7:00 pm EDT, February 6, 2017

‘Santa Clarita Diet’ is a surprisingly heartwarming horror show

Santa Clarita Diet, starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, is, at its center, a show about family. It just also happens to be about zombies.

The synopsis for Netlix’s latest original series is fairly straightforward: “Married couple Sheila and Joel are real estate agents in Santa Clarita, California. The couple’s lives take a dark turn after Sheila goes through a transformation — becoming a zombie who feeds on human flesh.”

Right away, the tone of this show is both confusing and refreshing. The Hammonds are a fairly typical Californian family with a nice house, great jobs, and a sarcastic teenage daughter. They complain about everyday life, like their in-laws or their weird neighbor.

All of this continues as you work your way through the series, but in addition to the trivialities of existence, Sheila must also navigate a world where she suddenly craves human flesh.

Santa Clarita at first relies on simple humor, but once Sheila finds her stride as a zombie, the humor steps it up a notch and the show really finds its footing. It’s in the little struggles with becoming a zombie — Will a fresh chicken taste just as good as a human? How much does it cost to pick up a dead body at the morgue? Does body hair have an affect on the rate of consumption? What, exactly, constitutes the tenderloin of the human body?

I won’t mince words here — Santa Clarita Diet is bloody disgusting. There’s a lot of blood. You also see Barrymore’s character eating a lot of people. The gore is softened, albeit minimally, by the humor and Sheila’s ability to still retain her personality. She might be covered in guts and have bits of people in her teeth, but she’ll still nag the hell out of Joel. It worked for me, but I have a fairly strong stomach. If you’re not usually into this type of show, I’d recommend passing on the series or else be resigned to looking away from the screen at least a couple times an episode.

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The characters really sell this series, though. My favorite is Joel because, despite the fact that his life is going to hell, he still loves his wife unconditionally. He’s not disgusted by her, nor is he ready to give up on her. He’s not just interested in curing her of this disease; he wants her to learn to control her urges, to live as normal of a life as possible. He’s a hopeless romantic in a lot of ways, and his optimistic outlook on life, while tested more than once, elevates the show to a place where I feel I can genuinely call it heartwarming.

Meanwhile, their daughter Abby brings something refreshing to the table. Yes, she’s a typical teenage daughter in a lot of instances — sarcastic, bratty, self-entitled, and rebellious — but she loves her parents. She loves her mom. She also stands by them even when they try to shield her from the truth. I love Abby most for the part she plays in the family because as much as this show is about zombies, it’s also about family, and the Hammonds have a shockingly normal, positive, and strong dynamic. The family who slays together stays together, right?

The neighbor kid, Eric, gets involved because he’s a massive nerd. He knows his zombie lore, and the Hammonds go to him in order to find out just what is going on with Sheila. Eric adds a lot of humor to every scene he’s in, but his relationship with Abby is endearing. He has a major crush and she relies on him to keep her sane. They probably never would have interacted this much if it hadn’t been for Sheila’s infection, but now that they have, it’s obvious how much they actually have in common. It’s a familiar trope, but it still works for me.

Eric may not know the origins of Sheila’s sickness, but the show doesn’t stop at him to find an answer for us. To be completely honest, I was surprised Santa Clarita Diet explored the background of the virus as much as it did. The show is set up as a sort of day-in-the-life-of series, but they’ve also created a unique myth surrounding this virus that I found quite interesting. You don’t get all the answers in season 1, but I certainly enjoyed reveling in what we did discover.

Santa Clarita Diet is relatively easy to digest if you don’t mind a little mess. The episodes are quick-paced and flow well together. They end on intriguing cliffhangers that make you want to keep watching, and with Netflix’s autoplay feature, it’s so easy to say, “Just one more.” I finished this series in a single day, but at just 10 episodes, that’s not too difficult to do.

There are moments throughout the series that are shining beacons of brilliance. Barrymore’s character has a few feminist lines that are as hilarious as they are poignant. The physical comedy strikes a chord, for both Sheila and Joel, and the positive portrayal of the Hammonds’ marriage is refreshing. The characters jump off the screen, everyone plays their part perfectly, and every episode balances the development of the characters with the mystery of the plot.

This show isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you’re looking for something along the lines of iZombie or Warm Bodies, but a little more realistic, it could be your new favorite show.

Have you watched ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ yet?

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