iZombie Is Not Already Dead -- Season Five Comes Back Swinging

While iZombie has been one of the most consistent, smart, and entertaining shows on The CW over the course of its run, one (relatively minor) critique of the show might be that its seasons tend to start off a little slow before building to something really cool about three episodes in. The reason for that is less about any shortcoming the show has and more about its ambition: each new season more or less has rewritten the rules of the show, which means they need an episode or two to catch the audience up to the new threats and the new status quo.

That is not so much the case this season: iZombie's fifth and final year, which begins next week, sprints out of the gate with an episode that picks up months after the season four finale but very much continues the story started in the previous season. The status quo was shattered at the end of season three, and there was no turning back at that point. The truth about zombies is out, and with that genie out of the bottle, Team Z is -- you'll pardon the expression -- in the endgame now. Now that Major (Robert Buckley) is in charge of Fillmore-Graves and Peyton (Aly Michalka) is de facto in charge of city government, not only has the plot itself gotten "bigger" but our central characters are directly responsible for many of the key decisions.

This has changed the tone of a show a bit, and the result is that iZombie feels a little less zany than it was in the past, but that is actually to its benefit, as it has given the actors a chance to pull back a little and be more earnest in some ways. The larger-than-life stakes and the fact that our main characters have targets on their backs began last season when the walls went up around New Seattle and Liv decided to become a coyote, helping regular humans get in and out. But there are moments in the first three episodes of season five that feel less like Pushing Daisies and more like Fear the Walking Dead. They are few and far between, but a stark reminder that iZombie is less procedural than it feels week-to-week. In fact, this series has evolved quite a bit from the early days, and if its final form is somewhat less light-hearted than where it started, it has earned that privilege by effectively blending heart, humor, and mystery over the course of the four seasons that came before.

As the season begins, fans will get to see Ravi on a brain -- maybe the most over-the-top performance that series regular Rahul Kohli has had the opportunity to give yet -- but Liv (Rose McIver) isn't, since the premise of the episode is that the murder victim goes missing without a body. That gives McIver a chance to do something that she rarely can -- to live in Liv Moore's skin for a while, uninterrupted. It is a good way to start the final season, and any time McIver is allowed to take her performance down a notch, it is a reminder of just how good she really is as she brain-hops week after week.

The relationships between the lead characters (not necessarily romances, per se, but relationships more generally) are in a comfortable place, making one another a rare respite from the chaos of the world they live in. That does not mean that there won't be some relationship drama throughout the season, but it seems likely that Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright wanted to make the characters' lives a little more tolerable in light of the madness and violence of New Seattle. The upside is that the relationships are not ignored; we get a sense for where our main characters are and why, and that informs some of their actions. It is not a source of stress and anxiety, though.

A standout in these early episodes is Aly Michalka; Peyton is stuck in a position she never asked for, and with a feuding city council so deadlocked that they will not even allow for an election to replace the late mayor, she is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She plays it well, navigating insane demands and playing a character who is exhausted but keeping it together. The one time she really lets somebody have it in the first few episodes is a character who absolutely deserves to be taken down a few pegs, so it works well. As in the real world, New Seattle is a deeply divided society, and those division are allowing some of the very worst people to take front-and-center roles in government and culture. Whereas last year the team was up against militant, gun-toting domestic terrorists (who posed a threat in that they were violent but who ultimately were not particularly bright), this time around their foes are less of a physical threat and more of a philosophical, existential one. This makes them way less fun to watch and will ultimately make their downfall that much more delicious. And Peyton is our audience avatar through that whole experience.

iZombie is leaving fans at the end of this season, and it will be missed -- but as it has done every year, it is going to do its own thing on its own terms, with one of the most winning casts on television. The first few episodes indicate that even though the end is near, things are not going ot be too dire -- and, indeed, iZombie's fifth season delivers everything its fans expect while continuing to evolve and change in interesting and exciting ways.

iZombie returns on May 2, airing at 8 p.m. ET/PT on THe CW.

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