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16 February 2017

Even Drew Barrymore can’t save the unfunny, tone-deaf Santa Clarita Diet

In essence, the show is just Dexter meets Desperate Housewives: think shiny kitchens splattered with industrial quantities of ketchup. Plus: The Great British Skinny Dip.

By Rachel Cooke

You may have already heard about Santa Clarita Diet, a new Netflix series starring Drew Barrymore as a suburban estate agent who wakes up one morning, feels a little queasy, and shortly afterwards discovers she’s a zombie. Suffice to say that the response to it so far has been mixed. Yes, everyone adores lovely Drew Barrymore, the former child actor who faced down her demons and won. But the show, a “horror-comedy”, is by general agreement a tone-deaf gross-out that should on no account be watched within a minimum of two hours of ingesting any foodstuff.

In essence, it’s Dexter meets Desperate Housewives: think shiny kitchens splattered with industrial quantities of ketchup. Sheila (Barrymore) lives with her husband, Joel (Timothy Olyphant), and their teenage daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), in a pastel house on a California cul-de-sac. Everything in this realm is perfect apart from the couple’s toaster oven – a gadget Americans use for warming pizzas – which Joel seemingly despises for its uselessness, but may just be a proxy for his middle-aged ennui.

But Sheila is about to find a swifter escape from the saccharine boredom. One day, the couple, who work together, are trying to sell a house when she begins vomiting a violently powerful jet of green stuff that covers first an ivory bedroom carpet, and then every surface of the en suite. Dazed with the force of it, she reaches into this slime and picks out a rust-red object half the size of a baseball. “Do you think this is an organ?” she asks Joel, prettily. ­Apparently, it is. Henceforth, human flesh will be her thing, which could prove a problem with the neighbours.

Put like this, it sounds perky, but the reality is amazingly gormless. The comedy is non-existent, and the cast spend their time gurning madly in order to cover for it. Nor is there any drama. Watching Sheila feast on the corpse of a male colleague who’d made a pass at her, I felt nothing at all beyond the sense that I might be about to despoil my own workspace (there were dangling entrails – on screen, not in my office). He was ghastly and she is dim, and who cares what happens to either of them or their livers? As for her id, by which she is entirely driven, it seems to be just another manifestation of her status as a 21st-century, middle-class American. Her craziest impulse so far (apart from the cannibalism) has been to buy a brand new Range Rover. Wild, eh?

You might have thought there was nothing remotely new to be said about British naturism, a sweetly old-fashioned movement that is now badly in need of younger recruits. But you’d have reckoned without Andrew Welch, at 51 a pretty junior member of the species and one whose mission in life is to boost its image, preferably while wearing only socks and shoes. Welch, a member of the Diogenes Sun Club in Chalfont St Peter (google it: I promise you it exists), had a plan in 2016 for a nationwide series of events, to be called the Great British Skinny Dip. The thought was that though naturism sounds a bit odd, all enthusiastic ping-pong and unbridled caravanning, skinny dipping is the kind of thing urban hipsters might like to do.

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Alas, when the day dawned, few recruits appeared. But no matter. By now the viewer of Victoria Silver’s excellently weird documentary (14 February, 10pm) was more interested in Welch than in his project. Having been single for ten years, he’d bagged
a girlfriend, Sheryn, the only problem being that she is what naturists call a “textile”. Would she ever strip? This is open to misinterpretation but rarely have I wanted someone to get their kit off so badly.

Having toured the campsite at Nude Fest, the naturists’ biggest meet of the year, in shorts and a T-shirt, thereby infuriating the natives, Sheryn gave in at a gathering at a hotel. It was, she said, the supportive thing – an unfortunate choice of word – to do. She wore spangly sandals, Andrew wore a lanyard. Progress? Perhaps. In the future, we learned, she’ll take a pick-and-mix approach to naturism. Time for tennis? Well, maybe not that. But the Diogenes Sun Club does appear finally to have a new member.

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This article appears in the 15 Feb 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times