In 2016, I discovered John Connolly’s Charlie Parker books and inhaled them. For the last couple of years, knowing that I’ll have to wait a whole year for a new one, I swear that I’ll pace myself with each new one and then I do…finishing the books in two sittings, instead of one. I have the same problem with Santa Clarita Diet.
[Mild spoilers to follow.]
I knew I needed to watch the season for review, but I just didn’t want it to end so soon. It was that good. So let’s get into it.
Last season ended with Sheila and Joel’s neighbor Anne (Natalie Morales) finding them in the desert with Gary, a literal talking head. At the same time, Abby and Eric were setting off a bomb at a proposed fracking site. With the explosion in the distance and the head, devout Anne believed she was receiving a message from God.
And that’s where we begin season 3, with Anne spreading the good news to her church group about Sheila, much to Sheila’s chagrin, and the Hammonds just trying to live as normally as possible. Of course, they run into problems. Ron (Jonathan Slavin), whom Joel met during his brief stay in a mental hospital last season, wants to be undead. He tries to force the issue using the threat of the Knights of Serbia. That tactic is a ruse, but the Knights are on the trail of undead in Santa Clarita.
There are other threats as well, including Serbian diplomat Dobrivoje Poplovic (Goran Visnjic) and his underappreciated underlings, Janko (Stephen Full) and Radul (Dominic Burgess). At the same time, Abby and Eric are facing an FBI investigation into the large bomb they detonated. The Hammonds (and Eric) obviously have a lot on their plates and that doesn’t even include the launch of their own real estate agency.
Helping them with that last task is Gary, who–in a fun Easter egg for Firefly fans–is now voiced by Alan Tudyk. Gary is confined to the basement for the duration of the season, but he still manages to be a valuable asset for Hammond Realty and an unwilling participant in Ron’s evolution.
On that note, the Hammonds are still trying to find a way to manage Sheila’s condition, and it’s through this storyline that they’re able to achieve the most moving moments of season 3. Sheila’s trying to come to terms with her immortality, and it makes her realize that unless something happens, she’ll spend eternity without Joel.
The Hammonds have faced obstacles in their relationship before, but this may be the biggest, as it’s not something that can be decided in one conversation. Sheila must know that, but it still doesn’t make it any easier that Joel can’t give her an immediate answer. She wants a promise, she wants closure, but this is a big ask. He has to be sure.
One of his stumbling blocks is the ways he’ll change if he too becomes undead. After all, Sheila has become so much bolder and self-assured. That’s not even counting the most obvious way she’s changed, in that she consumes human flesh now.
That’s one of the things she struggles with this season–not the eating so much, but what the eating makes her. She doesn’t want to be a monster. To that end, she begins volunteering, which is where she meets Jean (Linda Lavin), and where the show does better than it did last season. Whereas they introduced Gerald McRaney’s character and dispatched him in the same episode last season, this season they introduce Jean and allow us the time to get to know her.
That way, she ends up meaning more to Sheila and meaning more to us. And that’s the genius and the joy of Santa Clarita Diet. Because underneath all the grossness (and it’s still gross, although slightly less than before), it’s really a show about a family and how they make their way in the world. Buoyed by the intoxicating chemistry of Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant–not to mention the fantastic supporting work of Liv Hewson, Skyler Gisondo, and the rest of the amazing cast–it’s fun and real and yes, heart-warming. And it’s still funny as hell.
10/10 – Whew, yes–you read that right. My biggest problem last season was the show’s tendency to introduce new characters and new storylines and then jettison them or leave them dangling. This season, those introductions were integrated into the show’s world in a much more satisfying manner. At the same time, the show found a way to present intriguing ideas for a possible future season. I just hope they get it.