Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet probably should have worn out its gimmicky high concept by now, but oddly enough, the series keeps evolving. Frankly, it’s getting better every year. Yes, Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore are still playing realtors (Joel and Sheila Hammond) who are attempting to live a quiet-ish life in suburbia and instill family values in their teenage daughter. Sheila’s also still undead, and Joel’s trying to figure out how to best cope with this reality while supporting his wife’s need to murder people for sustenance. All the while, they’re trying to hide body parts from cops and suspicious neighbors rather than send Sheila packing to roam the earth like zombies are prone to do. It’s a completely ridiculous show and sheer fun, but in season three, the series continues to find new ways to transcend its own absurdity and pose significant questions (and answers) about the human condition.
Not only that, but this series has grown addictive for unexpected reasons. Many people, I suspect, began watching for the promise of Timothy Olyphant playing a very atypical Timothy Olyphant role. He must relish this gig — he’s not wearing a hat, nor is he playing a lawman or some other hard-boiled character, and his character is completely not in control of what’s happening to him. It’s a joy to watch him lose his sh*t on a consistent basis because he never gets to do that onscreen. However, it became clear somewhere around the midpoint of season one that Olyphant’s presence wasn’t the only reason to keep watching. Drew Barrymore is also living it up while finally putting her lifetime of cutie-pie/sultry-seductress roles behind her. As a team, they wield an unexpected level of chemistry and bounce off each other with flawless comedic timing.
The brilliant writing also continues this season and reaches far beyond silliness. The audiences is rooted into the family’s plight after the second season dug deep into the source of the zombie virus with satisfying results. With season 3, the series extends its mythological reach while propelling the narrative even further. The Hammonds have accepted that this madness is their new normal, and Sheila suddenly realizes that she’s not simply undead but immortal — a realization that threatens to transform her marriage. She grows existential and wonders whether her undead state can and should serve a higher purpose. Joel, meanwhile, begins to fear that his wife might no longer need him, while all he wants to do is protect his family despite feeling useless. Olyphant continues to be deliciously passive aggressive and panicky at different turns while proving that he’s more than just a pretty swagger as the stakes grow higher.
What results is a complex, layered season on top of what was already very complicated fun. And as insane as much of what happens in this series really is, there’s still a grounded nature to it all. These characters react in realistic ways to their unrealistic problems, and bad decisions abound with consequences. These are flawed people, but they’re lovable and worth rooting for.
The latest trailer gave away how Joel’s mulling over whether to also become a zombie, but that doesn’t overtake the whole season. The writers throw obstacle after obstacle to normalcy at Joel and Sheila. Shady acquaintances and more stray undead folks won’t let them relax for more than a minute, and it’s really a wonder that they can function in their stressed-out, amped-up condition. The relentless acceleration of doom continues while the family must contend when a group of called the Knights of Serbia, who are vowing to assassinate the undead. Meanwhile, Nazis and MRAs deserve to be eaten, and maybe the zombie thing will become a pandemic, yet for sure, Mr. Ball Legs is becoming a real pain in the ass.
Creator Victor Fresco delights in hurling his flailing characters forward, all while they’d like to take a few steps back. The supporting cast is still holding its own in all of it. Teenage Abby (Liv Hewson) achieves new levels of badassery while her best friend, Eric (Skyler Gisondo), moves past his former doormat status to become an essential player. Joel McHale and Maggie Lawson are excellent at antagonizing the Hammonds at work, and — oh yes — Nathan Fillion’s smartass, disembodied head continues to reside in their basement. He, too, finds a new purpose and growth while continuing to decay, and that’s a testament to this series leaving no avenue unexplored while avoiding overkill.
Really, if you haven’t begun watching this series, give it a whirl. It’s not all blood and guts, though there’s plenty of that. Tension-filled dynamics and sinister agendas about, all of which are carefully balanced with spot-on moments of levity. The poor Hammonds only want to make it out of this mess alive, all while wondering what it truly means to be alive. It’s surprisingly deep stuff, but the breezy episodes are easy to gobble up while various characters zig in and out, sometimes adding to the chaos, and at other times, grounding the series ever so slightly before it floats right off the planet. This whole messy show is absolutely nuts while also being touching and genuine and emotional. Oh, and the setup for season four is *kisses chef fingers* incredibly ballsy, and very well played. The Hammonds had better be back.
Netflix’s ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ season three arrives on March 29.