Housewives and Zombies: A look at the ‘Santa Clarita Diet’

By Liyang Wan | Staff Writer

The main limitation of films or television shows that rely on zombies is their lack of humanity. Traditionally, zombies walk unconsciously in crowds and eat human beings as opposed to, for instance, vampires and werewolves, which are often cursed by mysterious incantation, which is a bit more exciting. “Santa Clarita Diet,” however, creates a zombie tale with sympathy, emotion, feeling and human characteristics unseen in most characterizations of the undead.

“Santa Clarita Diet” premiered last Friday, Feb. 3rd, with Victor Fresco producing its 10-episode run in tangent with Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant.

Sheila Hammond (Barrymore) and Joel Hammond (Olyphant), are a married couple of real estate agents working and living in the north suburbs of Los Angeles. One day, Sheila vomits tons of bile and a small, red unidentifiable organ. In the wake of this circumstance, she suddenly transforms into a zombie who needs to feed on human meat for survival. Although Sheila is a zombie, she does not look like someone from “The Walking Dead.” She is a well-dressed and decent mother who drives an SUV, raises her delightfully cynical teenage daughter and works with her husband selling suburban houses with beige-based color schemes.

Sheila’s sudden transition into a non-traditional zombie is unexpected. There is no infection from another zombie, and she does not accidentally reach any magical objects. Sheila wakes up and becomes an undead creature with an insatiable sex drive and a propensity for cannibalism. Her husband and daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), just take this development as something else to deal with while navigating the problems of modern family life.

The characters’ lack of self-awareness is palpable, with Joel, Sheila and Abby simply trying their best to deal with this circumstance. When Joel and Sheila figure out how to get human flesh without killing too many people, they come up with the idea to freeze the body in a refrigerator after learning from the mistakes of Sheila’s first kill. Even though they justify killing people (and stuffing them in their fridge) with good intentions–only kill terrible individuals– they never actually realize the fact that they are committing murder or burying the leftover remains of a bloody meal. They are amoral, but far from repulsive, especially since they demonstrate their sincere loyalty to each other.

Barrymore balances Sheila’s stone-cold hunger appropriately with her kookiness, creating a character that is both demonic and sweet. Olyphant makes Joel favorable, sensitive, fickle and, when it matters, resourceful. The connection between the characters creates an appealing synergy, a type of attraction that encourages the audience to keep watching the whole series.

While not everyone would like “Santa Clarita Diet,” as it oddly and grotesquely satirizes suburban life, family, ethics and even dieting in general, it is a delightful show that might make individuals amused, if not hungry.