'Santa Clarita Diet' Boss on the Wacky Cause of the Virus and a (Likely) Season 3

Showrunner Victor Fresco talks about the source of the undead virus, discovered in season two, previews what to expect from a yet-to-be-ordered next batch of episodes and shares why the Netflix zombie comedy provides a "weird hopefulness" in the current political climate.
Saeed Adyani/Netflix
Drew Barrymore, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Natalie Morales in 'Santa Clarita Diet'

[This story contains spoilers from Santa Clarita Diet's second season.]

By the end of the second season of Netflix's Santa Clarita Diet, Joel and Sheila Hammond (Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore), discovered that bad clams turned the latter into a zombie, but before they could destroy the source of the virus, a mysterious couple (played by Zachary Knighton and Jee Young Han) that's been tracking their moves, took matters into their own hands with a rocket launcher.

Meanwhile, after returning as just a head in season two, Nathan Fillion's Gary West was still alive as Joel and Sheila couldn't bring themselves to kill the disembodied head they bonded with.

And Anne, the religious sheriff next door played by Natalie Morales, went from trying to apprehend the Hammonds for two murders to believing Sheila is an instrument of God.

As Gary says, "This just got fucking weird."

Showrunner Victor Fresco and his team are eager to continue telling the story of the Hammonds and their community, including the aforementioned mystery couple, as the show awaits word on its future from Netflix. (Season two of Santa Clarita Diet launched two weeks ago, and immediate renewals are increasingly less common at Netflix than they used to be.) 

Still, if there is a third season, three of the key players in the above storylines might not be available. Fillion is starring in ABC's straight-to-series drama The Rookie. And Morales and Knighton each have key roles in pilots: the former is poised to reunite with Parks and Recreation showrunner Mike Schur on NBC's workplace comedy Abby's, while the Happy Endings alum co-stars in CBS' Magnum P.I. reboot.

Here, Fresco talks with The Hollywood Reporter about contingency plans for season three, what to expect from a potential season three and how his series, which saw Sheila attacking a group of Nazis, provides a "weird hopefulness" in the current political climate.

A big storyline in season two is the source of the virus — that it came from really bad clams. How did you decide on that and why did you want that to be the source of the virus?

It's a comedy, so I thought it would be funny. We love calling back anything that we can. It just seems fun to us. There's a line in the first episode or maybe the second episode of the first season and [Joel and Sheila are] trying to figure out [what happened to Sheila] and they think, "Well what about Japopo's? We ate at that restaurant. Could it possibly be tied to that?" And Joel's like, "Nah, I can't imagine, but we shouldn't go back there anyway." So when we were starting to think about growing the season a little bit, we started to think, wouldn't it be funny if it was Japopo's and it was bad clams. You would never expect that but rather than some grander, more insidious thing, it just feels to me like that's how life unfolds often, with very small random events that spiral and become giant events. So she ate bad clams, and in the second season we're trying to figure out who else ate them and how they can close it off and how they can destroy them and stop an outbreak, but again, I kind of like the smallness of, "Oh, yeah," They didn't realize it at the time, but it was where they ate that night.

Toward the end of the season, we see the clams being destroyed by the mysterious couple, Paul (Knighton) and Marsha (Han). Why did you want to have them be the ones to destroy the clam shack, as opposed to Joel and Sheila?

We like the idea, and this is something we'll track into the third season, that there is this mysterious group out there, Knights of Serbia, who are the descendants of the original Knights of Serbia, all the way back 500 years ago, that are tasked with finding the undead, killing them and stopping an outbreak. We just thought we'd like to grow the show and that would be interesting that these people are out there. They've probably never had any cause to do anything, so we'll see. Paul runs a vegan restaurant. He's finally been called up. It's a big event for him. We like the idea that there are other people out there —  not the government — that are looking into this, and it's a threat to Sheila and obviously to Joel also, so we'll track that story into season three.

What have you heard from Netflix about season three? How optimistic are you that there will be another season? You have a lot of ideas for another run.

There's always more story. The whole season one took place over two weeks and season two takes place over two weeks, so they're still only about a month into this incredible change that they're going through. We have not been picked up for season three, but we have started with the writers. So we are back at work writing — fingers crossed. We don't have any data to know how the show is doing, so we'll just have to see. [Netflix, like other streamers, does not release viewership information.] 

Knighton and Morales were both cast in high-profile pilots. How would losing those actors affect the story? Do you see a way in which they could still be involved in the show?

One of the big challenges of doing a show like this is we only have four series regulars and everybody else is guest cast and we don't control their futures. We love our show to be highly serialized, and it puts us in this weird pickle where we're serialized so we want to continue the storylines, but we don't control the fate of many of the actors who are in those storylines, so what we try to do are figure out contingencies both ways. If we could get Natalie back for three [episodes, which is the industry standard for series regulars on other shows] or if we don't get Zach, who we loved, how do we handle that or how do we pass off that responsibility to another character? It's not the best way to work, but it's kind of the only way we can do it since we can't possibly control all of these actors, so we hope we get them all back but if we don't, we have to scramble and figure out how it works without them.

One of the actors that you brought back for season two that viewers might have thought they wouldn't see again is Fillion, or rather just his head. What was the thinking behind bringing him back?

We found out if we wanted Nathan, it's cheaper if we just hire his head. The whole body of Nathan costs a lot more. I'm kidding. We loved Nathan. He was so funny in the pilot. We thought, "Oh, we've killed him but what if you have to kill the brain with the undead and you didn't kill the brain." It started with just how do we get him back, and we thought, "There's a way to do that that only a show like ours can do. He's dead but he's not dead. They didn't kill his brain." And then it just became [a matter of figuring out] what would that story look like. He's so value-added to any project. We loved having him. We're trying to get him back. At the end of season two, he's very much alive. We're hoping, and we know he has a series, well-deserved, but we're hoping we can get him for a few episodes also.

What sort of feedback have you gotten from Netflix and others anecdotally about how the show is being received?

I don't get that much feedback. We hear anecdotally from people and I think it's been well-received. I know that the people who are important to me in my friends and family and the actors on the show really had a good time doing it and really are happy with it, so that's important to me. I feel good about it and the stuff that I've heard back is good too and the stuff I've read has been very positive about it, which I enjoy also. It's touched people in a way I didn't anticipate when I first created it. It was in the pilot but not as strongly. I felt like it would be judged as sort of an absurdist horror show but it's really judged as a family show and a relationship show, which I like, because I love [Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant's] chemistry and seeing that couple together. But I think a lot of the strength of the show has been that family element to it. It didn't start out to be a family comedy. It started out as just this crazy big idea that seemed like fun, but I like the fact that people have embraced the family-ness of it. There's a weird hopefulness to it also that I love because I feel like in spite of what happens in the world, I have that same hopefulness and I feel like people have responded to that. In our current situation in America, I think there is a broad group of people who wake up every day depressed, and rightfully so, but I think we also have hope. The Hammond family has been turned on its head and dealt this really intense deck of cards but they have each other and they're going to figure it out and navigate it and I feel like there's a parallel to that in our current culture. I was at the [March for Our Lives] and I see a lot of hope around me and around us and we go on and we not just hope for the best but we work to make things better, and I think the Hammonds are doing that. I like to think that a lot of us are trying to do that.

Do you want to see Santa Clarita Diet return for a third season? Sound off in the comments section, below. 

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