Santa Clarita Diet

Can we be honest about most Netflix original programming? It’s just not very good. A lot of good ideas, a lot of interesting concepts, and then these really lame shows. I’ve only tried “acclaimed series” Grace and Frankie, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, new episodes of Black Mirror and now this, and the one constant is that they’re all aggressively “okay.” Many of them have good concepts and good stars—who wouldn’t watch anything starring Lily Tomlin?—and then the shows just suck. Adding bewilderment is the positive reviews they get, making me think that network sitcoms must be so bad, this kind of thing is considered “pretty good.” But I must disclose that all of the above [sitcoms, not Black Mirror] have been so lame I haven’t made it to the end of a single episode.

Anyway, hopes were high for this. I generally like Drew Barrymore, I definitely like Nathan Fillion, and I love, love, love Timothy Olyphant. And I love any satire of suburbia, no matter how broad, and I love any satire of bourgeois Southern Californians, and I can get into the concept of a zombie causing havoc in a picture-perfect suburban community. So I was really up for it!

The first thing I noticed is that Drew Barrymore is wildly overacting. Every little comment and gesture has to be just a bit overdone. By the midpoint of the episode, at which point I turned it off, I concluded that the director was instructing everyone to overact, because the problem is endemic to the entire cast, although Barrymore is by far the worst offender.

Then there’s the show’s overwhelming air of smugness. The series is suffused with the sense that all of this is so funny and clever, despite the fact that the quirk is all canned—and forced—which makes the otherwise okay jokes fall flat. And satire of suburbia, while it can be wonderful, is not exactly a new form. So when you have a parody of the soulless retail clerk who knows nothing about the store’s products, we’ve seen the same thing so many times it’s not really as much of a devastating satirical zinger as the show seems to think, and when the show has her ostentatiously blink twice to show that she’s a cow-like moron, it edges into insulting the viewer, that we might think this is so outrageous and right on. Speaking of insult, how about the extended verbal explanation that ‘zombies are symbols of Americans mindlessly consuming without thought to the consequences?’

Not to mention that numerous characters bypass quirky to become candidates for restraining orders [again, in the first 15 minutes of the series] such as a cop neighbor demanding to know what our main couple is doing in their own home, and a man “defending” Barrymore against her husband, as though he’s an abuser, within 15 seconds of his trying to have an average [i.e. not heated argument] conversation with her. That’s not quirky, that’s mentally ill.

The overwhelming impression is that the show’s creator rarely, and perhaps never, leaves LA. Of someone whose reality consists of show business, and whose social existence consists of the insular, moneyed Southern California world he thinks he’s satirizing, and that we’re all going to be blown away by his devastating insights. The show’s tone is constantly begging us for congratulation of how incredibly clever it is, and, again, maybe if your whole reality consists of sitcoms…

One also has to wonder about the Netflix model in which an entire series is created in a vacuum in which no one is actually watching it, unable to respond to what is working or not. The common word again is: insular.  And yes, I only watched 15 minutes, but again, how dare you demand hours of my time to see if your insipid little series is worth it?

The tragedy of all this is that Timothy Olyphant is, once again, brilliant. He finds a way to make the overwrought writing [and the writing, oh dear God…] sound plausible coming out of a human, and be charming and magnetic and funny while he’s doing it. How this guy is no longer in movies is beyond me, although a series like this is an egregious insult to his talents and, frankly, something he needs to be rescued from. It’s too bad that there’s a whole series of him being hilarious, but I won’t watch it because the rest of it such a stinker. But that’s the world we live in today.

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4 thoughts on “Santa Clarita Diet

  1. Give Stranger Things a shot if you haven’t already, it’s got that special something that JJ Abrams strives for but can never seem to reach. Chiefly, Winona Ryder

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    • Stranger Things delivered on the promise of Super 8, re: 80’s nostalgia (horror, sci-fi, and fantasy in particular). Super 8 was nothing other than a cinematic valentine (to put it politely) to Spielberg.

      Scott, you might enjoy Olyphant in Justified.

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    • Totally would be amazing, SMG and Olyphant together, but I suspect the problem is the writer/director, since everyone in the series is broadly overacting.

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