The Hammonds are back, baby, and per usual, they’re up to their necks in blood, body parts, and pesky law enforcement. Netflix’s uproarious zombie comedy Santa Clarita Diet returns for its third season in fine form, leaning into its identity as a next-level weirdo while finding new layers to excavate in the endearing marriage between Shiela (Drew Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant). Santa Clarita Diet has always been a strange and unpredictable show, a potent combination of creator Victor Fresco‘s signature carnal-meets-cerebral sense of humor, his cast’s phenomenal delivery, and some of the most brutal and bloody comedic violence this side of the Evil Dead franchise.
By Season 3, the series has earned that lived-in comfort, and it’s right at home with its own strangeness, trusting audiences will go along for the ride. After all, this is a series about zombiism via clams that once spent an episode focused on trying to make an old Serbian woman vomit. By Season 3, you know if you’re in. Which mean the series gets even sillier and stranger, especially after embracing a heightened WTF factor in the Season 2 finale.
In case you forgot, just when it looked like the jig was up for Sheila and Joel, it was none other than suspicious-cop Anne Garcia (Natalie Morales) who discovered them in the desert with a gun and a disembodied zombie head. A few bullets to Sheila’s chest and one fracking site explosion later, Anne walked away convinced Sheila is an agent of god, which means in Season 3, Shiela’s got 1) an evangelist and 2) a cop in her corner, both of which come with some unexpected complications for the undead wife and mother. As always, insanity and comedy ensue.
Across the board, Santa Clarita Diet has some of the best comedy writing on TV — clever one-liners, wordplay, absurdism, visual gags, running jokes, you name it. Not to mention the downright phenomenal comedic performances of the cast. Barrymore is a delicious delight as Sheila, a once timid suburban woman who relishes in her untamed undead life. As always, Sheila is smart, sexy, confident, powerful, and also a bit deviant, grinning while she gnaws on a finger and relishing in her moments of naughtiness.
Barrymore’s freight train of charisma is perfectly matched by Olyphant’s scene-stealing reactions. The Emmy-nominated actor may be best known for his dramatic works, but he is a masterful comedic performer. As the audience surrogate, Joel’s face is always etched into some extreme reaction to the increasingly outrageous circumstances; wide-eyed grimaces of horror or resigned, if unperturbed, acceptance of the utterly unacceptable. Barrymore’s mischievous verve feeds into Olyphant’s exasperated reactions in a perfect balance of comedy and romantic chemistry that makes it an absolute joy to watch this duo try to put out fires and survive the chaos of life (and afterlife) together.
Joel and Shiela’s marriage has always been the highlight of the series — not to mention the low-key best marriage on TV right now. We’ve seen the duo work it out through thick and thin, living and undead, zombie corpses and Mr. Ball Legs. They’re an unshakable pair. But in Season 3, they’re faced with their biggest obstacle yet: the realization that Sheila isn’t just undead, she’s also immortal. Naturally, there are existential crises to go around. For Sheila, it’s a newfound desire to do good in the world, to find a purpose being beyond eating bad people. For Joel, it’s the question of whether he’ll allow Sheila to bite him so they can be immortal together, meaning a whole extra level of commitment that creates new opportunities for the series to meditate on the meaning of marriage. And mortality. And what it means to love, commit to, and care for another human — after all, even “in sickness and in health” ends with “’til death do us part.”
Yet somehow, while Season 3 is the richest and most layered look at marriage and mortality yet, Santa Clarita Diet remains gloriously easy watching. Fresco’s comedy lands such a microscopic tonal target between philosophical and bracingly silly that you’ll never have a second to get weighed down in ponderous meditations on reality. Just when the series hits on a nerve of philosophical angst, someone starts snacking on baby teeth or slaps on an antique diving helmet. It’s an extraordinary cocktail and Fresco continues to serve up some of the strangest, strongest humor on the market.
The supporting cast also remains at the top of their game, especially Liv Hewson as the Hammonds’ smart and smart-mouthed teenage daughter Abby, and Skyler Gisondo as her brilliant and besotted nerdy best friend Eric. Just like Joel and Sheila, the pair get meatier material to chew on this season (pun absolutely intended) and find themselves facing down complicated moral questions. Perhaps not unexpectedly, after watching her parents hunt and kill the people they deem evil enough to eat (“young, single Hitlers,” so to speak,) Abby’s developed her own questionable moral compass, and it tends to point outside the law. After convincing Eric to join her in some light eco-terrorism at the end of last season, the pair find themselves facing down an FBI investigation that shakes their beliefs and their will-they-wont-they relationship down to the core.
Elsewhere in the supporting cast, Mary Elizabeth Ellis continues to delight as Eric’s breezy, sexually awakened mother, and Better Off Ted favorite Jonathan Slavin gets even weirder and funnier as Joel’s psych ward buddy Ron. Joel McHale and Maggie Lawson are also back, claws fully extended, as the Hammonds’ rivals Chris and Christa, as is Ramona Young as the deadpan undead Ramona. Standout newcomers include Ethan Suplee as a deadly Knight of Serbia on the hunt for Shiela, and Linda Lavin as a nasty old lady who changes Sheila’s life during charity work.
Since the series debuted in 2017, Santa Clarita Diet has quietly been one of the best comedies on the streaming service, and in Season 3, it’s better than ever. Fresco plays to all his strengths while continuing to slowly roll out a larger world and mythology to play with. We learn more about Mr. Ball Legs and the Knights of Serbia, but the fantasy never overtakes the funny — Fresco is less interested in the details of how the Knights of Serbia operate than what kind of weirdos would sign up for it in the first place. Indeed, Santa Clarita Diet loves its weirdos, and it makes sure you love them, too. It’s the perfect balance of heart and humor, with some actual bleeding human hearts on display for good measure, Santa Clarita Diet remains the benchmark of comedy horror on TV right now.
Santa Clarita Diet returns to Netflix for Season 3 on Friday, March 29.