Meet suburban zombie Drew Barrymore – she's just like another other sun-kissed California girl, except she's got a nasty habit of feasting on human flesh. When we first see her in Santa Clarita Diet, the excellent new Netflix comedy, her real-estate agent Sheila is selling houses outside L.A., living the low-key minivan life with her husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant, of Deadwood and Justified fame) and their sassy teenage daughter. Then one day, something weird happens – she starts puking buckets of toxic waste and suddenly gets an insatiable lust for the taste of dead people, not to mention a voracious sex drive. At first Sheila just munches the occasional human foot, sweet-talking the local undertaker into giving her spare body parts. But she transforms into a savage killing machine, devouring her victims and making blood smoothies out of their internal organs; she even gets herself a special "kill poncho" (it's pink). Before you know it, Sheila is complaining, "I'm almost finished with the guy in the freezer. It's just thighs and giblets!"
Santa Clarita Diet is like a dark modern take on the classic Bewitched template: Here's a nice normal blonde Southern California mom, with a spooky supernatural life she keeps as her little secret. Created by Victor Fresco (Better Off Ted), it also has the suburban-dystopia vibe of Breaking Bad or The Americans, except played for laughs and with the actress butchering dudes twice her size. So much of it comes down to the uncrushable Drew Barrymore charm – like her fellow Gen X pin-up girl Winona Ryder in Stranger Things, Drew gets her mojo back with a little help from the twilight zone. And it's a strictly pro-zombie series; nobody even wants to utter the z-word. "I don't like that word – I think it's inherently negative," says the geeky kid next door, who has to explain to the family what's going on.
She recruits Joel into helping her slaughter fresh flesh, and he's happy to assist, especially since Living-Dead Sheila is also an insatiable sex inferno. All the neighbourhood moms are jealous of her increased pep – when they ask how she does it, our fine young cannibal smiles and says, "I'm just straight-up addicted to these smoothies," taking a swig from her sippy cup full of human entrails. It's a clever allegory of the desperate-housewife "Mother's Little Helper" theme, right down to the way she has to cope with her sassy teenager Liv Hewson. The daughter freaks out when she finds corpses hidden around the house. The boy next door reassures her, "Your mom is undead. That's how they roll."
Like a lot of Netflix comedies, Santa Clarita Diet takes a few episodes to get rolling, but it takes off as Drew starts hitting her manic bloodthirsty heights, with great cameos from Nathan Fillion, Portia di Rossi and Patton Oswalt. Olyphant is almost unrecognizable without his cowboy hat; he has a striking resemblance to Jimmy Fallon, evoking painful flashbacks of that rom-com where Fallon kisses Drew at Fenway Park when the Red Sox win the World Series. The show is a welcome comeback for Barrymore, the eternally beloved grunge-era wild thing – it's not just her big move into TV, but her first high-profile performance anywhere in years. In a way, it circles back to the roles she was doing in the early Nineties, playing deadly vixens in flicks like Guncrazy or Doppelganger, a.k.a. The Evil Within.
Sometimes now when she talks in her trademark marble-mouth mumble, she sounds like Broad City's Abbi Jacobsen doing her Drew imitation after wisdom-teeth surgery. But there's just something essentially loveable about the actress; she's the kind of star you root for whether she's in a project worthy of her or not. So it's a treat to see her sink her teeth into something as meaty as this. Bon appetit.