Photo: Netflix

The Walking Dead got ya down with its depressing, emotionally draining zombie apocalypse? Netflix has just the thing for that: Drew Barrymore as a suburban zombie whose death gives her a new lease on life. Santa Clarita Diet opens with the Hammond family—Sheila (Barrymore), husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and daughter Abby (Liv Hewson)—living the quiet, suburban life in the titular town, which is located about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

But it quickly turns into a weird, fun comedy when Sheila dies, becomes undead, and starts feasting on raw meat and human flesh. From there, it works on a lot of levels. First, there’s the basic zombie comedy. The premiere episode has shades of iZombie and Zombieland, with a little Dexter thrown in in the form of keeping everything a secret from the Hammonds’ neighbors, who both happen to be cops.

Things seem normal with Sheila—and they mostly are, except for that whole disemboweling and chowing down on the new douchey guy from work thing. RIP, Nathan Fillion’s Gary. Your character was the worst, but more Fillion on TV is never a bad thing. So now the Hammonds have a dark secret, which they share with the sheriff neighbor’s stepson. The show obviously plays it for laughs, but the danger of being caught does provide tension to give the comedy some stakes.

Beyond the zombie comedy, however, is a look at fairly boring suburbanites—ones who care about J-Law’s hair cut or become frustrated over the toaster oven knob tension—who break out of their mundane lives and start following their ids. Giving off something of a Desperate Housewives or Weeds vibe, Santa Clarita Diet puts Barrymore to excellent use as the suburban mom and real estate agent spreading her free-spirit wings. It’s a little surprising this is Barrymore’s first real foray into TV, what with the influx of Peak TV programming over the last decade or so, but she’s a lot of fun here, so this was a solid first TV effort.

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Another surprising turn is Olyphant as the unassuming, tries-real-hard suburban dad. After watching him on Justified for six years, it might have been hard to shake the Raylan Givens swagger, both for Olyphant and in the minds of the viewers. But he pulls it off here, though it was slightly disappointing to watch Joel Hammond back down from a bar fight, since Raylan would not have brooked with any such nonsense from Gary.

But Barrymore and Olyphant make a believable married couple and the idea of how they handle this new turn of events is an intriguing one, especially with a daughter throw into the mix. Hewson not only looks like she could be the offspring of her on-screen parents, but her character is all in with her mother’s new id tendencies. But it definitely raises the question of how long before a teenage girl can’t take her mother following every whim and desire.

The premiere also raises other, more mythology-based questions that will be fun to explore: How did this happen to Sheila? Is it happening to anyone else? Can she spread it to other people? What happens if she doesn’t eat and gets aggressive? Presumably, her family will not, as neighbor kid Eric (Skyler Gisondo) advises, “bash her brains in,” so how do they contain her if she gets out of control? Maybe the show doesn’t want to delve too deeply into such matters, but the opportunity is definitely there to explore some broader zombie issues in addition to the “bored suburbanites loosening up” issues.

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Stray observations

  • My Psych-loving heart was delighted to see young Shawn 2.0 as neighbor kid Eric.
  • “I feel like a bus station shit in my mouth.”
    How did you guys feel about the vomit? Was it too much? Or did having such copious amounts bring the gag (ahem) back around to being funny? Because seriously, that was A LOT of vomit.
  • “Maybe I wanna have fun, drive a sexy car, dance like a sex lunatic.”
  • “Weirdest foreplay ever!”
  • Hi, I’m Andrea. This is my first time writing for The A.V. Club, excited to be here.

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