Warning: This review contains spoilers for iZombie Season 5. Not seen it? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here.
Now that it’s all over, it’s fair to say iZombie will be missed, but not nearly as much as we’ve missed the show it was when it first started in 2015. While creators Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright were off developing the fourth season of Veronica Mars, the Vertigo comic-inspired saga of New Seattle has hurtled onwards, becoming ever more congested with one-note characters and miserable contrivances as it’s gone.
iZombie is a show that started ahead of the curve, bucking all the conventions of a supernatural drama with a fresh, funny, genre-savvy take on its leisurely zombie apocalypse. In the early seasons, the stakes were limited to doctor-turned-medical-examiner Liv Moore (Rose McIver) not outing herself as a zombie while helping to solve “ridiculous murders”, but over time, the show has become bogged down in genre.
As discussed in our season preview, this final 13-episode run presents a show where the characters are primarily concerned with keeping its quarantined locale from being nuked by the US government, a scale on which a darkly comic show like this was never meant to operate.
In the midst of it all, Liv has become a bit of a floating protagonist and for the first 10 episodes of the season, she’s largely buffered around by the giant, often incomprehensible plot machinations at work. This includes an influx of new characters who have been piled in way too late, including human supremacist organiser Dolly Durkins (Jennifer Irwin), scheming chemist Martin Roberts (Bill Wise), and magazine journalist Al Bronson (Gage Golightly), all plates that need to keep spinning at a point where the story should really be homing in on the characters we know.
In Seasons 4 and 5, the show has lost focus as it’s started to show us a bigger picture. It’s not so bad when the terrific supporting characters are brought to the fore – Clive (Malcolm Goodwin), Ravi (Rahul Kohli) and Major (Robert Buckley) are absolutely priceless, as ever – but it’s always at the expense of the hero. When problems that should affect Liv are only put in a city-wide context, it’s like asking us to empathise with a traffic jam rather than any of the drivers stuck in it.
Among all the subplots jockeying for position, perhaps the nadir is the creation of a TV show called “Hi, Zombie”, in which several of the comic relief characters from previous seasons attempt to create a network sitcom as please-don’t-nuke-us propaganda for the wider US audience. With all the love in the world for previous seasons of this show, we’d have pushed the button.
Happily, iZombie is a show that can sustain cases-of-the-week later in its run than other shows of this kind, and many of the highlights of Season 5 harken back to the early “eat a brain, take on a new personality” escapades. Episode 3, Five Six Seven Ate, boasts two courses for Liv, meaning that she plays both halves of a quick-footed couple set to compete in a dancing TV contest, while trying to train Ravi up to help her catch their killers.
The season bucks its ideas up for the final three episodes, starting with the brilliant drag murder mystery Killer Queen and concluding with a two-parter penned by Ruggiero-Wright and Thomas. The finale is inevitably messy, with loose ends galore, but it’s ultimately satisfying in the way it sets out to wrap up character arcs rather than civilisation as we know it.
It’s not a good sign, though, when more than half of a show’s final season feels skippable, just to get to the cathartic ending that its creators intended all along, and once the dense and downbeat plotting brings it to a standstill, the more generic dramatic aspects finally catch up with it. But iZombie has always been best when it allows its regulars to shine and it’s worth finishing the show just to give a send-off to these endlessly likeable characters.
Season 5 of iZombie is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– It really shows that Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright were mostly around for the last two episodes, not only because they’re the best episode of the season, but also because hardly any of the stuff that was introduced earlier in the season – Beanpole Bob, “Hi Zombie”, even the feral army of Romeros – matters one jot in their endgame. It’s refreshing that the finale focuses so much more on Liv and Major, and their happy ending, than anything else we’ve seen this year.
– Likewise, for most of the season, it never really scans that Liv would add to the population problems of a brain-starved Seattle by smuggling terminally ill kids in to live as youngsters forever. But come the finale, it’s a nice cherry on top of the Zombie Island ending, giving Liv and Major a reason to keep being zombies together, beyond the latter’s immunity to the cure.
– That said, the show really went off the rails when Liv started to take less prominence and right to the last, she seems to have been sidelined. Worse still, the laughably inconsequential, two-seasons-too-late debut of Liv’s father, Martin, as the creator of Utopium (and the reason she got turned into a zombie in the first place) feels like it plays in reverse. New and existing supporting characters are ahead of Liv far too often, and it’s no fun to watch her playing catch-up over two or more episodes at a time.
– It’s doubly frustrating that Lambert, a textbook shark-jumping character made worse by John Emmett Tracy’s downright embarrassing performance, outlasts Bob, Blaine, and any number of more compelling antagonists to become the de facto Big Bad. He’s truly the Euron Greyjoy of iZombie – not a character where you can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance, but one you just can’t wait not to see anymore.
– It’s Robert Buckley’s good fortune that Major’s entire series arc survives so many bumpy bits intact, but if there were an award for Most Improved Regular in this show, he’d walk it. He started as the most ridiculous CW-grade character (that name!) but he never stops growing on you right up until the final moments of the show. In another reality, Buckley is probably playing Captain America by now.
– While it’s a shame that the elevation of every other regular – even Blaine and Don-E, whose Big Bad thunder was stolen right at the last minute by the brief zombie life of Peyton Charles – comes at the expense of McIver’s winsome lead, the results have given us one of the most likeable ensembles on US TV. It’s bittersweet to see them all off with a choppy season and one last post-credits “SPONDOOLIE”, but this feels like a cast we’re going to see much more of in other shows.