Unlike vampires, zombies don’t abide by a consistent set of rules. While most shows and movies represent zombies as slow-walking brain-eaters — see George Romero films, Shaun of the Dead, or Zombieland — you get the occasional outlier. Warm Bodies showed sensitive and romanticized zombies, while 28 Days Later let its undead chase prey at top speed. The CW’s iZombie suggests that zombies can keep their urges under control through a strict diet, and the upcoming film The Girl With All the Gifts humanizes the creatures even further. The newest addition to the zombie canon, Netflix’s ten-episode series Santa Clarita Diet, offers yet another alternative spin on the old favorite.
The basic premise of Netflix’s horror-comedy show is simple: An ordinary California couple (Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant) attempt to continue being an ordinary couple after Sheila (Barrymore) inexplicably becomes a zombie. Santa Clarita captures the tone of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil mixed with the suburban irreverence of The Good Place. While it’s deliberately vague about the incident that “turned” Barrymore’s character, it presents enough information to carve out its own unique spin on the age-old mythology. Here’s how the whole thing works.
Step 1: Vomit
Santa Clarita Diet’s version of zombiehood begins with vomiting. Not just a normal amount of vomit, but a lot of vomit. Enough to fill a room, drip from the ceilings, and cause the puker — in this case, Drew Barrymore’s Sheila — to cough up an entire organ. As Nathan Fillion’s character later tells Shiela’s husband, “That was a crazy amount of vomit.” Timothy Olyphant’s Joel fires back, “Well, I’m not a medical expert, so I can’t say what the proper amount of vomit is.”
Step 2: Sexual appetite
As Sheila’s condition progresses, the most notable change is in her energy. Though her heart no longer beats, her libido skyrockets. The further she drifts from the person her loved ones once knew, they begin debating her “change” and whether “it’s still her.”
Step 3: Eat Humans
Although zombies are known for eating brains, Sheila’s version of being undead is more of an all-encompassing cannibalism. She doesn’t discriminate between the brains and other body parts. In fact, the first human flesh she samples are fingers, and she even gets creative and purees humans into shakes, which she can carry around in a portable cup, claiming to be on a new diet.
Step 4: Serbia
While hunting for answers in a local occult paraphernalia store, Joel discovers mysterious prints that seemingly depict exactly what’s happening to Sheila. Chasing that lead brings him to an old Serbian woman, who translates the text on them. “It say ‘man eat man to live,’ she explains,” adding that it’s from a story of a village in Serbia that turned to monsters. “Man eat wife, mother eat child. Dead eat life,” she says.
As for whether the story of a zombie outbreak in an ancient Serbian village holds the key to the cure, now that would be spoiling the fun.
Santa Clarita Diet is currently streaming on Netflix.