It starts with a sharp pain in her abdomen, one that worries her husband and daughter. Is it food poisoning? Maybe from bad clams? Then comes the vomiting. Linda Blair-in-“The Exorcist” vomiting. A comically obscene amount of vomiting. And then she feels fine, good even. Except that her heart has stopped beating and she’s dead.
Well, sort of. She’s still walking and talking, looking normal and living her life, only now she has an insatiable hunger for human flesh.
So goes the new, perky black comedy “The Santa Clarita Diet,” all 10 episodes of which are streaming on Netflix. Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play Sheila and Joel, former high school sweethearts turned married suburban real-estate agents who were sleep walking into middle age while raising their teenage daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), before Sheila turned into an undead cannibal.
Her transformation baffles her family, but looking for an antidote takes a back seat to a more pressing issue – getting Sheila fed. Finding victims who “deserve” to die and devouring them without leaving evidence is no easy task, especially when balancing your career and family life. This leads Sheila to earnestly tell Joel things like: “I know we have to kill somebody today, but we have to be parents every day.”
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With lines like that, creator Victor Fresco (“Better Off Ted”) shows he’s skilled at leveraging the absurdity he’s unleashed. He’s also not afraid to put some gore on screen, and “Santa Clarita Diet,” has plenty off it – blood, severed body parts, more blood – to the point of distraction. But there’s no denying the cleverness of the show’s high concept.
Apparently, zombies operate on unrestrained id, and Sheila, once a demure presence, finds herself more alive being dead. Even the sex is better. Barrymore, who can convey lovable ditziness better than any other actress, sinks her teeth into the role – literally. But it’s Olyphant who’s the scene-stealer, playing against his laconic tough-guy past (“Deadwood,” “Justified”) to flesh out uptight stoner Joel, who just wants to love his wife, no matter what she’s become.
It takes a lot of work to maintain the show’s out-there premise and arch humor, and certain episodes have stretches that strain. But if there’s a single reason to watch “Santa Clarita Diet,” it’s for its absolute devotion to silliness. In the fourth episode, for example, Joel distracts a nosy neighbor by doing a new slinky-hip dance he’s just invented. It’s a throwaway scene, but I’m still laughing at it.
The Santa Clarita Diet
Streaming on Netflix