Crossing the Stream: Part 31 - "Santa Clarita Diet" Sn 1, Ep 2

It's been a trying few days. My workload has increased, and it's getting harder to use my off time to hit the gym. But on the plus side, my leg seems to have finally loosened up. It didn't give me any problems on the elliptical, at least.

Just as before, something about a more breezy comedy, rather than a plot and character heavy adventure show, has helped me push harder while exercising. This makes the new show quite valuable, as I think I need to increase the intensity of my lunchtime workouts if I'm going to hit the next target weight. I am hoping to take off another ten pounds, which would put me at the weight I was in high school. Not that this would be very impressive. My high school weight was far over what a guy my height should be, but it would still be forty pounds below where we started.

In general, I've felt pretty apathetic this week. Maybe I'm eating just a little too much of the wrong stuff. Grocery shopping is a challenge, since my brain still has one foot in the "meat is the entree, vegetables are the side" camp. This is an attitude that still has a lot of traction thanks to most trend diets preaching a high protein and fat approach, but I'm still worried about the arterial implications of all the steak and chops that I mindlessly threw in the cart.

Somehow I feel grill season is going to be rough on my new eating habits.

"Santa Clarita Diet" Season 1, Episode 2 - "We Can't Kill People"

"Act casual."

Second episodes are a hardship on a TV writing staff, especially for comedies and for genre shows. The first episode is easy to burn through just by introducing characters, introducing the plot hook, and introducing the show itself through dialogue, visuals, and pacing. But that second episode, that's when a show solidifies its tone, and how it plans to address the material left over from the pilot. In the case of "Santa Clarita Diet," Victor Fresca and Ruben Fleischer had to determine how closely they were going to address the zombie mechanics of Shiela's new undead lifestyle, and how they would incorporate some of the surrounding characters such as Dan the next-door Sheriff's Deputy and his stepson Eric.

Fortunately, Fresca and Fleischer decided quickly that the main attraction for the show would be the rapid dialogue focused around the mundane details. Case in point, though "We Can't Kill People" opens with Joel and Sheila attempting to bury Gary's mostly liquid remains in the desert, the scene is anchored to the conversation surrounding the big Rubbermaid tub filled to the brim with viscera, and where the hell the damn lid for the thing got to. This is the big strength of the show, so far, is how uproarious these little details can be in the face of something mind-bending such as, you know, a suburban realtor becoming a secret zombie.

Another big arrow in the quiver of the show is the chemistry between the leads. Both Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant have always been naturalistic actors through their very different careers. Casual in their characterization. They are playing the couple with a practiced, decades-long communication with the more recent events acting as the breakdown. Sheila's ironic new lust for life and Joel's meticulous examination of everything have the audience filling in the blanks of their relationship before zombification.

And that really is the subtext of the show. Sheila has put to words, during their layered conversation in front of prospective buyers, her new reality: she's living her new truth, and part of it is that holding back isn't really her thing anymore. She's gone through a paradigm shift, and Joel is bargaining for ways to restore his life's normalcy. He goes to seek the opinion of a virologist. He tries to abate his wife's hunger with supermarket meat, and even a live rooster. He insists they can raise live chickens and goats for her to eat and that the family is only going to experience "a few little changes." He pays five hundred bucks for a stale morgue-bought foot, even. And above all, he leans heavily on the moral imperative, "We can't kill people."

This dynamic is a common one, if we substitute "eating human flesh" with any number of real-world paradigm shifts. Suppose one half of a couple finds religion? Or loses it. Say someone's new truth is a new sexual preference, or their gender identity. How long would their partner in life try to bargain this new truth into the framework of their status quo?

Random Notes:

-Patton Oswalt's appearance as the virologist at City College was a cute nod to his recurring episodes of "Justified" as Constable Bob, but it gave me the sneaky suspicion that every episode would include a recognizable actor being turned into red goo.

-Abby and Eric's adventure to the comic book store fell pretty flat for me, as it seemed to be written by folks who have never been in a comic book store before.

-I think it's adorable that Joel and Sheila seem to feel the weight of each other's salty language, with Sheila commenting "You're cursing a lot tonight," and Joel flinching at his wife's newfound penchant for telling cop neighbors and their supervisor Carl to "Shut the fuck up!"

-"He has a Masters in Art History, and he lives with his mom, so...he's pretty angry."

Rating: A-

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