There’s gonna be a lot of reasons I don’t dig certain material. Maybe I have personality quirks. Maybe it’s something I don’t want to talk about. Maybe I get a feeling under my skin that something feels wrong … something is wrong. The Santa Clarita Diet rang wrong for me after the third episode. I knew that I’d have to expect the requisite tropes, attitudes, and reversals common in television (and cinema) produced these days. Uh-oh. I had to bring up “these days,” didn’t I? There’s something wrong with The Santa Clarita Diet. It’s a zombie-comedy-farce. Sounds good, so far.
The genealogy of the show is Serial Mom by way of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, with a little bit of Desperate Housewives thrown in. You have three distinct, arguably superior components all forming the nucleus of The Santa Clarita Diet. Variations on a theme. In Serial Mom, Kathleen Turner kills obnoxious people in exceedingly grisly ways while holding an upbeat note. The titular heroine of Buffy slays vampires while negotiating the dark humor of her complicated teenage life. In Desperate Housewives, entitled suburbanites behave in ghastly ways mostly from an obsession with their collective frustration, boredom, and artificially-sustained ennui.
Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play married real estate agents, Sheila and Joel Hammond, living in a planned community in California. This is bad news. When your leads are real estate agents, it’s basically a confession (by a writer/producer) that they have no idea what these people should do for a living, are under-qualified to do real work, or that they are unwilling to explain how these people should have unlimited, disposable income. Real estate agents always meet new and interesting people, make unbalanced sums of money at irregular intervals, and have to be attractive in some way. A real estate agent is one of those professions that require no particular skill-set, like children’s author or au pair; a hobby for bored house-wives or house-husbands.
Think about this way: if Joel was a dock-worker, and Sheila was an architect, the writer would have to do some homework to portray the characters accurately. A real estate agent sells houses, and that’s all they do. In reality, it’s extremely rare that real estate agents actually manage to sell their primary product on a regular basis, and when they do, it is equally rare that they are able to translate that income into a comfortable lifestyle. Better to contrive a set of circumstances directly related to selling houses: dealing with idiots and douchebags while maintaining a sunny attitude (like that’s never been done before).
The sunny attitude is another problem. The performances (all of them) are quirky; delivered with frustratingly energetic, bizarre up-talk (also know as high-rising terminal speech). It can get to be a bit much to watch these incredibly talented people delivering what amounts to one-note performances. We never see these people as human beings with problems. Zombie-comedy-farce. With all the quirks, it’s hard to keep track of the murder and various body parts. One day, in the middle of selling a house, Sheila vomits uncontrollably all over the lavishly-appointed upstairs bath. She coughs up what looks like a meatball and Joel puts it in a plastic bag.
Sheila appears to have died, but she is surprisingly energetic and ambulatory. Joel is supportive and maintains an annoyingly consistent and positive demeanor. It dawned on me watching the show that Joel is the “wife” in the relationship. Timothy Olyphant’s character (in addition to all of the male characters) is given deliberate short-shrift. The Santa Clarita Diet is a show about women, not zombies. It’s an oddly political bait-and-switch. This is a world of Karens, and believe me, I know I’m looking at this show through the “male gaze,” but I am a male. All of the female characters (even down to the pointless daughter character) are empowered vessels, and I don’t have a problem with male characters being marginalized. I do have a problem with the selective marginalization of characters because on their gender. That includes women.
I can also understand why women would be frustrated over 60 years of entertainment watching a systematic dismissal of female characters (the “male gaze”), but these portrayals are too obvious for a television show. There’s too much “revenge porn” on hand for any of this to be taken seriously. As with most societal problems, the real issue is superiority, not equity. It doesn’t appear to be enough to develop strong female characters, the male characters must be castrated in some way; either made to be completely ineffective or buffoonish sources of comic relief. Because of this, we come to the conclusion that a female character can only be strong when she is denigrating the contributions of men. This is an oddly offensive posture for a zombie-comedy-farce.
Here we have a one-note premise: working wife and mother becomes a zombie, but we don’t venture anywhere outside of that premise. We stay within the confines (mainly the frustration) of dealing with people trying to do the right thing. As the audience, we are required to endure that principle with our heroes. Rather than observe the absurdity, the audience is forced to take sides, and the only side we’re being offered is Sheila’s. There is no “evil lair” where all the baddies hang out so that we can, at least, get an idea of an ulterior motive. Goran Višnjić’s army of zombie hunters was a late addition to the show, but their motivations were never explained or even given closure, and one would assume zombie hunters would be good guys, but they were written to be heavies.
Every time our heroes come up against a suspected (even a marginal or distraction-related) plot, we’re given a reversal which leaves us no room for escape. The Serbian meatballs? The clams? The idiotic fracking misadventure? I think the producers were so tickled by the idea of zombies they forgot about the story. Anne, the sheriff, is problematic because she is required to use her lesbian sexuality to seduce the previous (read: dead) sheriff’s adulterous wife while the writers make her a buffoon because of her Christianity. When Anne discovers that Sheila has been killing people (bad people), she automatically arrives at the conclusion that Sheila is doing God’s work and supports her. Christians don’t actually behave like this. I know Christians. They’re not morons.
I know I’m not required to call out identity-based politics, but the writers do it, so I thought I’d have some fun. The writers have a very simple equation: homosexuality = good, Christianity = bad, women = good, men = bad hence Christian homosexual = good/bad and good/bad equals “buffoon.” Rinse and repeat. Adding injury to insult, Anne, without explanation, simply disappears from the show a couple of episodes into the third season. Indeed after watching Joel (and his daughter’s not-boyfriend, the infuriatingly beta Eric) worship these insane women repeatedly over three series, I cried out, “This show hates men!” My wife rolled her eyes. She does that a lot around me, but I made that statement right before the murder of a “Men’s Rights” activist.
Sheila (our hero) justifies the murder because of a subjective account of his “abusive” behavior from the dead man’s girlfriend! At this point in the show’s run, I couldn’t tell you if the writers/producers believe this stuff, or if they’re trying to score “woke” points. I also can’t tell you if I think each and every character on this show is written to be incredibly (and deliberately) stupid. I can tell you they know nothing of what real people do. It would require only a little rudimentary research. Two examples spring to mind. The first example is the “FBI Agent,” Tess Rogers (played by Shalita Grant) who never displays her badge, nor is she ever required to flash her badge. The second example is Sheila’s Meals-On-Wheels subplot (an appeal to her white guilt), wherein the writers think the meals are prepared by those delivering the meals. Meals-on-Wheels do not work that way! Good night!
I could go on like this, but I’ve made my point. The Santa Clarita Diet is a frustratingly stupid television series that could have benefited from something fresh, exciting, and new, but instead gave us more of the same thoughtless masturbatory social/political exercises designed to make the viewers ponder the meaning of alternative lifestyles. The Santa Clarita Diet is not about zombies. It’s a thinly-veiled, artificial attempt to level the political playing field between men and women by way of a zombie-comedy-farce. It also occurs to me (only now) that the Hammonds create every single problem they have to face, which also makes for an increasingly frustrating viewing experience. A little free advice? Be better. It doesn’t take much to be better. The Santa Clarita Diet is one of the worst television viewing experiences I’ve ever had to endure.
Of course, this is strictly my opinion, but I’m very perceptive.