Feb 3, 2017

Channel Surfing: Santa Clarita Diet - "So Then a Bat or a Monkey"

Drew Barrymore
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
There's a certain rule of thumb about being a 21st century celebrity right now: you either make a superhero movie, or you do a Netflix show. The streaming service has produced some of the best quality work with some of Hollywood's biggest talents. It seems like a pretty big deal that America's sweetheart Drew Barrymore has officially joined the camp with her own show Santa Clarita Diet. With middling projects in recent years, it's hard to find reason against her signing up for something that could revive her career. So the question soon became what that would be. Would it be some satire on the suburban lifestyle, or would it be something grander that played to her comedic/dramatic strengths?
It isn't exactly a show that should be within a close radius of the word "sweetheart." The first episode ends with a stark, violent image of Barrymore eating someone's corpse (Nathan Fillion). In case it wasn't clear up to that last minute reveal, the show is about Barrymore turning into a suburban zombie. Not in the cute way like iZombie, but in the George A. Romero mold where guts hang from the face and the victims lay pitted on the floor, blood sharply colored and covering every inch of the ground. It's a grotesque image, and one that ends an episode that features a massive vomit scene and the aforementioned suburban culture getting enough of an exploration to make the transition plausible.
There's plenty to wonder about with the series' odd start. Fans of zombie culture will get more out of it, especially given that the graphic nature likely will turn many off. However, one has to wonder what drew Barrymore to this project. Had she sorely missed the profane crassness of her Tom Green days and needed to blow off some steam? It's an odd image, especially for an actress in a strange point of her career. It has plenty of satire underneath the surface, but it's still weird to see Barrymore of all people mixing her beauty with unabashed gore. Maybe this is Netflix trying to bank on resurrecting Winona Ryder's career with Stranger Things. Maybe this was all Barrymore's idea and it's secretly a more inspired satire of her career. Whatever the case may be, it's one of the most bizarre and off-putting shows Netflix has released so far.
With all of this said, the show is geared towards a strange satirical middle ground that doesn't succeed too well on either fronts. Barrymore's comedy chops in the first episode don't have time to make her interesting before she is injured in a giant vomit scene. It's grotesque and meant to discomfort the audience. Those willing to go into the dark humor will be rewarded probably, but it's still not the Barrymore comeback we deserve. She is shamelessly playing a zombie, and in ways that will probably grow hacky with time. It's not an inspired premise like iZombie. It's just a zombie show with a solid list of actors, which is a bummer. Maybe it will be good, but it's hard to imagine it being able to find laughs in more ways than biting off limbs. 

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