Netflix original series “Santa Clarita Diet” struggles in first season

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Jeff Turner

“Santa Clarita Diet” is a great pitch. There are opportunities for clever jabs at suburbia and some atmospheric, memorable moments. Showrunner Victor Fresno must have been proud of the idea.

The show also has some game performances, Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore don’t have the most stellar resumes, but they offer up animated, committed performances. A shame, then, that the writing betrays them. “Santa Clarita Diet” is a sitcom wanting to be something better, but the scripts just aren’t smart enough.

Sheila and Joel Hammond (Barrymore and Olyphant respectively) are realtors in California. One day, Sheila begins vomiting uncontrollably, pukes out her heart, and “dies.” She wakes up, but as it turns out, she can only eat meat, and as is eventually discovered, human flesh. This eventually leads to the Hammonds having to find ways to track down people and murder them so that Sheila can eat.

It’s a good dynamic, Joel wants to be supportive of his wife who he has been with for over half his life, someone who he sees as his soulmate; and Sheila undergoes a sort of spiritual awakening where she moves from being a little stiff to being more in tune with her id. A critique that could be offered is where does this spiritual awakening tie into her eating people? “Santa Clarita Diet” doesn’t often think about that. This is the problem, the characters felt underdeveloped, and the show isn’t terribly interested in exploring them beyond the initial established traits.

The pilot is a bit of a slog, until Sheila has her incident there really isn’t much to gain or absorb. Afterwards it improves, if only slightly. Nathan Fillion was an interesting choice to play Gary, the primary antagonist of the episode. It doesn’t really get interesting until the end. Episode 2 demonstrates something common in “Santa Clarita Diet,” which is that it gets better when it gets darker. What’s fun is how Barrymore or Olyphant can draw a laugh solely based on giving the right look or saying the right thing at the right time.

Now that the premise is set up, Episode 3 is around where “Santa Clarita Diet” starts to fall apart. Now that we know that Joel is an aimless wuss and that his wife likes to kill and eat people, the writers struggle with where to take them next. The development of the drug dealer is strong, and there are various strong moments sprinkled throughout, but the show is beginning to show its cracks.

Episode 4 follows Sheila’s erratic behavior as the couple’s daughter risks getting suspended. There is a good moment with Joel and his daughter where they wonder whether or not Sheila is truly gone for good. However, for the most part, the traits displayed in the episode are ones that were already established. There’s some good acting on display but the viewer is left not knowing much more than they did before.

“Santa Clarita Diet” is a show with a lot of potential that is marred by lackadaisical writing. It’s easy to bounce back from something like that, however. Worse shows have done it before.