“Maybe my life does have a higher purpose that’s more than just killing people?”
Santa Clarita Diet season three continues to prove that the show is one of those very special series that keeps on getting more interesting and rich as time goes on. The series evolves at the rate of highly concentrated prestige drama, but it’s a comedy about the undead, family values, and real estate. Ever since the minute in the pilot where Drew Barrymore’s Sheila Hammond coats her husband Joel (and the better part of their kitchen) with her innards and viscera, it’s been clear that this show is something different.
Santa Clarita Diet has been a high concept comedy that’s finally allowed creator Victor Fresco the creative freedom that he’s deserved, but this season becomes even more enjoyable as it tackles the larger themes of fate, destiny, and the decisions that we make with our lives and why. Several characters, particularly Sheila, feel like the universe is pushing them in a certain direction and this season wraps the bloody undead mystery and mayhem around these more existential questions for what makes for a very well-rounded season that’s arguably the show’s best year yet.
Santa Clarita Diet season two ended in an exciting place where the Hammonds’ situation became even more complicated and this season begins hot on the heels of that fresh chaos. Santa Clarita Diet has always felt heavily serialised, but it’s almost a little jarring how the season immediately jumps back into the action and doesn’t allow the audience a breather with a lighter ramp up to the season. This helps give this year a very tumultuous atmosphere where it never truly gets a chance to slow down, but because that’s exactly what’s going on with the Hammond family, it’s a fitting approach.
The Hammond family continues to be resilient in the face of near-constant peril and once one fire is extinguished, they learn that this season they’re the targets of the Knights of Serbia, an ancient organisation that’s dedicated to exterminating the undead. What’s exciting about this new threat is that it dovetails with the show’s rich mythology that’s steadily become more prevalent, but still mostly only been hinted at in the past. The Knights of Serbia allow many answers to come forward and provide a justified reason to indulge in so much backstory.
On that note, this season dives heavily into the show’s mythology, more so than ever before. There’s some stuff set in Serbia that’s some straight up Overlord level of human experimentation as we learn that there’s a faction that’s in opposition to the Knights of Serbia, who have a much more sinister agenda for the undead. It’s fascinating to see how the series continues to parse out more breadcrumbs about what is really going on with all of this. Santa Clarita Diet never feels like it overextends itself in this regard and each time more information is offered up to raise the stakes it’s always extremely satisfying. As a result, there’s also some progress made with Mr Ball Legs and things get even more insane on that front.
The nature of this season’s plot also means that you’re never quite sure if the new characters that are getting involved can be trusted or have some ulterior agenda. The show doesn’t abuse this device, but it does lead to some satisfying twists and adds a general tension where you’re apprehensive to get too close to any new character. New targets and obstacles present themselves as the season goes on and this all grows to a major conflict between all of the different warring factions that want Sheila. Plus, the possibility of an undead pandemic apocalypse has never been closer to a reality. We also get a helpful update that astonishingly only a month has passed since the start of the series, which definitely provides some perspective and acts as a reminder of what a pressure cooker of a series this has been.
After the fallout of last season, Sheila is eager to put Anne to use since she believes that Sheila is some kind of disciple of God, whereas Joel understandably wants to limit their exposure with her. This opens up a fascinating conversation about the pros and cons of the Hammonds bringing more people into their inner murder circle.
More Natalie Morales is always a good thing, too. Every time that Sheila and Anne are together it’s nerve-wracking and you just want Sheila to be quiet so she doesn’t ruin everything. The relationship between these two characters is one of the most rewarding pairings of this season. Their whole dynamic is a ticking time bomb that you’re just waiting to go off at any moment.
Another way in which this show continues to challenge itself is the supporting characters that stick around grow to become very different and occupy new roles (I’m looking at you, disembodied head of Nathan Fillion!). This assures that these characters feel fresh or don’t overstay their welcome with an irrelevant purpose and this new angle for Anne is the most interesting take on her character yet.
There’s a major theme to this season where simple lies get almost hilariously out of hand. Multiple characters experience this problem and it’s a stressful ride while you wait for these delicate house of cards to come crashing down. It’s also worth addressing that by now the Hammonds have become such unintentional efficient murder machines that the occasional deaths that are necessary to keep Sheila nourished are now basically background details rather than something that dominates the entire episode. There’s some exquisite problem solving on Joel and Sheila’s part this year, which keeps their murders consistently entertaining.
