Being Married and Undead Doesn’t Get Easier in ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ Season 3

Netflix’s “Santa Clarita Diet” continues to give a whole new meaning to the idea of keeping your marriage strong. The third season of this domestic comedy again finds a way to maneuver between relationship issues and the threat of ancient knights coming to kill your undead wife. Sheila (Drew Barrymore) and Joel (Timothy Olyphant) Hammond are still trying to keep their real estate business operational, but there’s the nagging question of how their bond can survive the fact that Sheila’s status as an undead makes her, well, immortal.

At the end of season two not only had Sheila and Joel overcome their latest obstacles, but they attained a new friend in the form of police officer Anne Garcia (Natalie Morales). When Anne caught the pair in the desert with a disembodied zombie head and then experienced a few death-defying moments, she became convinced that Sheila is an agent of god. Now she’s a cultish groupie, popping in the Hammond home with Costco chicken and painting divinely-inspired portraits of Sheila. The two feel a little bad, but what can they do? Meanwhile they have bigger problems. A group of Serbian agents led by a mysterious official named Dobrivoje Poplovic (Goran Visnjic) have arrived in Santa Clarita looking for a couple they suspect of harboring an undead (meaning Sheila). Also searching for them is a group known as the Knights of Serbia who leave a very unsubtle message at their door. On top of it all, it dawns on Sheila that as an undead she’s immortal, but Joel isn’t. What to do? Oh, and there’s real estate competition from the ever so snobby Chris (Joel McHale) and Christa (Maggie Lawson). Dealing with her own dilemma is also the Hammonds’ daughter, Abby (Liv Hewson), who carried out an eco-terrorist act last season with best friend Eric (Skyler Gisondo). Rumors swirl the two are dating (which doesn’t seem so bad to Eric), and the two can do little about it as they try to keep the truth about the attack under wraps.

How ingenious for “Santa Clarita Diet” to combine the look of a typical domestic drama and mash it up with zombie movie clichés, polished into brilliant comedy. Imagine if “Mad About You” had been about vampires. To look at the Hammonds’ problems is to see every day hassles magnified through the eyes of the walking dead. This new season’s funniest expanded character is Anne, who embodies that terror that inflicts many couples: The clingy friend who likes to pop in at any moment. In this case she’s a virtual cult follower for Sheila, going so far as to tell all her friends of her newfound messiah (even after being asked not to). In a truly funny twist by the third episode, Sheila tries to convince Anne that god has spoken to her and called off whatever her mission is supposed to be, but Anne simply refuses to believe. The storyline involving Chris and Christa is also expanded into hilarious new terrain. When a Serbian Knight named Tommy (Ethan Suplee) mistakes them for the half-undead couple he’s hunting, Sheila and Joel have to make the hard decision to either save them or let Tommy kill them off (a prospect not too unappealing). It’s one thing to go after Nazis, quite another to let two shady real estate agents get what they probably deserve.

The other new major character, Poplovic, brings some new comic relief in the form of that age-old zombie movie trick: The foreign intelligence agency seeking zombie DNA for its own, nefarious uses. But it makes for a new, just as fun dimension to the show. “Santa Clarita Diet” has always been smart about using the flesh-munching angle as filler for the more character-driven plotlines. Abby and Eric truly come into the foreground this time. Abby is a sharply-written character unafraid to go her own way, while Eric is brilliantly written as that nice guy who crushes on a friend and can’t seem to ever make it work for him. When everyone at school believes the two are dating, Abby looks quite annoyed while Eric tries to play it off as not the worst situation. The stakes are raised when FBI agents come to class and warn everyone they’re investigating the recent eco-terrorist plot, and Eric unintentionally exposes himself as the type probably just went along because he’s a follower. This storyline could have just become a cheap gag, but it’s actually turned into one of the season’s more engaging elements.

As in the last two seasons, the leads play their roles with magnificent, undead gusto. But it’s Drew Barrymore who again shines as Sheila. You can sense the fun in her approach when she deals with figuring what to do about being immortal, while Joel remains quite moral. Over a meal she suggests the obvious solution: Joel should just let her bite him, so he can be immortal too. Few relationships face such a momentous decision. Timothy Olyphant is great as the more manic Joel, dealing with loyalty to his wife and facing off with zombie hunters. Fans will be happy to see favorites like Mr. Ball Legs return, with more about this odd critter revealed.

Offering another season that is just as delicious as its predecessors, “Santa Clarita Diet” continues to delight with its weirdos, creatures and marital drama. Yes, there are zombies here, but there is nothing dead about the zest of this show.

Santa Clarita Diet” season three premieres March 29 on Netflix.