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Some love for "Santa Clarita Diet"

Santa Clarita Diet breaks no new ground.  It's a dark comedy about A) zombies (ho-hum) and B) poking fun at the superficiality and internalized despair of suburban middle class life in the United States - which, come to think of it, is pretty much the only depiction of suburban middle class life that exists outside of network TV sitcoms.

It also came out at a time when nobody was asking for it.  We had just wrapped up the 2016 election, guys - I think we were all well aware of the savage thoughts that go through our neighbors' heads each day.

But despite all that... this is a pretty dang good show.

It helps that Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant are fantastic as the leads.  Barrymore brings excellent energy and timing to her performance and reminds you why she keeps getting work despite having a spotty resume, and Olyphant is just... not Olyphant.  I mean, no offense to the guy, but I've always kinda seen him as the "Generic White Guy #23" type that you put in your movie when you need somebody to stand in the corner and look pissed off.  But here?  He's an actual person.  With energy.  And charm.  He and Barrymore have fantastic chemistry and really nail down the tone of "terrified" and "exuberant" that the show demands of them.

The supporting cast does pretty good work, too.  Liv Hewson elevates the material beyond the routine "Angry Teenage Girl" character you're expecting - she's neither too dramatic, nor too snarky, nor too wise-beyond-her-years.  Just a believable teenager who plays well off the dynamic her parents have going.  And Skyler Gisondo gets to do another terrific turn as the awkward boy next door - basically doing the same thing he did in the Vacation remake, which, as I noted in my review of it, was one of only two or three things worth watching that movie for.

A good cast alone isn't enough to make this well-worn material as compelling as it is.  What takes it across the line is the suspense.

It takes a couple episodes to get into the right groove, but once you're there, you realize that Santa Clarita Diet's main thrust is the tension behind its protagonists trying to get away with murder.  It's all the stuff that made season 1 of Dexter terrific, but unlike season 6 of Dexter, it's intentionally funny.

And once you get halfway through the first season, it starts to click.  The characters are self-aware enough to realize the monsters they're becoming, yet they also embrace the change and dive into it headfirst.  And that is where Santa Clarita Diet distinguishes itself from other material that's very much in the same vein.  It's gleefully indulgent in its violence and its depravity; whatever second-guesses the characters have about the main character's zombification are immediately excused and forgotten about.  Sure, the lesson here may be that "man is the true monster after all," but nobody's whining about it - they're just putting on bibs and saying, "Let's eat.  Amen!"

And that, as it turns out, is really funny.

I often complain that dark comedies aren't dark enough - not so here.  Santa Clarita Diet doesn't pull any punches.  When people die, they die brutally and violently.  When people make bad choices, they go all-in.  There's a sheen of naive "gee golly, things will work out" optimism, but beneath that is all the acidic comedy a show like this needs.  And yet, despite its content, it manages to perfectly balance that tightrope walk without being mean-spirited.  The monsters here may kill, sure, but they're not dicks about it.

Santa Clarita Diet was a fantastic surprise.  I'm happy to have my first impressions shattered, and I'm looking forward to the next season.