Santa Clarita Diet review – this tasty zomcom is back with more bite

Drew Barrymore returns for more flesh-eating – and there’s a chatty decapitated head in the basement and a Nazi-hunting neighbour doing God’s work. Gobble it up

There are few things more joyful than the sight of Drew Barrymore having fun. I always feel she’s earned it. And never does she seem to have more fun than as undead suburban mum – or “mombie”, if you will – in zombie sitcom – or “zomcom”, if you will – Santa Clarita Diet, whose third series has just dropped with a bloody squelch on Netflix.

Fans will recall that we left Sheila (Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant) Hammond after they had just blown up the clam farm responsible for turning Sheila and others into undead flesh-eaters and had been discovered harbouring a still-talking decapitated head in their basement by their police officer neighbour Anne. That’s Gary, whom Sheila killed when she was still learning to curb her new murderous instincts, but who came back to life, because, well, it’s a zomcom.

The third series expands the Hammonds’ and the show’s universe. Anne is cleaving close, having decided that the resurrected Sheila is a divine instrument and that Anne’s purpose is to help her to murder Nazis. For her, it’s God’s work, news of which is to be shared with her church. For Sheila, it’s the most ethically securable lunch, and very much to be kept to themselves. Rival realtors Chris and Christa Caldwell – magnificently vicious creations both – are back, Gary’s decomposing head (they forgot his serum) is full of ideas for the Hammonds’ estate agency, and the relationship between Abby (Liv Hewson) and Eric (Skyler Gisondo, who has all the command of Michael Cera without the tics) is deepening without losing any of its almost heartbreaking charm or laughs.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Oliphant in Santa Clarita Diet season 3.
Portrait of a strained marriage … Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant. Photograph: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

The Hammonds are still on a fairly tight murder schedule, but rather than it forming the centrepiece of every episode, this season is letting the Serbian mythology, which seems to hold the key to explaining Sheila’s predicament, take a more prominent role. I hope it takes a while to unlock, because one of the people from that vampire-’n’-assorted-other-lore-rich country who has arrived in California to track Sheila and her ilk down is played by Goran Višnjić, displaying the kind of comic chops you never dreamed of when he was poor, tormented Dr Luka Kovač in ER.

So there are changes (the gore remains a constant, and still not quite cartoonish enough to stop me needing a sick bucket), but Santa Clarita Diet’s core strength remains: the portrait of a marriage under comic but emotionally resonant strain. It’s played for laughs – and one-liners, visual gags, callbacks and fleeting asides abound (“And there’s so many more of them around these days!” says a delighted Joel as they rejoice briefly in their Nazis-as-lobster-tank-for-Sheila idea) – but it asks us what we’d do for love and how far we’d go for our partners. Joel has just about got used to his new husbandly role as accessory to multiple murder, but in season three the couple begin to realise the other ramifications of Sheila’s condition. Her immortality means she will outlive her entire family – unless she bites them and they join her in her bloodthirsty ways.

Santa Clarita Diet remains a gorgeously flavourful one. Fill up.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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