Santa Clarita Diet season 1 review: "Who knew the undead would feel right at home in California?"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Santa Clarita Diet mixes old school zombie story-telling with new wave, modern living to surprising effect. Who knew the undead would feel right at home in California?

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If you want a quick snapshot of what Santa Clarita Diet is all about; imagine Desperate Housewives meets Zombieland, except the ‘housewife’ is the flesh-eating monster and nowhere near as stuck up as Eva Longoria. Starring Drew Barrymore, this new Netflix Original imagines what it would be like for sweet wife, mother, and realtor Sheila to accidentally become a zombie. Spoiler: it’s actually a lot of fun apparently.

As with any movie or series about zombies, Santa Clarita Diet comes with its own rules about how zombies get made, kill, and generally behave, and while the show sticks with most of the well-known tropes there is one major difference: Being a zombie feels great. Sheila is so much more confident now, and she gets loads more done (even though she only sleeps two hours a night), and did you know she can parallel park in like, one move now? You get the idea. Think of zombism as the hot, new, food fad taking over California and you’ll understand what Santa Clarita Diet is driving at.

The success of the show lies in its short, bite-sized episodes which are packed to the brim with laugh out loud moments and don’t give the characters (or the audience) a moment to breathe before they’re onto the next one. Drew Barrymore proves once again what a fantastic comedic actress she is, but it’s Timothy Olyphant, playing her painfully supportive husband, who steals the show. It’s been a while since I’ve seen comedic timing and one liners like this and Joel has quickly become my new favourite TV character, if only for this one line: “Here’s a solution! Let’s all stop talking until I can think of what to say next.” Rounding out this family unit is Liv Hewson who plays the angsty teenager who doesn’t know what to do now her mother eats people but it’s her relationship with the geek and ‘zombie expert’ next door (Skyler Gisondo) that will hold your interest. Throw in a group of neighbours who are as dysfunctional as they are nosy and it turns out that keeping a secret like you’ve become a zombie is REALLY hard. 

In terms of depth, there’s very little in Santa Clarita Diet, but what do you expect from a show that has its main character eating fingers like they’re french fries? The main issue the Hammond family come up against is discovering that once Sheila has eaten man-flesh for the first time, she can’t go back to uncooked mince meat. Bummer. So, Joel casts aside his morals and decides to help his wife find some bad, bad person they can murder for her to eat and still sleep at night. Preferably, a young, single Hitler. This proves tricker than it at first seems as while there might be plenty of dubious characters rocking around in Cali, finding someone who actually deserves to be eaten alive is entirely different.

Add to this the fact that if Sheila doesn’t eat, she’ll go feral and attack her loved ones, the inevitable decay of her dead body, and Joel’s seemingly unrealistic mission to find a cure, and a happy ending seems unlikely. However, SCD manages to keep things upbeat and hilarious throughout by sheer force of will. Every gruesome moment is accompanied by a plucky family message, every violent encounter has a hidden joke, and every zombie scene is made better by the fact that it’s happening in the sunny and wholesome community of Santa Clarita. The juxtaposition of a potential undead apocalypse on the horizon and speed walking with your neighbours while sipping a (human) smoothie is why you should watch this show. 

Lauren O'Callaghan

Lauren O'Callaghan is the former Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar+. You'd typically find Lauren writing features and reviews about the latest and greatest in pop culture and entertainment, and assisting the teams at Total Film and SFX to bring their excellent content onto GamesRadar+. Lauren is now the digital marketing manager at the National Trust.