The following contains spoilers for Santa Clarita Diet Season 2
One of the best surprises to come out of Netflix last year was Victor Fresco’s Santa Clarita Diet. The comedy chronicles the increasingly complicated lives of Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant’s Hammond family, when Barrymore’s Sheila catches a bad case of “undead.” In the sitcom, Fresco puts his creativity and reckless abandon for rules to inspired use when he throws suburbia, cannibals, and serial killing families into the blender together.
Horror comedies aren’t exactly new territory at this point and neither are post-modern looks at zombies. Santa Clarita Diet strives in its tendency to create its own mythology that touches on familiar tropes, but then takes bonkers left turns. The show does the same thing with its storytelling where witty humor intersects with intense drama and graphic violence in unpredictable ways. It’s this same sort of madness that made Victor Fresco’s other series, Andy Richter Controls the Universe and Better Off Ted such memorable and different examples of sitcoms. With the second season of Fresco’s Santa Clarita Diet about to drop on Netflix, we got to touch base with the showrunner about defying expectations in season two, building mythology while still keeping the show small, and ALF.
DEN OF GEEK: First of all, how did you approach this season? Did you learn anything from the first season that made you want to make this year feel any different than the previous one?
VICTOR FRESCO: Yeah, you know I like to think that you learn from your first ones and then hopefully get better for your second—although sometimes it can get worse. The things that I thought that worked in the show, which we lean into more in the second season, is the core Sheila/Joel love relationship. That’s really the cement that holds the show together. Some people may think of it as a show about the undead, but I think of it as a love story…although obviously there are also other elements to it. At its core, it’s really a love story. We knew this going into the show, but after seeing how great their chemistry is it made us more confident to lean into that in season two.
The other thing that I thought worked well in the first season is that the season takes place in a very short amount of time. I think it’s 17 days or something like that. So every episode is almost one day of time. That allows us to have a lot of urgency and that there’s drive to keep everything moving forward. The second season is very much like that, too.
I love that in spite of all the heightened stuff that goes on in this show, Joel and Sheila still have to deal with their real estate jobs. Do you see these getting progressively phased out as the show goes on, or do you think they’re important to keep the show grounded, so to speak?
That is the challenge, isn’t it? To make those other storylines still interesting. In the second season, the real estate stories come up a bunch because Joel and Sheila are a couple that work together. Part of the fun of the show is to go back and forth from these life or death situations to this suburb stuff. I think the suburb stuff still manages to be interesting because it’s the backdrop to everything else and makes for such a strong contrast. The stakes of selling a house obviously aren’t as high as going to jail for murder, but we try to make them feel somewhat equal.
You guys do such a good job at balancing the show’s violence and its extreme nature with its sense of humor. Did you want to top yourselves at all in this department this season? Were you eager to try and set new benchmarks, like you did with the vomit scene in the pilot?
All of that’s a big challenge, too. For this show, I have always said that the true challenge is not to make it bigger, but to figure out how to still keep it all in its box; to not make it too big. I think a major mistake in a show like this is that they can get bigger and bigger and then have nowhere else to go. It’s easy for a viewer to check out at that point and even in our pitch to Netflix, I told them that this undead epidemic will never reach the point where you see tanks in the streets and an all-out zombie outbreak. I don’t want to get that big, but if you’re not careful stuff like that can sneak up on you very quickly. This season I think we do a good job at keeping it small and real, but still have high stakes around it all. If you keep try to top yourselves every week, you’ll blow yourselves up. It’s harder to stay small.
On that note, let’s talk a little on all of that stuff with the red balls growing legs and the show’s deeper mythology really opening up this year. Do you know where it’s all headed?
We do. We don’t in the sense of knowing where things are at in say, season five, but we know in season three where things are headed and what Mr. Ball Legs represents. We know that Paul, who Zachary Knighton plays, will be back and that he represents a threat to the Hammonds. It’s an interesting threat because he’s not a cop or a doctor, you know? When we break these stories we always have an idea of where it all goes, but it may not be a 100% certainty on it all. We’re talking about season three so we’re starting to nail that down.
