To say “Santa Clarita Diet” is a weird show is an understatement, but it’s also not entirely accurate. Not only does the Netflix comedy focus on a suburban real estate agent who turns into a zombie and — while killing and eating people on the side — still wants a normal life, but creator Victor Fresco’s peculiar sense of humor makes his series stand out all the more. That makes it fundamentally weird, and Season 1 illustrated the barriers some may face because of it. The combo of story and tone might be too much (or too mismatched) for the masses, but for those who’ve taken to the zombie-comedy like Sheila (Drew Barrymore) takes to a heart (or liver, or neck, or any human body part other than thumbs), Season 2 should serve as amiable, if less shocking, entertainment.
There’s just one thing it really needs, especially if Season 3 earns a green light. “Santa Clarita Diet” needs to get weird. Not superficially weird; not tonally weird; the zom-com could really take off if it stops relying on simple gross-out gags and fully embraces the batshit crazy world it’s building.
Season 1 subsisted on the shock value of Sheila’s transformation — the reveal of Sheila’s condition via intense, prolonged vomiting surely held everyone’s attention — but Season 2 takes too long to find fresh flesh to chew on. Little pieces are put into place without being properly explored (we’ll get into these in the spoiler section below), and Fresco introduces an intriguing mythology that’s discovered via the Hammond family’s fun and frequent mini-missions. Yet it’s not until the literal last line of the season that it becomes clear what “Santa Clarita Diet” has been missing all along: a sharp right turn into Weirdville.
[Editor’s Note: The following section of the review contains spoilers for “Santa Clarita Diet Season 2, including the ending.]
Before we get to that last line, here’s a basic, need-to-know summary of Season 2: The cliffhangers left in Season 1 are pretty quickly dispensed with in the opening episode, as Joel (Timothy Olyphant) gets out of the insane asylum, Abby (Liv Hewson) finds the bile she needs to keep her mom’s disease from spreading, and the family agrees to let Sheila live outside the basement — even though she violently murdered someone in their kitchen — because they just can’t live without her.
So the Hammond family tries to get back to normal — or as normal as can be when mom’s eating leftover eyelids off the ceiling fan. Joel and Sheila go after a big listing at work, while Abby and Eric (Skyler Gisondo) go back to school. From there, the kids get sucked into a friendly, quickly evolving game of relationship tag — he’s got a girlfriend, then she’s got a boyfriend, then they kind of like each other, but no one makes a move — while the adults deal with the severed head of Gary (Nathan Fillion), who wants a favor, and a lingering police investigation from next-door-neighbor Anne (Natalie Morales).
Abby is still the highlight here. Not only is Hewson natural and engaging, but she’s given the chance to cut through the bullshit and hold her parents accountable. That means she gets real moments of sincerity, instead of fake sincerity played (by the characters and actors) for jokes. When she starts engaging in environmental activism, it’s believable because we’ve seen her take things seriously. She feels like an actual human being while most of the other characters do not.