Drew Barrymore is a boring cannibal, but there are teenagers to the rescue
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What life’s too short to watch:
Blame it on suburbia for taking cannibal zombie gore and making it feel blah.
Santa Clarita Diet, a series starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, hits your Netflix boxes this Friday, and despite the cast and a tasty premise, I regretfully inform you that this is a meal best skipped. It is a comedy about husband and wife suburban realtors living in (and selling) picket-fenced lives, when, one not-so-fine afternoon, the wife turns into a zombie and begins craving human flesh. The idea has roughly the legs of a Saturday Night Live sketch (or a recurring character, generously speaking) and while the thought of Barrymore baying for brains sounds interesting, it plays out far lamer.
A large part of the problem is Barrymore herself who, at this point, is so awkward with comedy that she seems to be a parody of herself, a weak (and not uncruel) Drew Barrymore mimic. She never seems sure of her comedic pitch, and while the timing may occasionally be right, the tonality is entirely off. This can be said of Victor Fresco’s show on the whole, actually. The first two episodes are unwatchable, as Barrymore’s character and her family come to grips with her “situation”. While the actress does light up with infectious glee as she downs human offal, there is little here that actually goes down well.
Olyphant, the Justified star who was so good in the underwatched comedy The Grinder, is particularly wasted as the hapless husband, though his tether-challenged character gets more material to work with as the show goes on.
The possibilities for subversion are obvious — a teenage daughter embarrassed by her mom’s flesh-eating ways, the different ways in which a zombie apocalypse could affect pitch-perfect white Americana — but the main problem is that Santa Clarita Diet is too obvious to be subversive. Gags are delivered as if waiting to be rescued by canned laughter, and things play out too predictably. (If you are in the market for a genuinely fine zombie comedy, look up Braindead, a show so politically aware and sharply written that it was cancelled after one season.)
The only bright spots in this comedy about a married couple are the kids: the frequently eye-rolling daughter (Liv Hewson) and her nerd-neighbour buddy Eric (Skyler Gisondo), who commit to the nutty genre even though their characters are as one-note as the adult parts. These characters are aware of how mediocre this show is, while the jokes are on the grown-ups and the people watching.
As our chirpy zombie-lady starts seeking out the worst possible people to eat — so as to avoid an aftertaste of guilt — Santa Clarita Diet turns into what can basically be called Masterchef Dexter. It’s a bloody shame. This show is best left to those who love Drew Barrymore too much to notice its appalling mediocrity.
What you deserve to watch:
Speaking of redheads we loved back in the day, here’s an Archie Comics revival that — on a viewing of the first episode — feels unexpectedly satisfying.
Watching Riverdale, a CW show with new episodes out on Netflix every Friday, feels a bit like reading demented Archie Comics fanfiction. We have Betty Cooper trying her best to be a nice girl even with Veronica Lodge’s lipstick smeared across her face, a hot young Ms Grundy who can’t be trusted to keep her paws off Archie Andrews, and Jughead as a mopey emo narrator who a) isn’t particularly articulate and b) isn’t Archie’s best friend anymore. Gasp.
The scandals — and a murder mystery at the centre of the plot — however, serve only to entice us toward a world too familiar but significantly upended to create a sexy young drama, one that is far more Beverly Hills 90210 than any double digest of Laugh. The characters are types, as we know, but creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has fleshed them out and cast them well. Veronica, played by Camila Mendes with pushy assuredness, is particularly strong, and her character ably takes the show from a generic school drama to something timeless merely by slipping on a blue hairband it turns out we haven’t forgotten.
KJ Apa, who plays Archie, looks to be a boringly buff young man till he turns out as indecisive, and as well-meaning, as the klutzy carrot-top we know well. The cast is very well-picked, and I look forward to seeing more of Josie And The Pussycats, not to mention Dilton Doiley. I’m impressed by how well the show seems to have captured the Reggie Mantle vibe: played by Ross Butler, he’s always friendly, yet there’s this smarmy annoyingness about him. We believe he’s a jerk even when he’s not shoving it in our faces.
I’m not used to shows where the background score swells this melodramatically, but the dialogues have enough zip to keep things afloat. Cheryl Blossom comments on the newly hot Archie’s “Efron-esque emergence from the chrysalis of puberty” and refers to a mildly overweight girl as “too Season 5 Betty Draper”. It’s like scrolling through a vicious, snarky Twitter feed — which is to say it feels young enough to make me feel old. (Also, 90210 star Luke Perry plays Archie’s dad. No kidding.) Maybe, however, the whole point of this show packed with surprising tweaks on timeless characters is that labels are too limiting — even for archetypes. And Archie-types. We should learn from Ronnie, who asks, with some justification: “Can’t we, in this post James Franco world, be all things at once?”
We can certainly try, Miss Lodge. And watching an orange-haired man we actually like is a start.