Review: Santa Clarita Diet excels at double negatives

Netflix's new show remains entertaining through its averageness

Drew Barrymore in her character as Sheila Hammond in Netflix's new series, Santa Clarita Diet. 
via Netflix

Santa Clarita Diet is "not-not" a lot of things. It's not-not fun. It's not-not something that makes me laugh out loud. And it's not-not intriguing to see Drew Barrymore bite off Nathan Fillion's fingers. But it's also not-not bad.

Let me take a step back. Netflix's newest original, Santa Clarita Diet stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as Sheila and Joel Hammond, a stereotypical Southern California married real-estate team who live with their rebellious teenage daughter in a depressingly normal suburb. The suburb gets a little less normal when Sheila projectile vomits all over a house she's showing. The suburb gets downright wacky when Sheila discovers she has no pulse, her blood is basically tar and she has a craving for human flesh.

The rest of the show is essentially a repetition of that plot summary, banking on the audience remaining so shocked by the zombie element that they won't notice that the rest of the show is pretty much fluff. Watching the show feels like reading a rushed essay written at 2 a.m. the night before: good ideas, poor execution.

The jokes aren't tight enough to be fast-paced and they’re often followed by a few seconds of silence so that you can reflect on how average the joke really was. Barrymore and Olyphant do enough of a good job that you can understand what they’re going for, while still remaining barely amused.

However, Barrymore's wackiness feels a little low-energy most of the time and Olyphant alternates between supportive and freaked out a little too often to be consistent. Everything else in the show feels equally half-hearted.

The teenage daughter isn’t that rebellious, the villainous neighbour isn’t that much of a threat, and the show’s resident weirdo isn’t that weird. Mix all these partial developments together and you get some straight-up, run-of-the-mill fluff.

The tricky part is that the fluff is kind of good, like a cotton candy-type fluff. I must admit, I did laugh out loud more than once an episode and started caring for the characters’ well-being after a few episodes.

I even had enough of a desire to find out what happens next that I allowed Netflix’s 15 second countdown between episodes progress to zero. I wouldn’t call the show particularly stimulating, as you might expect from a zombie flick, but sometimes it can be fun to turn your brain off for half an hour and let Barrymore’s quirks take the wheel.

Santa Clarita Diet takes place in a realm between outrageous and reserved, which is where most of television consumers reside. But if you think the show’s premise or tone sounds fun, you’re probably better off watching the similarly toned, but better, Better Off Ted — a humourous sitcom about an evil and morally ambiguous corporation.

If you want a way to kill time that will do the bare minimum to keep you entertained, then maybe watch Santa Clarita Diet. Or play with a ball of yarn. Up to you.

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