Just when you thought the zombie movie had finally, FINALLY run out of ideas, along comes a twist and a new Netflix series that gives new life to the genre.
Initially, it was a way to tell stories about how scary colonial life could be - I mean, you had guns and whips, but they had the voodoo and some of them might find.... ways to have influence over your very white spouse, if you know what I mean. As colonialism waned, it found new life in the "Living Dead" trope where ghoulish revenants tore living people limb from limb. Though it was more of a fear of a Chinese march across Europe (now seen with the migrant crisis) and riots, there was a germ of an idea about contagion - you became a zombie by being bitten by one - and a whole slew of movies playing on the idea of infection, body horror, and more. Some took a different tack and looked beyond the initial Z-day and watched civiization collapse and humans become the even bigger monsters, a la Walking Dead. And then along comes this beautiful dark comedy that makes it a metaphor for female Generation X middle age crisis.
Timothy Olyphant, who did the phenomenal Deadwood, and Drew Barrymore, who did Tom Green play the roles of Joel and Shiela, one of those twin real estate realtor couples whose shiny faces adorn listings in upper middle class neighborhoods. They start the series in a bit of a rut. She's blending together a green smoothie and deciding to what exact mathematical degree she wants to be bolder. He's irritated, of all things, with his toaster oven, whose dial doesn't properly "click" to the level of toastedness he wants in his dry white toast. (He was going to write a letter to the manufacturer, but no matter how he edited it it still "sounded crazy"). While showing a listing to a customer, she excuses herself to the bathroom after profusely vomiting, Exorcist style, repeatedly and often. He tries to complete the showing with her regurgitating violently as a sonic backdrop, and when they decide they want to see other houses, he rushes to her side to find her dead.
Her eyes reopen, and though she has no discernible pulse or any life signs and doesn't bleed when cut, she feels great. More than great, in fact. She impulsively buys a Range Rover and forces her husband's head between her legs for repeated cunnilingus. Turns out that in this iteration of zombies, the undead are very id-driven, but still retain higher faculties. So she doesn't just want to eat things, she also wants to have sex, go out with friends, buy the things she shouldn't, and generally live like she won the lottery.
She doesn't want to get help for this, because she knows she'll be put into a lab and never allowed to leave - she'll be a lifetime prisoner whether she's in jail or otherwise if they get caught. Joel tries, obliquely, to ask about his wife's condition of a molecular virologist only to find that they'd RRREEEEAAAAAALLLLLY like for him to talk to the people on the fifth floor, who turn out to be psychiatrists. Occult shops are no good, most of them sell candles and glitter accoutrements for the Shirley McLaine set. But he does find a Serbian woodcut showing exactly what's going on with his wife, and he snaps it up, needing to find someone who reads Serbian.
But why worry, asks Shiela. The only downside is that food repulses her. At first she can survive on raw chicken and raw hamburger, but after losing it and eating a scumbag new co-worker, she can only stomach the thought of human flesh. Deeply in love, Joel decides to help her kill and store victims in a storage unit deep freezer - but they decide to be somewhat ethical about it and only kill "bad" people.
Their daughter is aware of things - scared by finding the back porch covered in blood she tracks the Range Rover to an impromptu desert burial and is now aware that mom is an undead voracious monster. Somehow school doesn't seem so relevant anymore - its petty dictatorships and pointless busywork bore her, so she ditches class along with the cow-eyed boy next door who is not only conveniently so smitten with her he won't report the mother's activities but his step-father is a cop and he has both nerd-knowledge of science and geek knowledge about every zombie trope.
Generation X is a strange generation which, apart from some real standouts who started dot coms or were in Nirvana never really got going. Many of them are stuck in the kind of dead middle manager jobs or underemployed or differently employed that for them, a midlife crisis doesn't even begin to make sense. How can you wonder what you've done with your life when it's just been survival mode? Oh my God, when did I hit my 40s? Kind of thing. But the real beauty of this is finally taking the idea of a woman finding her power just shy of menopause and going a bit nuts seriously. There've been some attempts. All In The Family tried a bit where Edith undergoes menopause with assorted personality changes. Family Guy did one where Lois is scared of being "past her prime" and wears belly-baring shirts and buys a Jeep, partying harder than even the kids. It centers around the newly undead Shiela but the ripple effects move outwards. Her best friend cheats on her second husband. The woman on the other side of them decides to ditch the kids to go see John Legend tour. And both women neighbors marvel at her new power and that she's always got energy to spare. She claims it's all part of a new diet.
Rounding out Olyphant, Barrymore and such are fabulous cameos from other Generation X talents like Patton Oswalt, Nathan Fillion, and the prissy Felix guy from the reboot of The Odd Couple. They turn out a fantastic understated comedy with some great reaction lines. And it works as a comedy - because even though the topic here is butchering people and eating them, there's enough entitled scumbags in upper middle class California for you to have no pity when she does so.
It was a sleeper hit for Netflix who have commissioned another season. It will jump the shark but before it does here's to it putting out yet more stellar television before it does. Everyone involved, from the writing to casting choices to acting just knocks it clear out of the park.