What’s making me happy this week, March 7

santaclaritadietImagine a version of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in which Ozzie kills people so that Harriet Nelson may eat them.

That’s Netflix’s The Santa Clarita Diet.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play Sheila and Joel, two successful realtors in the eponymous town. Their problems are typical of upper middle-class American suburbanites: Sheila wishes she were more spontaneous, Joel longs for the nerve to confront his obnoxious neighbor and their teenage daughter, Abby (played by Liv Hewson) wants to be anywhere but Santa Clarita.

Then Shelia (briefly) dies after a staggering bout of vomiting and finds herself riding the high an unbridled id, a revived libido and an overwhelming need to consume human flesh.

That’s in the first 10 minutes.

Drew is fantastic as Shelia, and her performance here reminds me of how well she can do physical comedy. Whether it’s a perfectly timed expression of exasperation or an unexpected prat fall, Drew makes me genuinely laugh.

Liv Hewson is great as the sardonic teen. Fortunately her performance never falls into that of the stereotypically sullen teen with well-off parents. She holds her own against Barrymore and Olyphant, making Abby into an interesting character, not just a caricature.

But really, this is Timothy Olyphant’s show.

As Shelia’s “condition” worsens – she goes from eating raw beef to drinking human smoothies while power-walking in a track suit – the strain on Joel’s face and his demeanor becomes delightfully pronounced. He’s a pot of boiling water whose rattling lid barely contains the bubbling, steaming cauldron beneath, and he plays it wonderfully. From his facial expressions to the forced, almost insane smile and “NO, REALLY, IT’S FINE” demeanor, Olyphant is a delight to watch.

There’s a bit for everyone here: The show is funny, with many quotable lines I won’t spoil. The show is gory. Keep a finger on the fast-forward button if the thought of Drew Barrymore eating a foot turns you off. The show has zombie lore, if that’s something you’re into. Lastly, there are some great cameos.

When the movie Scream was released, I said, “Any movie that kills Drew Barrymore within the first 10 minutes isn’t fooling around.” The same can be said of a TV show that turns her into a flesh-eating zombie in the same amount of time. Yes it’s a little gory, but it’s also clever, witty, funny and fun. Go now and watch The Santa Clarita Diet. Just, you know. After you’ve eaten.

You should be watching Fleabag

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Fleabag is a television comedy from BBC 3 available in the US via Amazon Prime.* It’s written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays a single Londoner who’s getting by after a personal tragedy.

That sounds dark. It is.

Fleabag is also supremely funny. It is intelligent. Waller-Bridge makes these asides to the camera that are compelling, endearing and reveal the program’s origin as a one-woman show. On stage, of course, such a practice is invisible, as the performer speaks directly to the audience the whole time. On TV, it can be cutsey, gimmicky or otherwise off-putting. That’s not the case here. Waller-Bridge is brilliant with these moments. The way the asides are used changes in such a smart way as the show goes on, but I can’t say more about that.

The season is six episodes long, and it’s clear that Waller-Bridge knows exactly where she’s going with all this from the start. It gets funnier and raunchier (there’s some sex, FYI) as it drives to a conclusion.

Speaking of: loss hangs over this story. The character has a tenuous relationship with her support system. Bad behavior is the norm and you have to decide, do I root for this person or not? Ultimately she’s a sympathetic character, even as a blatant misanthrope with poor impulse control.

Here’s a bit of a warning: do not watch this on a plan, on a train or anywhere else conducive to a wayward glance from a stranger. But don’t let that scare you away. It’s so beautifully cast and acted, that you’re going to love it.

*No Prime? No problem. You can watch episode one for free right now, and sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime, which will give you more than enough time to binge all six episodes. 

What’s making me happy this week – July 22

Here’s a look at some of the amazing, hilarious and thoughtful things that are making me happy this week.

My Dad Wrote a Porno

mdwapOpen your podcast app. Delete every show you’ve got in there and then subscribe to My Dad Wrote a Porno. Why? Because it’s the only thing you’ll want to listen to for several days.

My Dad Wrote a Porno is a podcast done by a delightful British guy Jamie Morton and a couple of this friends. Apparently a couple of years ago, Jamie’s father asked him to read a few pages of a book he had written. Turns out it was an erotic novel called “Belinda Blinked*,” and it’s every bit as glorious as you imagine self-published erotica with that title would be.

Belinda is the sexy salesperson from the pots and pans company called Steels Pans. She does whatever she can to land buyers for her company’s cookware.

Jamie and his co-hosts James Cooper and BBC Radio 1’s Alice Levine are absolutely hilarious in their take-down of the book. Best of all, Jamie’s Dad — who goes by the amazing pen name Rocky Flintstone — loves the show and all of the attention that his work is getting. When you do a “so bad it’s good” kind of thing, there’s the tendency for the commentary to get mean-spirited. That’s not the case here. It’s all in good fun. Red plastic handcuffs and all.

This probably goes without saying, but the hosts spend each episode reading from a story with very adult situations and language. So be warned.

HarmonQuest

hqIn HarmonQuest, writer, producer and podcaster Dan Harmon plays a D&D-style role playing game (I think it’s Pathfinder, actually) in front of a live studio audience with a few friends and one rotating guest star. These games are typically funny enough to listen to, but throw in the audience and the fact that the adventures are animated, and you’ve got a goblin-slaying, dragon-taunting, orc loaf sandwich eating good time.

The gang plays for laughs and guest stars like John HodgmanAubrey PlazaRon Funches and Paul F. Tompkins get right into it, even when they’ve never played RPG’s before.

You can watch the first episode for free on YouTube, but you’ll have to pony up for a SeeSo subscription ($3.99/mo.) for the rest.

Stranger Things

stThis eight-episode suspence series from Netflix starring Winona Ryder is a sheer delight. It’s a real “kids on bikes” show that is presented though such a dutiful 80’s lens that the decade itself is character. Stranger Things scratches a nostalgia itch for me in a completely satisfying way.

But it’s not just a love letter to the 80’s. Stranger Things is a fantastic little show.

Four young friends are playing Dungeons and Dragons in a basement when mom insists it’s time for the game the end and the kids to go home. One of the kids goes missing along the way, and the mystery begins. There are classic thrills and chills here, and none of the torture porn that’s so popular these days.

Stranger Things feels like an after-school special, a Stephen King story, and early Spielberg all at once. And boy, does it nail the 80’s feel perfectly, from fashion to music cues, in a way that I haven’t seen since House of the Devil.

It’s a compelling show that just works, from the young actors who play the kids (they’re fantastic) to the synth-y, bass-y music and gorgeous type on the title, right on up to the casting of Winona Ryder who does a fantastic job as the harried, lower-middle-class mother who only wants to find her son. I’m already jones-ing for season two.

Ged’s Pokéwall

pw

My friend Ged Meheux of the Iconfactory has made a Pokéball-inspired wallpaper for your iPhone 5 Series, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad and iPad Pro.

Bring your Pokémon GO to another level and be the envy of your Pikachu-chasing friends.

*In fact, the book’s full title is, “Belinda Blinked;  A modern story of sex, erotica and passion. How the sexiest sales girl in business earns her huge bonus by being the best at removing her high heels.”