Santa Clarita Diet: Timothy Olyphant Deserves So Much Better Than This ZzzomCom

If you had asked me what I thought a Drew Barrymore comedy series might look like, Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet would be just about exactly what I’d expect:  silly, goofy unreality with a slightly dark twist (my initial reaction to the series announcement still feels spot on). Really, there are only two three surprises about this ZomCom that we mightn’t have seen coming:

  1.  It’s not on network television.
  2.  The writing and the “comedy” veer between terrible and boring, inducing more sympathetic smiling than actual laughs.
  3.   And this one’s the biggest shock of them all:  Timothy Olyphant can’t save it.

Oh Raylan, you deserve so much better than this!

Created and written by Victor Fresco (Better Off Ted, My Name Is Earl), Santa Clarita’s extremely thin premise — realtor, Sheila Hammond (Barrymore) discovers she is inexplicably undead, resulting in a need for immediate and major changes in the Hammond household — reads more like Desperate Housewives (and boasting one of that series’ stars, Ricardo Chavira) than anything you’ve come to expect from a Netflix original. As for her new health problem and accompanying dietary needs, that plays out about as difficult as being vegan in an average California town; no worries, the family that murders bad guys together stays together, and deteriorating body parts are either hidden, or popped back into place. See, Honey! We can do this! With Olyphant’s superior comedic talent dancing in and around Barrymore’s stilted-though-earnest line readings, it feels like there could be a better show hidden somewhere underneath the attempted gross outs and cheap gags, but for now we’re left disappointed and often flat-out bored. Well, except for all the gawking …

It feels terrible to rip on Drew Barrymore, who many of us have loved and rooted for since watching her childhood movies, but try as we might, it’s impossible to see past an extremely affable actress who’s trying so very hard to throw every bit of enthusiasm she has into any line that might have a dream to one day, truly be funny. But, that’s just it; they’re lines and Barrymore repeats them as if reading from SNL cue cards — rarely does anything more come across; in her pauses, it’s as though she’s waiting to hear our nonexistent laughter. If wanting to be funny were the meter for actuality, Barrymore might be able to squeeze out a hit, but as it stands, getting through the entirety of Clarita‘s ten short episodes feels more like a chore. Buoyed here and there by clear camaraderie and the talents of her two main co-stars, Olyphant and standout, Liv Hewson (who plays daughter, Abby),

there’s still not enough glue to hold things together. A few episodes in, it felt like Charlie Brown’s teacher was “wah wah wah-ing” in between my longing glances at Olyphant (who, with each added grey hair, only seems to become more attractive), and mentally tuning out until the next cartoonish victim chase. And, that’s exactly what SCD feels like; mindless Tom and Jerry-ish distraction that lulls into a stupor, more than it’s amusing or fun.

Unless, maybe you …

There are a couple good cameos, including an excellent turn by Nathan Fillion (in a winking Justified nod, H/T Nadine), and Abby’s exploits with her friend Eric (played to nerdy perfection by Skyler Gisondo) are a cute aside, but none of it adds up to a show I’d want to keep watching. If Santa Clarita Diet ends up with a second season, it’s going to need better writing and for Barrymore to truly find her comedy footing.

Oh, and could someone teach the cast how to say “realtor”?

Santa Clarita Diet is currently streaming on Netflix.

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over eight years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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  • Kala

    1. Until you guys all started piping up, I had no freaking idea that wasn’t how one pronounces “realtor.” And while I have great affection for you, Davis, I’m pretty sure I will never change.

    2. The Olyphantastic is doing his goddamn best, but this show’s just not very good. The laughs are few and far in between and some of the writing is flat-out AWFUL. There’s some bit about “humping, like that rescue dog did to the little girl at the Rite Aid” and I can’t help but wonder if this is supposed to funny. I’ve been keeping quiet though, because a SHOCKING number of people seem to be enjoying the hell out of this show. So thanks for keeping it one hundred, because I was starting to think there was something wrong with me.

    • Heh.

      Based on the first teaser, I wasn’t going to watch. Like you, I saw so many people cheering it, so thought my initial impression might have been wrong. It wasn’t.

  • ChainedVase

    I will admit I only watched the first two episodes, but it’s because, I dunno? There was no “there” there. Like, there was no narrative drive to keep watching. I watched it, I saw what they were doing, it was mildly amusing, but that’s it. Olyphant was charming as hell but that wasn’t enough for me.

  • Nadiney

    I sat and watched it over..a day and a few times, Olyphant did have me in hysterics because he is just automatically that funny. But definitely, looking back, it just doesn’t all gel.

    I loved Better Off Ted (I just realised how much Ted’s daughter in that show looks like a younger Abby!) because for that show, for the story, the absurdism worked. It was a group of people working for a beningnly evil conglomeration. Between the experiments gone wrong, the more ‘normal’ Ted trying to hold things together and Portia DeRossi’s executive insanity it all just came together. What really sold it though was the fake adverts for the company where they’d proudly brag about their creepy cloning technology or something equally weird and off.

    In My Name Is Earl, there were the occasional COPS style episodes, too. These self referential moments, reminding the audience subtly that this isn’t the real world and thus the absurdism works, are vital in this kind of comedy.

    SCD has none of that.It does have a bunch of ads in that exact vein, but they’re promotional, airing before the show started, but nothing during to keep that silliness in context. I feel like if the show had some of that going on mid show, in episode, it might save the rest by just reframing the context slightly.

    As it is, the jokes, set up and punchline are absurd but for some reason it’s sort of presented like a more straight TV sitcom where the gag is all about timing and delivery rather than the content of the joke, and obviously Drew isn’t great at that (Olyphant is). She’s too sincere in her delivery, too earnest, clearly thinking the line is just funniest on its own and not really adding any flavour to it. She’s always had a funny….over precious way of delivering lines. It doesn’t work everywhere. it doesn’t work most places. And I think she’s only had a pass this long because as you say, she’s Drew. We’re protective of her sweetness and goodness and we want her to do well but…she’s not great.

    if for season 2, they just did away with the Better Off Ted style and we got a real dark comedy with proper delivery, I think it could work and I actually think Drew could be great at it. She needs to playit like she did Julia in the Wedding Singer throw some real emotion in there.

    Id watch Olyfantastic do nearly anything, but I am really hoping this isn’t all he’s got lined up post Justified (same way I hope Jacob Pitts remains a fairly important character to Sneaky Pete but also that Sneaky Pete is done with Vince, the dumbest of bad guys, at least until I write my not at all rip off new show, Lustified)