Take a Bite Out of Santa Clarita Diet

Written Digesting a Critical Masterpiece by Bridger Cunningham

Image result for santa clarita dietWelcome to Santa Clarita, California, a majestic community located 35 miles northwest of Downtown LA.  It possesses low(er) crime rates than the Boyle Heights hole in the county, new(er) homes crafted with Tuscan love from the last decade, and neighbors who fit the idyllic, muted, suffocating neutral colors.

Does this sound like a phony sales pitch and/or a suburban nightmare full of cookie cutters?  Sounds about right.  The opening 10 minutes depicted the greatest element of horror possessed by this series -- the mundane, status seeking locals everyone is bred to fear/aspire to become.  That unruly horror bled like molecular acid as Drew Barrymore plastered a plush master bath in vomit with greater veracity than the Exorcist's pea-soup rebellion.  Then the series began.

This crafted the idyllic, seductive and addictive series at the foundation.

Clever writing is essential as it creates the bedrock for the premise.  And the actors labor the structure and beauty of the architecture.  The beauty of the finished product is the producers are capitalizing on the cast's strengths and prior experience.  Drew Barrymore is no stranger to science fiction, horror and seductive scandal.  She beamed as the sweet spot in ET, followed by frightful turns as a horror child in Firestarter and Cat's Eye, a cult classic which her kitty vanquished the troll living in the crowned trim.  Barrymore flirted with illicit seduction in Poison Ivy, flashed David Letterman, and became a hapless teenage opening slaughter in the launch of the Scream series.

The end product -- Barryomore scored a landmark role to be remembered by in the 2010's.  Barrymore's Shiela Hammond is the ideal amalgamation of Barrymore's prior crafts.  Sheila possesses a naivety (ET), seductiveness during her first kill (Poison Ivy) and battled a small rooster pest slighting her vitality (Cat's Eye).  On display is irrationality during her second slaughter (Firestarter) demonstrated vulnerability fused with desperation.  Lewd honesty with impulses came forth with a foul and direct vocalization (her Letterman stint), and Barrymore tugged at our heartstrings when her toe disintegrated in the tub, painting a horrific ending for a newly-established heroine (Scream).  The end product as Sheila Hammond is a hot mess of Barrymore's prior roles blended into a lovable heroine in a storage locker blender.

Image result for santa clarita dietTimothy Olyphant functions best as leading males pushed to the brink with slow-boiling tension, similar to his Santa Clarita alter Joel Hammond.  Vexing between heroic and villain, Olyphant works best in heroic roles in period pieces like Deadwood and Justified, and greater in villainy in roles like Scream 2, Live Free or Die Hard and The Girl Next Door.  Olyphant plays best as conflicted, and Joel is another card in the deck.  Another cliche of a high-school athlete who married the hot chick, Joel is having a midlife crisis instigated at his true love "going through the change."  Olyphant's Joel is poised to score greater character excavation than Barrymore's Sheila.

Next in the perfect casting order is Liv Hewson as she exhibits the same sass and confidence public Drew Barrymore shamelessly displayed in the 90's.  Adding to the credibility is Hewson is blessed with similar attributes to Barrymore in the 90's with her defined jaw and choppy chic hairdo.  Who better to pair with Hewson than Skyler Gisondo's Eric Bemis, a lovable green apple waiting to ripe into his prime.  Possessing the same green-eyed attributes as Griffin O'Neal (minus the substance abuse and criminal scandals), Gisondo refreshingly displays the youthful male legacy with his right of passage as he learns to stand his ground after being run through like a sidewalk.

Additional casting delights include Ricardo Chavira as bullying deputy neighbor Dan Palmer, a fitting retread to his Desperate Housewives role as overgrown bear Carlos Solis.  And what better to accent such suburban hell than Mary Elizabeth Ellis' perfectionist nightmare Lisa Palmer, whose duality possesses a greater tragedy than Sheila's own gruesome fate?  Santa Clarita Diet is rich and rife with colors.  Not the lovely primary colors or neutral tones of the backdrops.  Chocolate reds depict the ugliness of a heroine's deterioration as she struggles to regain the former life she lovingly crafted.  Nasty, olive greens paint vomit across a tainted life representing the point of no return as contaminated characters vomited an unidentified organ.  And the ruby-red smoothies showcase the false veneer Barrymore's Sheila struggled to force to keep up appearances.

The casting and production present the greatest strengths, adding a trifecta of biting dialogue and clever quips.  Where Santa Clarita Diet fails greatest, however, is pacing.  Adopting a breakneck plot acceleration, it satisfies the appetites of viewers with limited attention spans.  Like Sheila's body, it runs the risk of premature deterioration with limited survival beyond 4 seasons.  If Santa Clarita diet strives for a limited run of 40 episodes, its pace is suitable.  Beyond that, pacing has already accelerated too fast to make this series a durable favorite beyond that range.  The greatest blunder that hastened decomposition was Nathan Fillion's blink-to-miss guest spot as weaseling realtor Gary West.

Image result for nathan fillion santa clarita dietDeclared "a bad person" in the intro of the 2nd episode, limited exploration merely left character stating Gary was bad news vs. Fillion's demonstrated range able to display villainy.  Had Gary met his vicious ending in episode 3, pacing would have allowed viewers to see why he deserved to be disemboweled.  All he did in one episode was steal a real estate listing and flirt with Barrymore's Sheila.  That is a garden-variety realtor, not a villain to bust Sheila's zombie cherry to our intrigue.

The second villain dispensed too fast is Chavira's Dan Palmer.  Yes, he was a bully via profession.  Dan's death would have sufficed as the cliffhanger for the season and allotted more sympathetic undertones to establish and make a compelling, complex killing.  Dan blackmailed Joel and somehow established a liking for his latest host.  The fast pacing failed to capitalize on supporting characteristics depicting how Dan developed a power complex and had enough mileage to carry the season remains.  Every great villain needs proper exploration including their rooting values.  Santa Clarita Diet missed the mark in Chavira's range, properly explored through his 8-year run on Desperate Housewives.

The breakneck pacing dispensed DeObia Oparei faster than a takeout meal after two shameless episodes.  Oparei's initial episode paced properly, followed by a forgettable flirtation with Sheila.  Oparei and Barrymore established chemistry and may have carried a flirtatious arc a la season 2 of Dexter's Lila Tournay toying with the antihero Dexter.  Instead, the accelerated deterioration turned this plot hook into a book end episode with unlimited potential squandered.  The season wrapped with Sheila's voracious appetite turning on logic, leaving limited beauty and potential to exploring a longer Greek tragedy to explore.   Her eyeball strung out of its socket, matching the digested effects of speeding through material which may have carried well into the second season.

Accelerated pacing proved to be the greatest plot flaw Santa Clarita Diet committed in similar nature to ABC's Revenge.  But Olyphant and Barrymore's commitment to Joel and Sheila showcases the hook for viewers as a middle-aged couple attempting to keep love alive.  No matter which plot wist the show sped through, viewers can invest in Joel and Sheila.  Both depicted devotion and what made the couple tick through any given plot twist.  What lies ahead for Santa Clarita Diet in 2018?  Hopefully the writing leaves ample room to explore the plethora of talents, as this show combined glorious favorites like Desperate Housewives and Revenge with gruesome tragedies like Dexter to leave an intriguing entry to Netflix's already full and bloody plate.

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