Santa Clarita Diet season three is mostly occupied with the heavier undead storyline, but it’s nice that this year still finds time to make progress in Joel and Sheila’s everyday life. It’s not much, but the two make strides and finally open their own realty firm and properly seize their careers. This of course also means the return of Joel McHale and Maggie Lawson as Chris and Christa Caldwell, the bizarro versions of Joel and Sheila, who are put to good use here as the Hammonds’ competitive urges rage out of control over the housing market.
Sheila and Joel’s relationship gets put to the test more than it has in any other season and this year really solidifies why these two are such a special couple, yet these episodes also entertain the idea that they’re far from invincible. Drew Barrymore and the loony way in which she portrays Sheila’s extreme condition gets a lot of attention, but Timothy Olyphant’s beleaguered performance as Joel continues to be the show’s secret weapon. It’s incredible just how much he gets across with his heightened facial expressions, but his timing, delivery, and body language know just how to properly accentuate the comedy in his dialogue.
Joel is a character that’s always been in over his head and juggling too many flaming chainsaws, but he’s especially exhausted this season. Once again his detective efforts are a disaster and his act as “Roy Eastman Kodak” or the run of foreign accents that he attempts during his various acts of espionage turn into an entertaining hurdle for the character. Even if everything else this season were to be a misfire—which it isn’t—Olyphant’s performance would still make this worth watching. Somebody please immediately put him in a Game Night style comedy.
The other member of the Hammond family is busy with more than her fair share of dilemmas, too. Abby experiences more of an identity crisis of sorts this season that has her needing to answer some very important questions about what she wants out of life. Stories are so crazy in this show, but any scene where Abby is with her parents and they just get to act like a normal family is such fun. Due to the dangerous nature of the show’s plot, these moments are not always prevalent, but they really resonate when they do.
As fun as Abby’s material is, much of this season is about her getting roped together with Eric, whether she likes it or not. On the topic of Eric, Skyler Gisondo is so freaking good here and is never not putting everything into Eric’s overwhelmed demeanor. He out-Ceras Michael Cera at the stilted awkward shtick and he’s such an underdog that you want to root for. His relationship with Abby sees them get even closer this year, but even just them on a friendship level is such a fun, affable dynamic on this show.
Any storyline where the two of them are together you just hope will take up the entire episode. A lot of their chemistry is played for laughs, but there’s something very real and sweet between the two of them where they do need each other. On top of the tremendous sexual tension between the two of them, they also find themselves in a dangerous problem with the FBI that’s independent of Sheila and all of her undead madness.
Season three also begins to prepare for the fact that Sheila’s purpose may not involve Joel in the end. It feels like in some respect this is the show setting up what its endgame may look like, especially when Joel and Sheila start to really think about how her undead status also means she’ll be immortal and outlive her whole family, or if there’s some way to avoid that fate. It adds a rich, emotional core to the season whenever the characters take a second to think on it.
The two also frequently wrestle with deeper questions regarding the future like if they’re getting ‘better’ at what they’re doing and if that in itself is a positive or negative thing. The show does find the right moments to have legitimate discussions about social and gender issues and actually say something around all of the gnawed body parts and ball spider monsters. There are also a lot more people this season who are interested in becoming undead, how to use this status as a tool for good, and what the definition of a ‘monster’ really is. This season reframes its ideas in a fascinating way where being undead is seen more of an asset than a cursed virus.
This is a masterful show that can have a volcano of blood and Nazi human experimentation go on in one scene and then have fun with a crude, innocent verbal misunderstanding in the next one. It beautifully combines broad sitcom-y situations with life or death peril or outlandish visual gags. It’s also the only series where the fate of someone’s life will depend on the consumption of potato salad.
Santa Clarita Diet is many things and one of the reasons that this show is such a delight is that even when situations are dire as hell, there will still be some stupid lowbrow gag (that’s executed in an incredibly intelligent way) to deflate the tension. Some shows crash and burn when it comes to this delicate balance of tones, but Santa Clarita Diet welcomes this clash and pulls it off. On top of that, it’s one of the most continuous, addictive comedies that you’ll encounter.
Santa Clarita Diet remains a triumph and doesn’t lose its way in season three, yet it continues to slowly expand its scope and let more people into its orbit as the scenario keep complicating. This year’s season is the most satisfying of the lot and has the most story to work through. The performances in the series are all still amazing and these are characters that you just want to hang out with. This year also particularly underscores the importance of family.
The season ends at what’s perhaps its most suspenseful moment ever, which sets up an even more ridiculous and incredible season four. Everything truly gets out of control in the worst way possible and it’s surprising to see how much the series lets things get out of control. For a season that spends so much time on fate, what comes next for the Hammonds is a total mystery and that’s extremely exciting.
The entire third season of The Santa Clarita Diet premieres on Netflix on March 29th