‘Santa Clarita Diet’ Season Three Perfects The Genre of Comedy

This is a largely spoiler free review.

Nothing about Santa Clarita Diet is supposed to work out logically on television. It is absolutely ludicrous, absurd, and simply downright unbelievable. A woman turns into a cannibal and is worshipped as the messenger of God. Organs grow their own legs and murder people. Somewhere along the way in this season, we have ancient knights fitting in perfectly in a white, suburban, and soccer-mom-dominated neighbourhood. We have characters questioning the point of existence, as if that even matters when cannibals are accepted as the de facto state of affairs in the show. However, not only does Santa Clarita Diet manage to find a coherent logic amidst the chaos, it also shows us that the comedic medium does not need to thrive on bigotry in order to question what it means to live in a world so horribly broken.

The first two seasons focused extensively on the Hammonds scrambling to cover up their crimes, with the end of season two securing Sheila’s (Drew Barrymore) safe passage to continue eating Nazis and other terrible white men. Now that the Hammonds have materially adjusted to their highly abnormal life, the latest season uses the absurd to ask questions pertaining to love, loss, and human purpose. What is surprising is that the show succeeds in handling all these questions, while stretching the possibilities of how far fiction can go before it destroys our suspension of disbelief. In season three, Santa Clarita Diet interrogates the idea of commitment in marriage — particularly, what it means to love until death does us part. A statement like that is all too banal, commonplace, and commercialised even. We hardly think twice when saying it at the altar because of how oversaturated this declaration has become. I personally think it is a terrifying promise that necessitates blindly believing in a reciprocal love, because we just never know if the other person will do the same for us at this present moment, much less until death.

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Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant in ‘Santa Clarita Diet’

Santa Clarita Diet turns this promise against itself by asking the exact opposite: what does it mean to love forever? Loving the other forever seems perfectly ideal. Nobody wants love to die, and it is only because of death that lovers are parted. This desire for immortality can be traced all the way back to Plato’s ruminations on love in The Symposium, where Diotima expresses that “love is the desire to have the good forever.” This fundamental desire for immortality in love drives artistic creation, where the beloved is immortalised through art. Sheila is immortal, and can grant the gift of immortality to Joel (Timothy Olyphant) should he consent to an eternal partnership. All throughout the show, Joel has exemplified loyalty: he is willing to go to prison for Sheila, helps her pick out bigots for lunch, and cleans up every crime scene without complaint. So why is it so hard for him to consent to an immortal love? While Sheila did not have a choice in becoming immortal, Joel now has to make a choice on whether he actually does want to live forever. And it is this choice which torments him. Sheila’s love for Joel blinds her from seeing why he hesitates to an eternal partnership, but what Joel faces alone is the individualistic quandary of whether immorality is desirable.

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Drew Barrymore in ‘Santa Clarita Diet’

The previous season may have accepted Sheila’s status as the walking dead and uses it as a conduit to propel comedy, but it is in this season that the show begins interrogate its own unquestioned premises. Yet, instead of falling apart, Santa Clarita Diet only affirms, and strengthens the genre of comedy as perfectly appropriate in tackling perennial existential crises, the morbidly uncertain, and the absurd. More importantly, it does so without resorting to bigotry. For the longest time, comedy has thrived at the expense of perpetuating systemic violence against the marginalised. I acknowledge that Santa Clarita Diet is no picture-perfect portrait of diversity at all (most of the cast is overwhelmingly white), but the show’s constant self-consciousness of its own privilege highlights that comedy does not have to, and should not have to, ever sustain itself through doing violence to others. In this regard, the show succeeds in perfecting the genre of comedy and engorging the limits of fiction, without ever exhausting itself. For this reason, I really think it deserves another season, but whatever Netflix gets up to with cancelling great shows is utterly beyond me. 

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