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  • Lauren Bayerl

Santa Clarita Diet: A Zombie Story with Lots of Heart

People are disappearing in the sunny suburb of Santa Clarita, California—yet the culprits are not who you’d expect. In fact, they don’t want this to be happening either.

Nestled into the house at the end of the neighborhood cul de sac, high school sweethearts Joel and Sheila Hammond have built a cookie-cutter life together: they have a loving marriage, a daughter named Abby, and the two work together as realtors. Life isn’t entirely perfect for the trio, though. Sheila (Drew Barrymore) yearns to be a more daring person and is frustrated with her indecisiveness on a daily basis. Abby (Liv Hewson) thinks that having her own car and a break from her parents would significantly improve her life. Joel (Timothy Olyphant)...just wants a toaster oven that actually works.

During what should have been a routine house showing for the couple, Sheila suddenly grows violently ill: so ill, in fact, that she dies as a result. When Joel discovers her body in the bathroom, sitting next to what may be a small organ and covered in an unnatural amount of vomit, he is shocked to see his wife spring back to life in his arms.

Though Sheila insists that she feels great, the family soon discovers a major issue: she has no heartbeat. On the plus side: she finally feels more daring and bold.

Unsure of what else to do, Abby suggests that her parents pay a visit to an “expert.” The entire family’s fate suddenly lies in the hands of their next-door neighbor, Eric (Skyler Gisondo), who is bullied by his own step-father and harbors a massive crush on Abby. Eric informs the Hammonds that Sheila did, in fact, die. She is now undead and fully ruled by her id, hence the major shift in attitude. Eric speculates that she should be fine, though they shouldn’t let her get too hungry. He also advises Joel that he may have to kill her one day, if necessary.

With this advice in mind, the Hammonds then begin to adjust to their new life: Sheila is very happy with her newfound confidence (even though she now eats raw meat for every meal), while Joel is simply trying his best. As his wife dazzles the neighbors with her new bold personality, Joel struggles to figure out how to return the Range Rover she had bought that morning. Sheila convinces all of her friends that they should “live their best life,” and she is determined to do the same. That is until she accidentally eats their coworker.

As the plot unfolds over the course of three seasons, a surprisingly heart-warming and silly story emerges from what, content-wise, could have been an extremely dark show. One driving force behind this is the characters. A witty and unhinged script guides the unconventional storyline that, when it comes down to it, is all about family. Joel and Sheila–despite one being dead–depict a loveable television couple that the audience not only roots for, but admires. Where the pilot depicted a version of Sheila that was unhappy with herself as a person, she begins to celebrate her lack of restraints as she adjusts to being undead. Joel constantly faces ethical dilemmas as a result of his wife’s condition, but he always chooses to do whatever morally gray task it takes to help her. Though the audience knows that murder is–obviously– bad, they can’t help but root for the Hammonds’ successes and admire Joel and Sheila’s love for each other. Abby’s bond with her parents (and Eric, who is always willing to help) is also strengthened over the course of the series, as the Hammonds work together to both preserve their family and live life as normally as possible.

Santa Clarita Diet is truly one of my favorite comedies, and it is one that I can still rewatch and laugh with to this day. Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant put on amazing performances as these unique characters: their dynamic as the realtor couple has left everyone I introduce the show to saying, “I really need a Joel to my Sheila.”

Most importantly, don’t let the zombies scare you away from watching this unconventional series: they’ll steal your heart in the end.


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