Pop Culturing: In Season 3, 'Santa Clarita Diet' Settles Into its Strange Groove

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday March 29, 2019

Drew Barrymore, left, and Timothy Olyphant, right, in a scene from "Santa Clarita Diet."
Drew Barrymore, left, and Timothy Olyphant, right, in a scene from "Santa Clarita Diet."  (Source:Saeed Adyani / Netflix)

Nazis, spider-leg flesh balls, environmental terrorism, sassy zombies and Drew Barrymore, oh my!

Three seasons into "Santa Clarita Diet," the deeply strange comedy that is the best example of a Netflix algorithmic series (a.k.a. "What the hell is this show and who is it for?"), finally settles into its incredibly weird groove. "Santa Clarita Diet" has been an odd series since its 2017 debut, struggling with its tone and its out-there ideas, but something finally clicks in Season 3, which hits the streaming service on Friday. Or maybe, it's just me and that it took this long for me to fall under the show's spell.

Season 3 picks up right where Season 2 left off. Married realtor couple Sheila (the always charming Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant), are continuing to adjust to Sheila's condition — that she's undead and feeds off human meat. As it did in previous seasons, "Santa Clarita Diet" continues to explore what it means to be a bad person. Good-natured Sheila and Joel need to kill people in order to keep Sheila satiated, but they don't want to murder just anybody. The couple, along with their only daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) and her more-than-friend/boy genius Eric (Skyler Gisondo), come together to decide just whom to off for Shelia's meals. But mostly, Sheila and co. go after Nazis, which happen to populate the titular California city. Other folks who populate Sheila's diet are those who threaten their existence. Among those people are members of the shadowy cabal, the Knights of Serbia — a group of assassins bent on destroying zombies. They're descendant of people from Serbia who stopped a zombie outbreak 500 years ago. Anytime one of these dudes gets close to the Hammond family, Sheila and Joel figure out a way to turn the threat into Sheila's lunch.

Drew Barrymore in a scene from "Santa Clarita Diet." Photo credit: Lara Solanki / Netflix

Despite its wackiness, "Santa Clarita" goes after some interesting themes in Season 3. One of the show's recurring questions involves the relationship between Sheila and Joel. Sheila being undead means that she ostensibly can live forever. Thanks to a special serum she took in Season 2, she's locked into her current age and body for eternity (or until someone stabs her in the brain). During Season 3, Sheila proposes to Joel that she bite him and make him undead so the two can live together as they are now for thousands of years. This freaks out Joel, who is unsure this is what he really wants. Of course, this causes a rift between the couple and anytime "Santa Clarita Diet" brings up this argument is when the show is at its most interesting.

Much of the rest of Season 3 deals with the fallout of Season 2. Anne (a great Natalie Morales), an ultra-religious sheriff's deputy dating Lisa (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), Eric's sassy mother, learns that Sheila is undead and has decided she's a messenger from God and dedicates her life to worshiping her. Meanwhile, the F.B.I. begin investigating an explosion at a fracking site, which was caused by Abby and Eric.

"Santa Clarita Diet" feels like one of those Netflix shows that isn't talked about a lot but is massively popular — something like "Fuller House" or "Grace and Frankie," the latter being renewed for a sixth season ahead of its Season 5 debut earlier this year. We'll never know how popular "Santa Clarita Diet" actually is, of course, as Netflix notoriously withholds its data and ratings from the public and from even those involved with creating the show. It should be noted that the comedy's third season debuts not long after the beloved and critically acclaimed "One Day at a Time" rebooted was nixed by the streaming giant.

Drew Barrymore, left, and Timothy Olyphant, right, in a scene from "Santa Clarita Diet." Photo credit: Saeed Adyani / Netflix

"We've made the very difficult decision not to renew 'One Day At A Time' for a fourth season," Netflix wrote in a tweet. "The choice did not come easily — we spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season work but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season."

A report from Variety suggests this could be a new trend for Netflix, which also recently canceled the small comedy "Friends from College" (not to mention the slew of Marvel shows it axed, but that's a slightly different story). When speaking to the publication, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the company "can have small shows that do very well, we can have expensive shows that do very well;" but added: "The only case where we end up canceling is where it's pretty expensive and not so much viewing."

Variety adds: "In other words: it's more or less business as usual for Netflix when it comes to canceling shows. Still, that in itself is notable, simply because Netflix has so many times defied the rules of the business, be it by eschewing ratings or with the introduction of binge-watching."

Though its full of star power with Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant in lead roles, and is punctuated with visual effects, "Santa Clarita Diet" definitely falls on the small side of Netflix's slate. The comedy may be finally figuring itself out but it could be too late.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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