‘Santa Clarita Diet’ Season 2 Has Heart (Delicious, Delicious Heart)

Meat’s back on the menu with round two of Netflix’s premiere cannibalistic suburban sitcom.
Santa Clarita Diet Netflix
By  · Published on April 3rd, 2018

Meat’s back on the menu with round two of Netflix’s premiere cannibalistic suburban sitcom.

The first season of Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet came to a close just as the rhythms of its bewildering undead antics were finding their grotesque groove. Like a dutifully set table, the stakes had been delineated, the generic boundaries well-marked, and the web of lies precariously entangled. Appetites whetted, our departure from the Hammonds and their hilariously macabre misfortune only left us hungry for more.

The second season of Victor Fresco’s situational horror comedy picks up right where it left off, with the intemperately flesh-hungry and deteriorating realtor Sheila Hammond (a terminally perky Drew Barrymore) chained up in the basement for her own good. Irreverent tone and turducken-level genre blending well established, season two hits the ground running, getting to the meat of the matter, fleshing out its mythology and giving its characters room to breathe. While gaping narrative bits are swiftly sutured (Sheila wastes no time escaping her basement prison), it doesn’t take long for all new (and neglected) complications to take their place. 

We’re swiftly reintroduced to the rest of the gang: Sheila’s loyal, eternally overwhelmed husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant), defiant teenage daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) and the neighborhood dork Eric, played to perfection by Skyler Gisondo. You’d be hard-pressed to find a cast having more fun than that of Santa Clarita Diet. Their joy is palpable: Barrymore straddles the somehow not entirely fine line between go-getter domestic goddess and compulsive serial homicide offender; Hewson drips with requisite teenage piss and vinegar, and Gisondo is endearingly vulnerable and hapless. But the real standout is Olyphant, who delivers a cracklingly manic performance as a man who hasn’t known peace since the first season’s pilot.

Joining the old guard, season two sees a handful of new faces, including a fantastically foul-mouthed realtor couple played by Joel McHale and Maggie Lawson, as well as a mysterious duo, played by Zachary Knighton and Jee Young Han, who hint at an appropriately goofy mythos of secret societies, global undead threats, and the epidemic’s origins. Without treading too brazenly into the “unnecessarily overexplaining things” swamp, season two does a solid job of keeping its eyes on the proverbial road: the global consequences and mechanics of Sheila’s condition are addressed, but never positioned as the heart of what makes Santa Clarita Diet tick.

Santa Clarita Diet’s second season focuses primarily on the Hammond family’s attempts to find their new normal. Which is a breath of fresh air amidst the zombie genre’s traditionally fatalistic wrist-wringing about undead family members. “We can make this work” is so rarely allowed to run its course, let alone met with such unironic optimism.

Knowing they can never recapture what they had before, the Hammonds try to carve out space where they can survive together, even as their lives descend further and further into the madness of their circumstance. They invest in a storage unit where they can kill and store victims to establish a sense of murder/life balance; they make the basement homier; they try to take everything in stride, to listen to each other’s needs, and to make compromises. For better or worse, in spite of everything, Joel and Sheila still care about their jobs as real estate agents and make time to pursue their careers. The show treats Joel’s need to do the things that make him feel grounded—writing Yelp reviews, building bookshelves, smoking blunts—with the same emotional weight as Sheila’s insatiable need to feast on human flesh. And there’s something both hilarious and heartfelt about this familial give and take that feels at home in a show that is, for all its genre-play, fundamentally about family. About the big and mundane things we do for the folks, we care about to make sure that they’re doing okay. 

Despite all the balls in the air—least of all an increasingly complex web of lies, an expanding mythology, and a seemingly untenable sense of lunacy—Fresco’s grip on the creative reigns is tight, and his vision clear. The most flagrant first season jitters have been smoothed out, freeing everyone up to have fun with all the chaos that is Santa Clarita Diet. This season, Barrymore’s performance is more defined, the tone more consistent, and the refreshing shift in focus from “cover-up” to “survival” pays off in spades. It’s a blast to watch Joel and Sheila squirm and contort themselves around the rightly suspicious Deputy Anne (Nathalie Morales), to see Joel unravel like yarn the moment he thinks he can speak freely about his murderous misadventures, to watch the Hammonds balance being increasingly competent murderers with setting an example for their authority-adverse daughter. 

Seconds were great—how’s about thirds?

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All two seasons of Santa Clarita Diet are available to stream on Netflix.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).