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TV Review: Santa Clarita Diet (Season 2)

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When the series first launched on Netflix in February of last year, the hype surrounding the Santa Clarita Diet was little to none. Over the past decade, zombies have infiltrated the small screen in hordes as they have for decades in film.

The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, iZombie and In the Flesh are but a few, and each created their own specific worlds in which the undead could thrive – and ultimately die – in extremely gruesome situations.

iZombie was one of the first zombie-centric shows to fully inhabit the zom-com genre (that’s zombie-comedy, we’re already producing genre abbreviations for this cultural phenomena), whilst still firmly rooting itself as a flat-out drama.

And that’s where the Santa Clarita Diet differs entirely.

Going into the series with Walking Dead and iZombie expectations highlights the insane hilarity of this show entirely, proving that you don’t need drama to create one of the most comically diverse shows on television, even when the main narrative gravitates around a sudden, unexplained transformation into zombification in the first episode.

The series premiere literally dives gut-first into the show’s main crux: why does a suburban mom and relator drench a show home’s bathroom in puke, and subsequently develop a craving for human flesh?

The first season navigates Shelia (Drew Barrymore)’s change in appetite and her adaption to an undead life, whilst her work partner and husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and their daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) come to terms with Shelia’s new lifestyle, and begin to try and figure out a way to cure her before she either becomes feral and turns on them or decomposes entirely, as some of Shelia’s appendages begin to just kind of fall of without warning.

The cliff-hangers produced by the Hammonds trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Sheila resolve themselves pretty quickly in the opening episode of its second series; Shelia is let out of the basement after gnawing at the house’s foundations … and subsequently turns their kitchen into the inside of a shark, whilst Joel is let out of the insane asylum we saw him committed to on ‘good behaviour’; as of course one would be put there after trying to retrieve bile from an old Serbian woman.

That bile is a catalyst for this season, however, as the Serbian mythology surrounding this mysterious virus actually stops Shelia’s zombieism from progressing, leaving her in a semi-normal, non-feral state. And that’s all thanks to Abby asking for Serbian bile on Craigslist. At least that’s something.

Now that they have Shelia’s zombieism somewhat under-control, season two allows Shelia and Joel to somehow keep their family afloat by tending to Shelia’s… needs, whilst also parenting their daughter and providing for their family. You guessed it, none of that goes to plan. As much as Joel would like to take apart his knife-hammer and make his beloved bookshelves and treat himself to some well-deserved Brie, the Hammonds are faced with a bunch of new obstacles; Ones that bring them one step closer to finding the source of Shelia’s disease, but also reveal that she ain’t the only zombie in Santa Clarita.

The beauty of the Santa Clarita Diet is its approach at balance within genre, and this is cemented further in its second season. What made its introductory season stand out above its zombie contemporaries was its brash, dry-cut humor delivered with such prowess from its main leads – Barrymore and Olyphant – combined with a chemistry that doesn’t feel forced.

Joel and Shelia’s relationship as business partners, spouses and parents is not overexaggerated or portrayed in an unrealistic light; they are constantly getting into petty arguments about the now mundane aspects of killing, alongside the worries and issues that arise with such a transition.

Are they raising their daughter to be a monster? Are they going to have a big enough nest egg if something were to happen to one of them? Are they going to forever be microwaving elbows and stuffing bodies in their fridge-freezer? (That part is solved by creating a kill room that may look too much like a kill room).

When the drama begins to hit the feels a bit too much, it is suddenly – and flawlessly – undercut with humor, mainly from Joel. The pair could be talking about losing each other one minute, and the next Olyphant will perfectly execute some of the stupidest dialogue, an example being how Joel cannot look into a washing machine without fainting due to his vertigo. A non-sensical anecdote? Yes.

But when delivered in a serious and more often than not exasperated tone, the payoff is immense. You’re never waiting for a laugh; it appears seamlessly and in turn, ends up being ten times funnier than it should be.

Somehow, creator Victor Fresco balances a diet of different genres to form an unconventional sitcom of sorts; where one-minute Abby can be asking her dad for advice on dating (in which Joel ‘uncharacterizable’ gives good parenting advice), to Shelia blacking out and eventually finding the body of a dead Nazi she maimed in her fridge freezer. Fresco utilizes the setting of suburbia to really flip the dull trivialities of middle-class life on its head, where the narcissistic tendencies of zombie life can be explored to the backdrop of neighborly disputes.

Oh, and did I mention Gary (Nathan Fillion)’s back? Yeah, turns out Shelia and Joel forgot to destroy his brain when they buried him in the desert, so his head now resides in a vase in their old storage unit. Don’t worry, he gets frequent visits from Joel. They listened to The Who’s Quadrophenia, began rewatching The Wire, contemplated dipping Gary’s head in whiskey to see if he’d get a buzz quicker; it’s all good.  

Here’s hoping that we get a third season to this delectable television series. From where it left off, I have no doubt that it’s going to head in some weird directions, with more beautifully gruesome dismemberments and the odd degloving here and there (yes, that happened this season).

The Santa Clarita Diet is as addictive as Shelia’s bloodlust, and I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon.

Santa Clarita Diet is available to watch now on Netflix.

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