The ball with legs originally started just as this cool idea and visual, but obviously much like the Hammonds we want to know what the fuck that thing is! So there’s fun to be had with not answering that outright, but still getting closer to new details.
Is it fun to get to fall back on a reliable trope like zombies and the undead, but then create something completely new to explore? Is it fun to be working on a show that has a larger mystery to it?
It’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely a different muscle for me and most of my writers. Like you said, most of us come from network comedy where each episode is freestanding. This is so incredibly serialized and as we get deeper it becomes only more serialized. There are like five or six story elements in the air in each episode. It’s a lot more complex than I’m used to, which makes it interesting, but it’s also a much slower process. It takes a longer time to figure out stories because there’s so much more than just some self-contained idea. You’ve got a lot that you need to cater to in the background of any A-story here. it’s higher risk and higher reward.
You also bring Gary back in a highly unusual capacity as a talking head. Was this just supposed to be a one-off return that grew into something bigger, or what? He’s like a part of the family by the end of the season and arguably Joel’s best friend.
So Nathan Fillion was supposed to be a one-off in the first season. The role wasn’t written with Nathan in mind, it was just this guy that gets murdered. We just loved Nathan though and when we came into season two we thought, “What if he’s not dead?” We love telling stories that are unique to our show and something that only our show could do would be to bring him back. So heading into season two we knew he’d be here for the whole run. That whole arc that he experiences with Joel is so much fun though and it made us love that character. We’re hoping that he’ll be back in season three, too.
Chris and Christa are really perfect as these bizarro versions of Joel and Sheila. I was so glad to see that you didn’t kill these guys off. Talk a little on their development and if they’ll be around in the future.
We designed those characters almost as everything that Joel and Sheila want to be. They’re more successful, they’re doing what they want to do on a higher level, and just a little more together. Then we liked this idea that they all sort of came of age together in Santa Clarita and never liked each other. It’s like they’re still children still. Those people that you had relationships with in high school, you revert back to those old ways with them. So we had them in one episode and loved them, so we decided to do a lot more with them because they’re so fun together. Maggie Lawson and Joel McHale are so fun and almost look a little like Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant. They’ll be back in season three too, if we can swing it.
The angle that the season ends on with Deputy Ann is great, but was there ever a point when you did consider putting these guys on the run for season three and mixing things up even more?
I think in theory that we could take them on the road one day, but that we weren’t ready for that yet. After two years, all the stories in Santa Clarita are far from finished from being told, so it made sense to still stay at home base for season three. Although I do think that them on the run is certainly a possibility down the road. So I like the idea, but we also love the existing guest cast who would then all need to change if the show went on the run.
Do you have a favorite episode or scene from this season?
I’m happy with the whole season. I think the season really turned out well. Some of the smaller moments that stick out to me are the one in 205 where the set up the kill room and are expecting one person, but then two show up. That scene is such a great distillation of the show, where it comes down to practicality of killing someone, the ethics behind it, and just so much fun in the gray area of it all. That’s where the show lives, in my opinion. All of this is still new to them in season two, so it’s fun to still navigate through all of that stuff. And there’s inherent tension to such material, too!
Finally—and this changes gears a little bit—but I’m a huge ALF fan and I know that one of your first writing jobs was on that show and that you even co-wrote the final episode, which is honestly one of the darkest finales you’ll come across. With the trend of old shows seeing reboots and Netflix even supporting a number of these revivals, if ALF were to come back in some modern context, would you be interesting in working on it in some capacity?
I really enjoyed my experience on ALF. That was my first job! Of course, it was such a dark end because we thought we’d be coming back for another year! We didn’t anticipate that when we wrote that he gets caught in the finale that it would be the series finale. Paul Fusco, the creator, and Tom Patchett, felt like a fifth season was definitely happening. Anyways, now it’s such a dark ending! It ends with him getting caught. That’s terrible!
But yeah, I love ALF. Depending on what I’m doing I would love to be involved. It was the first show that I worked on and it was such a fun show to do.
Santa Clarita Diet’s entire second season is available to stream on Netflix now.