisis with her Mother becoming a ‘Mombie‘ by announcing that she would be using curse words from here on out. A firm nod from Sheila with a “That’s fair.” and they were off to the races. Every once in awhile, despite the drama that Joel and Sheila were trying desperately to contain and keep from affecting Abby, they’d have to just come out with it.
The show would take an almost abrupt halt away from the plotting and planning of the next clean-up-a-mess-up situation and they’d remember that Abby, while being a snappy young person, was still a kid. Sometimes it would be as simple as her climbing in bed and they’d give her some hopeful cuddles and love. Sometimes it was about forcing a non-undead activity in order to try to introduce normalcy when, well, realistically that just can’t be easily done. That’s where Santa Clarita Diet succeeds where I feel a lot of other family sitcom style shows fail for me. I never truly believe they love one another and it can sometimes just feel like characters all written by different people and mashed into one cast. If ever there was a modern take on Bewitched, this is it.
I bet that Bewitched analogy has you intrigued, doesn’t it?