Netflix is on something of a roll having gambled $6 billion on producing original content in order to take on competitors like Amazon and HBO in the battle for subscribers. Their latest offering is SANTA CLARITA DIET, a genre blending mix of Evil Dead comedy horror and suburban family sitcom.
Living out their pleasurably dull lives in an impossibly sun-soaked suburb are estate agents Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila (Drew Barrymore), a perfectly humdrum existence until the latter starts to experience some changes - including a craving for raw flesh.
The pilot episode is a lean 30 minutes and wastes no time in introducing the Hammond family, establishing that Joel and Sheila are stupefyingly mundane whose biggest problem is a malfunctioning toaster oven, and demonstrating that their neighbours are arguably stranger than they are.
It’s a brutally efficient set up, even a little jarring in the age of slow TV. Most shows would have opted for a longer, more drawn out pilot, but Santa Clarita Diet shuns such modern TV etiquette, diving straight into its central, flesh eating conceit. The downside to this Formula 1 paced storytelling is a curiously flat first few minutes, with no build up or dramatic tension. However, the payoff arrives at about the six minute mark thanks to an unforgettable regurgitation gag as Sheila inadvertently redecorates a house Exorcist style.
It’s at this point that you’ll know whether Santa Clarita Diet is for you - and it’s not for everyone. Wearing its pea green vomit on its sleeve (not to mention everywhere else) the episode hits its stride as the Hammond family try to come to terms with the fact that one of their own is both dead and undead.
The deliberately daft special effects minimise the stomach churn, making it much easier to giggle (albeit nervously at first) at every subsequent escalation as Sheila loses both her inhibitions and control over her cravings.
Despite this, it’s Timothy Olyphant’s Joel who emerges as the most well fleshed out and empathetic character, not to mention the funniest, as his repressed frustrations at dealing with his wife (and perhaps his entire, routine existence), start to eat away at him. By contrast, most of the other characters are amusing but a little less well-rounded, from the dorky kid next door to Sheila’s liberated suburban mom, whose newly discovered sense of freedom initially involves a spending spree and a girl’s night out.
It’s closest relative is probably Shaun of the Dead, the rom-zom-com that used flesh eating comedy to ridicule the mindless grind of London life. Santa Clarita Diet does something similar, its increasingly absurd horror offering a metaphor for any number of largely first world problems, from mid-life crises to affluenza. You can chuck in menopause and environmental conservation for good measure as well.
Indeed, it’s Olyphant’s final, bewildered expression that sums up the whole show. Santa Clarita Diet is weird, niche and refreshingly different - if you can get on board with that, it promises to be one of the more enjoyably outlandish programmes available to watch right now.
- Aired on Netflix, February 5 2017 at N/A.