The inaugural 10-episode season of Netflix’s “Santa Clarita Diet” that debuted last year managed to charm despite its uneven tone due to the gross-out gags and charisma of leads Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as married couple Sheila and Joel Hammond. Sheila and Joel’s ideal life as self-absorbed suburban parents is turned upside-down when Sheila mysteriously falls ill, vomits up an obscene amount of bile and a little red ball, dies, and is revived with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Throw in a teenaged daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), self-destructing over mom’s new murderous diet, and season 1 managed to deliver on light-hearted gory hijinks that made it enjoyable though imperfect. The second season deftly avoids the sophomore slump, taking what worked and improving upon it in every way for a fantastic genre sitcom that shouldn’t be missed.
Picking right up from where the first season left off with Joel in psychiatric ward for trashing Principal Novak’s house, Sheila chained in the basement, and Abby and Eric working to create a serum to halt Sheila’s deterioration, the writers waste no time introducing new challenges to the Hammonds’ lives while juggling pre-existing challenges that came with Sheila’s undead status.
Sheila and Joel’s work life is compounded with the introduction to rival realtors Chris and Christa (Joel McHale and Maggie Lawson), the new friendship forming between Dan’s former partner Anne Garcia (Natalie Morales) and Sheila keeps the law uncomfortably close, and new revelations about Sheila’s undead origins bring a new set of complications that threaten not just the Hammonds, but potentially the world.
The expanded world building keeps things moving fast at an already briskly paced 10 episodes, but it also keeps the Hammonds’ story fresh and interesting. Genre shows are great for using the otherworldly and supernatural as metaphors for real-life problems, and that’s something in which “Santa Clarita Diet” excels. The emotional through-line of the Hammonds family bond keeps things centered no matter how far-fetched their situations get. Barrymore and Olyphant already had an instant chemistry from the series’ outset, but it only gets better as the series progresses; it’s easy to buy in to Sheila and Joel’s sturdy relationship that’s able to weather cannibalism, brushes with the law, work woes, and a daughter that’s taken on her mom’s impulsive nature.
The show has fully embraced its humor this season, too, now firmly aware of its identity and what tone it wants to portray. The gross-out gags and extreme gore is still there, but that’s not what makes this show work (though it helps) and the writers know it. The comedy works this time, and while there’s no weak link in the cast, the true MVP of the season is Olyphant. Series creator Victor Fresco has built the series around empowered women, but it’s Joel’s struggle with supporting his family and the moral dilemma that brings that makes for some of the most humorous moments of the season. That his wife’s undead status has also isolated him from his former friendships means he has to find unusual outlets to vent to, which leads to some of the funniest gags of the series.
Season two took the series from light-hearted entertainment to full-blown addictive television. It fully embraced its humor; this isn’t a horror comedy but a comedy-drama that happens to have undead cannibals and mysterious Serbian ball-leg things. There’s gore and a lot of gross-out gags, but more than that there’s a ton of heart. Sure, a lot of the plot points are over the top, but combined with the series’ pulse on reality, there’s an endless charm to it. Season two wrapped up a lot of major storylines while leaving looming threats for the Hammonds lurking ahead, which means season three needs to hurry up.