In Netflix’s new comedy “Santa Clarita Diet,” Drew Barrymore stars as Sheila, a real-estate agent who works with her husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and lives a quiet suburban life. Then Sheila dies, and comes back to life as a zombie. Barrymore has been acting most of her life, from being the adorable little Gertie in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) to her Emmy-nominated role as Little Edie in “Grey Gardens” (2009). Now with her new comedy Barrymore sets her sights back to the Emmys, only to win the trophy she will have to go through reigning five-time champ Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”). But unlike her character, eating her is not an option.
The reviews for “Santa Clarita Diet” have been mostly mixed thus far. It scored a so-so 65% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an okay 66 rating on Metacritic. But the critics do like Barrymore’s first foray into serial television. Matthew Gilbert (Boston Globe) praises, “Barrymore nicely balances Sheila’s stone-cold hunger with her kookiness, creating a character who’s both demonic and a sweet airhead.”
Elsewhere, Rob Sheffield (Rolling Stone) declares this her comeback, writing, “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 Daniel Fienberg (Hollywood Reporter) credits her by stating, “The show boasts appeal that in large part comes from Barrymore’s innocent glee at Sheila’s new eating habits, which find her frequently bathed in blood, bedecked in intestines or gnawing at exsanguinated limbs.”
Typically, it’s a good rule of thumb for performers in new shows to submit the pilot as their Emmy episode submission as it sets up the story and introduces the characters. But I believe that Barrymore, if nominated, should NOT submit the pilot. The episode depicts in disgusting detail how Barrymore’s character becomes a zombie and it’s enough to make anyone with an iron stomach want to vomit in sympathy and could be too much for some to watch. And the episode ends with her violently eating a co-worker. Even for those who’ve spent years watching “The Walking Dead,” this could be more than some can take.
Her best option is the penultimate episode of the season, titled “The Book!” Barrymore’s character realizes that she’s been neglecting her daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) and so she decides to spend the day with her. It grounds the wacky and grotesque and is easily the most relatable episode as nothing goes right the entire day. It ends with Barrymore giving a sympathetic performance as she confesses wanting to know her daughter will be okay without her since there’s a chance she might not be around much longer.
Barrymore faces an uphill challenge is she’s going to win Best Comedy Actress against Emmy darling Louis-Dreyfus, but in her favor for a nomination is the fact that there’s an open slot this year to replace Laurie Metcalf (“Getting On”), or perhaps two if Amy Schumer (“Inside Amy Schumer”) doesn’t return within the eligibility period. The other likely returning nominees include recent Golden Globe champ Tracee Ellis Ross (“Blackish”) and fellow Netflix stars Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”).
Those looking to get in from new shows include 2004 winner Sarah Jessica Parker (“Divorce”), Issa Rae (“Insecure”) and Christina Ricci (“Z: The Beginning of Everything”). Tomlin’s co-star and recent SAG Award nominee Jane Fonda is hoping to finally hear her name called, as are 2016 Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice champ Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), 2015 Globe winner Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), Constance Wu (“Fresh off the Boat”) and former Emmy winner America Ferrera (“Superstore”). Then there is wildcard Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”), last year’s Comedy Supporting Actress winner and the recent Critics’ Choice winner who could possibly decide to move up to the lead race.
But Barrymore is a movie star and should stand out from the crowd as she’s been in the industry her entire life. An Emmy victory for Barrymore would make her the first actress from a Netflix comedy to prevail, giving her bragging rights over former nominees Tomlin, Kemper and Taylor Schilling (“Orange is the New Black,” 2014).
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