The Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix, which started airing on February 3rd, was eagerly anticipated and met with favorable reviews. I binged the whole thing in two days. It was easy to digest, funny, and full of zombie-licious gore. When it comes to the big, bad zombie, we’ve seen it all. It’s hard to find a fresh take on the flesh-eating monster that has pervaded pop culture. Izombie has its brain eating protagonist solving crimes and adopting the personalities of the people whose brain she eats. The Walking Dead needs no explanation and spawned a prequel show with its popularity. There is not a single aspect of the zombie mythos that hasn’t been explored in depth. Even though we have honestly seen it all, The Santa Clarita holds its own amongst the hoard of zombie-themed media. What gives Santa Clarita a bit of an edge is the way it parallels self-help culture and suburbanite living with brain dead zombies.
When it comes to the self-help section at your local book store, the titles are all similar and focus on the same things. Whether spouting a new diet trend, a decluttering method, how to visualize what you want, how to date better, feel better, or look better, it’s all been said before. The books are written all with one goal: to make us better, shed the bad, embrace the good. You know the drill. And they’re all written with a vague enough all-encompassing style to make sure it appeals to a wide audience. Now, before you give me an hour-long lecture about how The Secret changed your life, know I have no qualms about self-help books; I’ve read my fair share. However, I do think there is something to be said for how easily we can become fully obsessed with a new self-help trend or mantra, adopting it completely without totally thinking it through, and The Santa Clarita Diet aptly tackles this with humor and brevity.
Enter our heroine Sheila, played by Drew Barrymore. She is your typical working, low energy, loving mom and wife. Her and her husband Joel are successful realtors raising a teenage daughter. The first season revolves around Sheila’s change from drab to fab when she undergoes a sudden transformation which gives her a new zest for life, literally and figuratively. We are told, with the help of a paranormal expert, that Sheila has joined the ranks of the undead and that if she doesn’t put a lid on it, she’s going to become a bonafide zombie cliché. After her “change,” Drew’s character marvels at her new energy, her verve and vigor, her increased libido, her appetite, and how she no longer needs sleep like she used to. The paranormal expert, the next-door neighbor’s kid, talks about how Drew’s character is controlled by her ID. We all took psych 101, right? The ID, the part of our psyche that impulsively wants what it wants.
Sheila and her family try and live as normally as possible given the recent circumstances. Shelia talks about baking brownies and eating people in the same breath. She drops advice on her neighbors at the drop of a hat. She urges them to “be their best selves” and “pursue their passions.” She convinces her neighbor to have an affair and her other neighbor to follow John Legend on tour. This is where we see the brainwashing effect of the self-help mantras physically manifested in Sheila the zombie. She is a walking vision board. When she wants something, she goes out and gets it. She may be crumbling apart inside, but on the outside, she presents herself as a put-together woman who has it all and who loves her new energy.
Isn’t Drew’s new life what we all crave for and why we read those books? Okay, without the brain eating, obviously. We all want more energy, to have it all and do it all, to feel better and live better. Her neighbors are always asking her to spill her secrets. The culture of self-help often aimed at women claims to do just these things. And society often expects this. Even if we take gender out and look at both Sheila and her husband. They are both exhausted by their expected roles and self-help books claim to give you the tools to take the tired out of it. This is why I loved The Santa Clarita Diet. While on the surface it’s a hilarious new take on zombies, it also looks at the brainwashing, the zombification of our selves when we become obsessed with life-affirming and life-changing self-help books, cure all vitamins, and diets without thinking critically. How many people flooded the trails after reading Wild? How many women adopted Eat Pray Love as their new bible? We all can attest to at least one diet, trend, or life changing fad that has touched us in some way. The quick fix, the Band-Aid, the superficial changes we instill. In pursuit of being better we have a tendency to consume any mantra, diet, or book peddled on Good Morning America. And this isn’t to say there isn’t anything wrong with pursuing your “best self,” but in Santa Clarita, obsession and brainwashing turn deadly.
Even the name, similar to The South Beach Diet, gives you a clue that this isn’t just a show about zombies; it’s about how easily we can be swayed. It’s about the lengths we go to appear normal and how far we would go for the ones we love. There is a lot of meat to this seemingly simple laugh and gore fest.
The Santa Clarita Diet is filled with funny and touching moments. The cast is strong and the acting superb, each delivering their lines with the kind of pacing and quick wit that bring to mind Arrested Development. There is a lot of gore and gross-out humor. It’s about a zombie housewife, so you know there is going to be some blood and guts at the dinner table, but I wasn’t completely disgusted. I certainly hope we see another season, particularly because it ended in a cliffhanger.