The domestic sitcom has gotten a shakeup in recent years by circumventing its white-bread tendencies with solid network shows like Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat. But apart from these isolated isles of inventiveness, the genre’s in dire shape. The time couldn’t be riper for a skewering like the one offered by Santa Clarita Diet. Alas, Netflix’s 10-episode half-hour sitcom gets only a few stabs in before falling prey to the very conventions it’s trying to upset.
The plot—Drew Barrymore’s a suburban mom who becomes undead and craves human flesh for sustenance—could’ve been a potent hook on which to hang the family sitcom’s most tired trope: that families always stick together, no matter what. As Timothy Olyphant’s pothead husband tries to take his wife’s transformation in stride, the couple attempts to hide the situation from their teenage daughter (Liv Hewson) and their next-door neighbors. Standard comedic situations arise, except with more blood and puke.
The show finds its groove in its middle episodes, and the guest stars—including Thomas Lennon, Portia de Rossi, Nathan Fillion, Natalie Morales, and the excellent Mary Elizabeth Ellis—are consistently great. But the show never quite veers as dark, or as funny, as you expect it to. Frustratingly, Olyphant is the central character rather than Barrymore, even though her mysterious condition creates all the conflict. She remains a plot device rather than a fully drawn character.
While the middle stretches of Santa Clarita Diet offer blithe charms, the show should’ve been crueler—it’s about clean-cut suburbanites finding meat for Mom, but it neither interrogates their monstrous behavior nor locates the satiric heart of the material. (The season ends in an unsatisfying place, too, with a cliffhanger for cliffhanger’s sake.) Despite the gross-out humor, Santa Clarita Diet is way too easy to digest. A show like this needs more bite.