You'd think that with all the blood, guts, and brain matter constantly being splattered all over Netflix's Santa Clarita Diet, the chief focus of the show would be on Sheila's unfortunate (well, depending on who you ask) undead affliction. To some extent, it is. But the pulpy, beating heart of the half-hour comedy is the strength of her relationship with husband Joel. Cut through the murder, zombie serums, and giant Serbian textbooks, and there you'll find one of the most well-adjusted couples on TV. Even if one of them isn't exactly, well, alive.
While the Hammonds — played by Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, who have chemistry for days — make bloody blunder after blunder in season one as they attempt to figure out how to keep Sheila alive, avoid the scrutiny of the local police, and raise their teenage daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), the second season sees them whittling their messy process down to a science. Dexter-like "kill rooms," Nazis, and realtor rivalries abound, but none of it is enough to shake Joel and Sheila.
"The very essence of the show is the contradiction between these extraordinary circumstances," Olyphant recently told POPSUGAR and a group of other reporters during an interview in February about the upcoming second season. "We have to kill people for her to eat them and survive, and also maintain some sense of sanity and normalcy of a marriage and family and raising a teenage daughter."
To be fair, this is a lighthearted, half-hour comedy, so true devastation is never lurking too close to actually harm the Hammonds. That's also what makes Santa Clarita one of the most enjoyable shows to binge on Netflix — it's dark in the sense that we're watching Barrymore coat herself in the innards of Santa Clarita's worst citizens for dinner, but it never steers the audience toward actual heartbreak (seeing Joel very briefly get locked up in a mental institution at the end of season one is about as close as it comes). It's completely comfortable with the unique niche it's carved out as a zany, slightly nausea-inducing, laugh-out-loud look at life for a formerly mundane suburban couple.
It's that balance of the normal and the "shockingly abnormal" that keeps Barrymore thrilled to come back to work each season, which she explained during our interview with an anecdote about the whiplash you might get from listening to Sheila and Joel's conversations.
"If a person has something tragic going on in the world, they still try to talk about other things."
"There's a scene in episode eight or something, when we're really getting to the crux of what's really going on and the mystery is unsolving. Everything is high-octane, we're speaking faster than ever! And then I interrupt him to go, 'By the way, where are the garden hoses, and why the f*ck do they keep disappearing?' and Joel has a theory about it. But just the term 'garden hose' is so real-life, normal, mundane bullsh*t . . . I think that's any couple that's in these circumstances. If a person has something tragic going on in the world, they still try to talk about other things. Life can't help it, it's a 24-hour cycle."
Joel and Sheila aren't the only reasons that make season two worth watching, however. Without spoiling anything, a familiar face returns, and the entire storyline is just as insane as it is hilarious (which is actually a pretty good way to sum up Santa Clarita Diet as a whole).
"There's a character [reintroduced] this year, and it was one of my favourite ideas," Olyphant teased. "When [creator Victor Fresco] brought that up, because we had spoken a few months before we shot going over some of the things they were thinking, well, when he said that, I was like, 'Stop! That has to happen. That's genius.' That character has a life throughout. It's such an unexpected, wonderful character this year."
Barrymore quickly chimed in, noting that she was ready to do just about anything to make the plot twist happen. "When Victor told it to me, I said I would give up my salary, and if the person says they're unavailable or can't do it, I'm gonna show up at their house and camp out until they agree."
It's not always the case that a second season of a TV show can blow its first out of the water, but Santa Clarita Diet definitely comes close. With Sheila, Joel, and Abby's bond grounding each of the wacky directions the plot shoots off in, the show really finds its groove without sinking into pure camp.
"This year was so wonderfully inspired. You hope when you do a TV show that you're lucky enough to have a life and be able to come back in future seasons. The wonderful thing about coming back is that you get another chance to step up to the plate and take a swing at it," Olyphant said. "You try to make the most out of the opportunity . . . it's just a great thing, to come back and feel like the show got better. The performances got better, got deeper. In this case, funnier as well."
Despite all the stomach-turning set pieces — for instance, intestines draped around Sheila and Joel's kitchen — season two of Santa Clarita Diet is a deliciously entertaining TV snack. Catch it when it hits Netflix on March 23.