Years from now when we look back at the type of entertainment that was made during the inflammatory presidential era of Donald Trump, Netflix’s John Waters-like zombie comedy Santa Clarita Diet is bound to be a benchmark.
Created by Victor Fresco, who has worked as an EP on such classic broadcast sitcoms as Mad About You and Evening Shade, Santa Clarita Diet stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as married realtors Sheila and Joel Hammond. However, she’s got a big problem, and it’s not that she missed her sales quota, rather she’s contracted a zombie virus and is currently devouring all the nasty people around her.
Meanwhile, her understanding husband is along for the ride, trying to quell Sheila. But he’s also a victim of circumstance since he’s an accomplice to her murders. As the couple vie to bring their lives to a degree of normalcy, and keep Sheila’s virus under control in season 2, a greater dilemma looms in keeping their crimes a secret from the police officer Anne Garcia (Natalie Morales) who lives next door: Ya see, the Hammonds have more bodies to hide from their neighbor than the Jennings do from theirs, FBI agent Stan Beeman in FX’s The Americans.
“The state of the world right now is so f***king crazy, that you can’t have this sort of Leave It to Beaver 1950s situational comedy,” says Barrymore about how Santa Clarita Diet is ripe for these offbeat times, ” You have to have some level of craziness, but I want to go back to a surprising tenderness because I feel like that is life.”
“In this crazy world we need to laugh and I wanted to be part of something funny, like that was medicine for me to survive in this current climate,” says Barrymore about why she made Santa Clarita Diet part of her diverse acting canon which includes such movies as E.T., Scream, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, 50 First Dates and her Emmy-nominated turn in the HBO movie Grey Gardens playing the eccentric pack rat Jackie Kennedy Onassis cousin Little Edie Bouvier Beale.
“The show is a metaphor for gluttony; about a marriage and a relationship. From E.T., I’ve been raised on this rule that you can go anywhere as long as it is in suburbia, because we all live on planet Earth and have a backyard and a family of some type, and I can be transported from aliens, zombies, time travel or the undead, but I need to go back to the humanity of everyday life and how relationships function,” explains Barrymore on how the series’ zaniness is grounded in the loving marriage of two people.
Another attraction for Barrymore to Santa Clarita Diet was that the series was set in the vicinity of San Fernando Valley, her home sweet home.
“I grew up in the valley, if you couldn’t tell by my accent; I’m stuck with this cadence for life because I lived in the 818 (area code) from 7 to 13,” Barrymore told TV Academy voters at a recent Awardsline screening.
For Timothy Olyphant, who has made a reputation for himself in his portrayal of tough guys like sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO’s Deadwood and U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens on FX’s Justified, Santa Clarita Diet repped a wonderful 180-degree turn into comedy, a genre he’s dabbled in before in such movies as the 20th Century Fox comedy The Girl Next Door.
“I read it, it was funny, and it’s not often people think of you for anything outside of what you’ve played before. It’s nice when those opportunities come along,” says Olyphant who was also Emmy nominated for his best drama acting turn on Justified.
While Santa Clarita Diet could have been set in any suburban enclave, Fresco, who was familiar with the town that’s 25 miles north of Hollywood, found the setting prime for its “newness of development”; a housing community where realtors are king amid a population that has exploded next to two-fold to 182K over the last 40 years.
“I was interested in a show about empowerment versus entitlement. I felt like we’re in a place where we all want to be empowered, and feel like what we do and who we are is important, and the flip side of that is to be entitled and to feel like you deserve what you have. I thought it would be interesting to have a character when you’re undead and your Id is released; that it’s great to be empowered. And now Sheila is struggling with ‘How do I get what I want 100% of the time, but still stay in a relationship’, and you don’t want to flip over into entitlement,” explains Fresco about his inspirations for the series.
Season 3, which Fresco is currently in the writers’ room on, will continue to be set in, yes, Santa Clarita, however, there was a moment in the season 2 finale when it appeared the Hammonds might be on the lam (most likely headed east on the 14 to Las Vegas).
On the show, the couple have such a romantic carnal attraction toward one another that it’s surprising that Sheila hasn’t devoured Joel to pieces yet.
“She almost did,” jokes Olyphant about his spicy love scenes with Barrymore, “I feel we needed a safe word.”
“I did smack you,” laughs Barrymore, “It is my job and we were having fun and I wanted to give it my all.”
Adds the Scream actress about playing a zombie, “It’s a pleasure to go to work everyday and vomit up hair balls.”