Netflix today is letting its top talent loose before journalists from around the world (there’s a particularly strong contingent from Netflix-loving Brazil and Argentina) to promote its lineup of new programs and re-ups, including the much buzzed-about newbies Santa Clarita Diet and Dear White People.
An early panel with Santa Clarita stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant and showrunner Victor Fresco focused on the challenges of keeping the family together when depressive Mom has been transformed into a high-energy undead zombie with a need for human flesh. The trio took a mostly lighthearted approach to discussing the show, which balances Little Shop Of Horrors-style camp gore with old-fashioned suburban family sitcom (though admittedly extreme versions of both).
“You can put as much blood as you want on Drew Barrymore and she’s still adorable,” Olyphant said when asked the inevitable “how do you relate to your character” question. Fresco said that in developing the series, he wanted to raise the “life and death stakes you don’t see a lot of in comedy.”
“The undead to me felt like a good metaphor for narcissism,” he added. As for Barrymore, who’d been admittedly off the radar in recent years, she took the Dead/Undead, Zombie/Unzombie role because it came along at the right time:
“I was in a low point in my life and I read the script and it made me laugh,” she said, adding to several references to her own troubled times. “I wanted to do the show, having been trained in that 70s and 80s time of story telling.” She prefers stories grounded in home and family, she said, adding “I’ve never been to space,” (though she had a famous friend who had been). “This was about a marriage and I loved Victor’s theme about behavioral conflicts.”
“I think this woman is going through an awakening,” Barrymore said later in the panel. “A woman finding that when your life really does fall apart, don’t pitch everything. You find these new roads. It was a total metaphor for my life. Sheila is not me and I’m not Sheila, but this took me out of my sh!t and made me a happier person. I want comedy that comes out of an emotional thing.”
As for the show’s demands for ever more creative ways to mimic human flesh and bones, said Barrymore, “Every day it’s a fun cornucopia.”
At another panel with the creatives from several series, Dear White People creator and show runner Justin Simien said that making the series had been more liberating than the film that preceded it.
“I got to make something that was what I wanted to make,” he said, adding, “I was just waiting for them to cross things off the list,” but that never happened. “Dear White People is about a lot of things but it’s about See Me,” he said. “It took a bigger canvas than an hour and a half movie.”
He also savored some of the myth-busting aspects of the show. “There are certain myths in the industry – like foreign countries aren’t interested in black stories. It’s bullsh!t,” he said. “I’m so excited to dispel this particular myth. Whenever you tell the truth about experience, humans connect to it.”