Weight Loss Isn’t the Goal With the Santa Clarita Diet

Perhaps only Drew Barrymore could make tearing into human flesh with a plucky bite come across as mildly endearing. Or at least watchable. In the role of Sheila Hammond, this is precisely what she manages to do–the acting challenge of a lifetime, really. Though her pre-“dead but undead” personality is generally rather meek, afraid to step on too many toes, Sheila’s transformation into that derogatory word–zombie–reinvigorates her entire outlook on life in many different ways (including how she approaches sex, which is to say, carnally).

At first, the only sign of her “shift” occurs while showing a property with her husband, Joel (Timothy Olyphant). The pair thrives on the shtick of being a married couple in real estate, only it’s hard to sell a home to someone after you’ve just yakked up about ten thousand pounds worth of bile…plus a strange, unclassifiable organ. “So Then A Bat Or A Monkey” establishes the strange and unexpected plot development in Sheila’s life after she assumes she recovers from a not so routine sickness, only to find she doesn’t bleed anymore and seems to have an irrepressible appetite for raw meat–specifically the human kind. By the end of the pilot, she’s been unable to resist eating a recently moved from Sacramento real estate agent named Gary (Nathan Fillion) to quell her appetite. But whatever, he’s from Sacramento.

This leaves us on the edge of our seat for episode two, “We Can’t Kill People!”, in which Sheila and Joel must deal with burying the massacred body far, far away. But hey, they’ve been working together as a team since high school so all they have to do is apply that level of togetherness to what they’re doing now: killing people, evidently. The rule is, however, that they have to be bad people. This proves surprisingly difficult to come across–indeed, in one of the many Starbucks allusive pieces of dialogue, Joel remarks, “Why is it so hard to find someone to kill? Every time I get coffee, there’s some dipshit yelling at the barista.” Luckily Joel and Sheila’s daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), directs them to the attention of a drug dealer who just broke her underage friend’s heart by ending things with her abruptly–or what she perceives as abruptly. Unfortunately for an increasingly ravenous Sheila, Joel “bonds with her dinner” while she tends to some real estate business.

Meanwhile, Abby, dealing with the bizarre changes in both her parents’ behavior, often turns to her lovelorn and highly knowledgeable-on-the-paranormal neighbor, Eric (Skyler Gisondo). Though Eric is overtly obsessed with her, Abby is clearly partial to the benefits of his friendship–like when he consoles her in her knowledge of her mother lying to her about eating people as opposed to mere raw meat by taking her to a comic bookstore where we’re met with a beautiful homage to Broad City in the form of Bevers (John Gemberling) as its rule stickler employee shouting, “Abby!”. It is Eric’s stepdad/psycho cop, Dan (Ricardo Chavira), that eventually helps (while also hurting) the Hammonds find Sheila’s next kill by blackmailing Joel after finding Gary’s finger in their backyard–he is, after all, a caricature of the nosy neighbor, putting Gladys Kravitz to shame.

While Sheila tries to look on the bright side of Dan’s obsession with vigilante justice fitting in quite nicely with her need to only feed on bad people, Joel is far more squeamish about it–which only proves Sheila’s point that it was sexist for Dan to assume that Joel killed Gary. In any event, Sheila is more than willing to fend for herself on one of her next kills post-Loki (DeObia Oparei), a murderous drug dealer Dan demands to have “taken care of” by Joel. But soon, the duo is tipped of to just how unstable Dan might be with his meal recommendations after Sheila tracks her next kill to the current lover of Dan’s wife, Lisa Palmer (Mary Elizabeth Ellis). Realizing in time that Dan only wants him dead for selfish purposes as opposed to an objective perspective on his “badness,” Sheila and Joel get a new sense of just how unhinged and crooked he truly is.

And yet, finding the right people to eat is still the least of the Hammonds’ problems, Joel’s obsession with a couple pages extracted from an ancient Serbian book holding the key to Sheila’s potential return to “normal.” Latently, however, Sheila knows that a large part of her is happy with this change, as it has given her a sense of confidence she had never previously been able to claim–the question is, at what cost will she fight to keep it?

Unafraid to get darker than the blood from a fresh cut, creator Victor Fresco brings some much needed satire to the proverbial airwaves. It’s sort of like Dexter meets Jennifer’s Body. The casting of Barrymore in the lead is merely the cherry on top of that kind of combination.