Imagine 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.
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.