This is a spoiler-free review of the first two episodes of iZombie season 3, but it will contain spoilers for previous seasons.
Comic book shows are big business at the CW network, with Greg Berlanti’s four-way multiverse of DC Comics heroes thoroughly outclassing their cinematic counterparts at every turn. Meanwhile, quietly being one of the most underappreciated genre shows on the air right now, the loose DC/Vertigo adaptation iZombie has begun its third season, and Netflix UK subscribers can now see new episodes the day after they air in the States.
From the title down, this show is way better than it sounds, providing a great showcase of its star, Rose McIver, as Liv Moore, an undead Seattle PD medical examiner who absorbs the memories and personality traits of murder victims by eating their brains. As of the end of the second season, Liv’s blissfully ignorant homicide detective partner Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) is newly aware of the growing zombie community in the city.
Episode 1 of the new season, Heaven Just Got A Little Bit Smoother, picks up so directly after Season 2 left off that you might even need to revisit the superb finale, Salivation Army, to recombobulate yourself at the top of the hour. Vivian Stoll (guest star Andrea Savage) cleans up the mess left by the super zombies at the Max Rager headquarters and evangelises to Liv, Major (Robert Buckley) and Clive about building a new haven for the undead in Seattle.
The implicit threat in that cliffhanger is defused fairly quickly, as Season 3 reveals its going concerns to be more interesting than that. Vivian isn’t an antagonist who wants zombies to overrun the city, but, on the contrary, is trying to keep a lid on the zombie population until they can move to their own new homeland. Like Liv, she fears that if humans found out about zombies, there’d be torches and pitchforks, followed by an attempt at extermination.
However, the season premiere feels a little like a prelude rather than a proper start. It doesn’t utilise the usual fun and games with the show’s zombie characters modulating their performances to their diet; instead, it dwells on coming to terms with the events of the previous finale. However, Clive proves to be incredibly adaptable to “the new normal”, as he’s loath to call it, and his development is the most intriguing part of this new chapter of the show.
This continues into Episode 2, Zombie Knows Best, which uncovers more of Clive’s nebulous personal history, as he comes under scrutiny by a colleague over his closeness to a murder victim. Other than the endlessly versatile McIver, Goodwin has become the show’s MVP and these first two episodes show what a valuable addition he makes to the existing dynamic of zombie intrigue, torn between normality and the supernatural.
Episode 2 also brings the personality-swapping back, after a 50-year-old father and his teenage daughter are killed in a traffic collision. McIver gets laughs out of playing the cringy dad, but it’s the duly over-egged spectacle of Buckley as a teenage girl that makes this feel like the show we know and love. As usual, the balance of comic stereotypes influencing the zombies’ behaviour is tempered with some really dark satire, as in the emergence of an alt-right conspiracy forum fuelled by a dreadful talk show.
Also bubbling in the background of this opening double bill is a love triangle between head ME Ravi (Rahul Kohli), Liv’s best mate, Peyton (Aly Michalka), and reformed villainous sort Blaine DeBeers (David Anders), which feels like a concession to the CW formula, rather than a natural development. There’s some doubt cast upon whether Blaine’s amnesia is faked or not, but the writing isn’t there for him this season, at least so far. As Season 4 character reforms go, it’s closer to Ken Jeong in Community than James Marsters in Buffy.
Starting strong for Season 3, iZombie continues to make the most of its killer premise by both embracing and subverting our expectations of a CW show. The result always offers plenty of gruesome giggles, but continues to broaden its scope and develop its world. You won’t see The Flash or Supergirl crossing over with iZombie any time soon, but this is one of the network’s most imaginative and well-realised shows.
Season 3 of iZombie is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Wednesday.