The hot topic in my Facebook feed today has been the new Netflix comedy-horror gorefest Santa Clarita Diet. One critic called it ‘Desperate Housewives meets Dexter’; on another forum I saw ‘Something About Mary with more blood’. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste (that will be funnier to you if you’ve seen it) but it’s actually got a whole lot to offer in terms of relevant zeitgeist-y subtext. Here’s why you should be watching Santa Clarita Diet!
Think ‘Netflix original’ comedy that’s actually original!
Rom com favourite Drew Barrymore plays Sheila – former prom queen, now happily married and living the suburban dream/nightmare with her husband and daughter. Quirky dark horse Timothy Olyphant plays her devoted hubby Joel – former star quarterback who’s fallen, like so many of us, into a life he never imagined for himself.
With precious little build up, Sheila gets the stomach bug to end them all and vomits herself to death … or something. SPOILERS: Mom is now a Mombie. The rest of the series covers the family’s quest to figure out how and why their lives have been turned upside down, whilst ensuring Mom doesn’t eat the neighbours.
The series takes awhile to warm up, with the first episodes a little stilted while the script draws you into this ludicrous scenario. Once you’ve settled in, you’ll find a witty and very timely satire on American family values. In fact, the way it tackles gender roles, feminism, parenthood and inter generational conflict are far more ‘original’, even ‘shocking’, than the periodic zombie blood baths.
This is what a feminist looks like
Sheila embodies all the stereotypes of middle-class America; working as a real estate agent, trying to be the perfect mother and keeping a tidy house. After her ‘rebirth’, she is driven entirely by the ‘id’ (as the geeky, zombie-expert teen next door explains), or primal instinct. She stands up to an obnoxious school principal, tells it like it is to potential clients, encourages her daughter to ditch school and become a poet, uses foul language and has great sex with her husband. Let’s face it – if you didn’t have to eat human flesh, we’d all be signing up!
This idea of ‘becoming your true self’ isn’t revolutionary on TV. But in an America that’s throwing around policies to limit women’s rights over their own bodies – not to mention Pussy-Gate – the notion of putting aside societal expectations and taking down the patriarchal a-holes in your neighbourhood is less abstract than this unusual storyline might make it seem. After her first kill, Sheila literally eats the balls of a would-be rapist. So there.
What’s more, when Sheila eats, she really eats! No manners, no apologies, no counting of calories here. As the diet industry continues to rain its particular version of hell down upon us all, I can just picture the Santa Clarita Diet book on the shelf, next to Atkins and I Quit Sugar. Be your best self – whatever it takes!
Our relationship with violence
Santa Clarita Diet also comes hot on the heels of blockbusters like Game of Thrones and 50 Shades of Grey, which have contributed to a mass desensitization of viewers when it comes to sex and violence. The Dexter comparisons are apt, too, as Sheila’s need to feed means she must pick off worthy victims. This asks us to question our beliefs around whose life is more valuable than anyone else’s? If pushed, would you eat the drug dealer or the paedophile first? Or would you settle for a philanderer or road raging redneck?
I’m sure that last sentence made you a little uncomfortable. That whole set-up is repugnant, of course. But it’s somewhat surprising that the unsavory moral dilemmas and OTT blood and guts scenes played out for comic effect in Santa Clarita Diet are unpalatable to some of the same people who love Game of Thrones!
With my defensive, feminist hat on, the only reason I can see for this is that Sheila is a) a mother, b) attractive and c) not living in a quasi-medieval fantasy world in which horrendous, graphic criminal activity is entertaining. Is it her pretty, quietly spoken femininity that makes her hunger for fresh meat all the more abhorrent?
In terms of the suburban idyll, the script here is at its best when it’s playing with our preconceived ideas of ‘normal’. Next time you find yourself suffering, glassy-eyed through a day in the office while you ponder how to kick start your paleo diet, ask yourself who the real zombies are in our midst!
I’m not saying that everyone will find this funny. Your sense of humour is yours to enjoy! But I am saying that this show is worth a chance for presenting an original story that shines a light on many of the true ‘horrors’ playing out around us every day.