How Accurately Does 'Santa Clarita Diet' Portray Its Namesake L.A. Suburb?
Another Southern California suburb gets its time in the spotlight thanks to Netflix’s new comedy-horror-ish series Santa Clarita Diet, with all 10 episodes streaming now. Like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rachel Bloom’s ode to West Covina, Santa Clarita Diet uses the city of Santa Clarita to help set the tone for the show.
For those who need a little help with geography, Santa Clarita—home to communities Canyon Country, Newhall, Saugus and Valencia—is located 30 miles north of L.A. along the 5 and 14 freeways. As a resident of the area, if the names of those neighborhoods don’t register with city dwellers, I reference the theme park “Magic Mountain,” and most of the time there’s a vague recognition of the location (followed by the comment, “That’s far AF” or something like it).
In the Netflix’s Santa Clarita, Drew Barrymore, back on television for the first time in decades, plays Sheila Hammond, one-half of a husband-and-wife realty team, opposite Timothy Olyphant as her husband, Joel. Life in the suburbs is exactly how you imagined it to be: Routine and monotonous for the couple and their teenage daughter Abby (Liv Hewson).
Life changes for the Hammonds in a big way when Sheila wakes up one morning feeling a bit under the weather. Later that day, while showing a house to prospective buyers, she has the biggest, most voluminous vomiting fit we’ve ever seen. (Seriously, it makes Linda Blair’s pea soup projectile in The Exorcist look like the dry heaves.) The wait at urgent care is more than three hours long, and Sheila insists on going home because she’s feeling much better, albeit a bit ravenous.
She and Joel notice a few things that are a bit off: First, she has no heartbeat; secondly, she’s craving raw meat; and thirdly, she’s horny as hell. Abby’s nerdy, comic-book loving classmate next door, Eric Bemis (Skyler Gisondo), diagnoses Sheila: She’s one of the dead/undead. Eric doesn’t like to use the z-word “zombie” because it’s “inherently negative.”
Created by Victor Fresco (creator of Better Off Ted, Andy Richter Controls the Universe), Santa Clarita Diet is a twisted foray into life in the suburbs, which can be twisted enough. When Netflix announced the title of the show without much detail late last year (that whole zombie thing was left out of the original releases), we expected something akin to Jenji Kohan’s Weeds on Showtime, in which Mary Louise Parker played a suburban widowed mom who sells pot to make a living in Agrestic aka Stevenson Ranch (another Santa Clarita Valley community). But no, Santa Clarita Diet is part fairytale, part Pleasantville with a lot of blood and gore mixed in between. At its heart, the show is a comical love story about high school sweethearts Sheila and Joel, who try and keep their marriage alive, despite Sheila’s cravings for fresh human flesh.
Filmed on location in Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Studios, Santa Clarita Diet, like any show, gets a few things right and a few things wrong about the area, and I wanted to separate fact from “alt facts” and clear up misconceptions.
Sheriff and Police Officers as Neighbors.
The Hammonds have an L.A. County Sheriff and a Santa Monica Police officer living on either side of their house. This is not uncommon in the SCV—as the city is consistently ranked as one of the safest communities of its size in the country. (I have two deputies living on my block alone.)
In Weeds, the title song "Little Boxes" was a play on the cookie-cutter housing of Agrestic. While older communities in Newhall and Saugus aren’t of the same variety, we can confirm that much of the new housing in Valencia is template-based models (we chose the #2). And yes, just like in Santa Clarita Diet, they are all that beige-y, sandy color. Why? Because homeowners associations abound and HOA’s like to keep things nice and orderly. Want to paint your garage door purple? Fat chance of that.
When Joel and Sheila need a stash house for Sheila’s dinner items, they just head to their storage unit. This is not surprising since most news homes are built up here without much storage space. Since there are no basements, people end up using their garages (unless HOA’s disallow it) or storage units.
In the show, Sheila and her fellow mothers can be seen walking briskly along these neat walking paths and trails. That’s the truth. Since Santa Clarita is a master-planned community, there’s a 20+ mile system of biking, hiking and walking paths along neighborhoods, the Santa Clara River Trail and San Francisquito Creek.
Joel likes to smoke a bowl every now and then. And while that’s accurate anywhere, it might be worth noting that the SCV isn’t as squeaky clean as it seems. There’s a meth and heroin problem up here, but we can understand keeping it semi-clean for the comedy.
Starbucks Is Missing. And Magic Mountain.
These two elements of Santa Clarita are definitely missing from Diet. So many people here go to Starbucks, it's ridiculous. And where is Magic Mountain? That red faded tower off the freeway is so recognizable. We do, however, have to commend the show for including our favorite comic book store, Brave New World, in the second episode.
“We Just Got Our First Indian Restaurant Last Year.”
This statement from one of the show's characters is Sean Spicer-false. Ok, so we know that Santa Clarita LOVES its fast food and chain restaurants, but the local cuisine has gotten much much better over the past few years. Indian food has been around in the SCV for a long time. In fact, one of the older Indian restaurants recently closed not because of no business, but because of a little slave labor incident.
Anyway, welcome to the neighborhood, Santa Clarita Diet.