19 Episodes Later- iZombie Season 2 Review!

Posted: April 21, 2016 by Jaden C. Kilmer in television
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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iZombie is the one show that most of us here at LAS watch. The spiritual successor to Veronica Mars is the snappy, zombie-themed procedural we all never knew we wanted. However, we all agree season 2 wasn’t as strong as its first one. The iZombie season 2 finale aired a week ago, and by now we here at LAS think most of the iZombie fans out there have seen the finale. If you haven’t, SPOILERS!

We good? Okay. Read on to see what Jaden C. Kilmer, J.A. Prentice, and Philip Jean Kilmer all thought of iZombie’s sophomore season!

What Jaden thought:

Thirteen is the new twenty-two.

Television has long used twenty-two episode seasons as its standard length. Back when serialized television was a rarity, twenty-two more or less standalone episodes strung out, one a week, from September to May was enough substance to leave fans satisfied. Now we are in a new era of television, where case-of-the-week procedurals feel like relics of the past. Now television is all about the long story. But this paradoxically means shorter seasons. You don’t need twenty-two hours to tell a good story. Most of the really acclaimed shows of this era- Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Orphan Black, Jessica Jones, House of Cards, Doctor Who, etc. all run seasons between ten and thirteen episodes. iZombie’s first season was also thirteen. This season was nineteen.

That was a mistake.

Like its spiritual predecessor Veronica Mars, iZombie tries to balance cases-of-the-week with a serialized story. However, season 2 ended up a bit of a mess. There were three or four main plots going on at once, and what could have felt like an intricately woven series of threads ended up feeling more like watching writers throw things at the wall and see what sticks. In Veronica Mars, almost every character and plot point felt connected in the larger picture. It could get confusing at times, but you never lost sight of what the season’s overall point was, and what it was building to. iZombie’s second season was aimless. It couldn’t decide what it was about, and what its new characters’ purposes were. Even with a solid two hour finale, it represents a downturn for the CW’s sophomore zombie procedural.

The nineteen episode season was a bit of an anti-goldilocks. It was a number too long for one cohesive story, necessitating the various story arcs, but too short to adequately contain everything plus individual cases of the week. Perhaps it could have been pulled off had the plotting been done better. There were many things that did not seem to go anywhere. It completely dropped Liv’s family which drove much of the emotion of season one. And in true CW fashion, I counted five, not one, not two, not three, not four, five romances that were either underwritten (Liv/Drake, Clive/FBI Agent) or just plain unnecessary (Ravi/Peyton, Peyton/Blaine, Rita/Major). Rita’s character as a whole ended up being a big waste of time. She served no importance to the already overstuffed plot other than to annoy Liv. She was, like most of the airtime of the season, filler.

The show’s problems don’t begin and end with the plot and story. Despite the really cool Edgar Wright style montages of Liv preparing zombie food, it’s actually rather unimaginatively directed. Conversations are anything but cinematic. Shot, reverse shot. There’s way too many cuts and the directors don’t let the actors play off each other organically. It hinders the breakneck, sharp dialogue Rob Thomas fans know and love so well. Sometimes shots are just poorly framed. At other times the camera moves without purpose, as if the director of the episode realized their blocking was lazy and decided to just pan the camera aimlessly so there’s something, anything happening visually. It’s not that I’m asking for something the quality of The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, or True Detective as far as directing goes, but I am asking for something that looks more professional. Even compared to its sister shows on the CW, the directing pales.

iZombie’s strengths are the same as always. The cast is terrific, the dialogue is clever and witty and fast-paced. But it’s all the same strengths from season one. There’s nothing new to discuss there. What is new is the weaknesses. The cracks in the foundation. The good news is that the finale was, on the whole, excellent. It sets up a bigger, better, darker season three that drops weekly cases for all out zombie mayhem. And if it delivers on that promise then consider the show back on course. But it’s like sticking the landing after a shaky routine. It doesn’t make up much ground. If it was at a C before, it’s only a B- now. And I’m grading on a curve here.

Grade: B-


 

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What J.A. thought

Just to provide some context here, at least 50% of why I watch iZombie is the comedy. As long as there are still witty lines of dialogue, I’m happy.

That said, I did overall enjoy the plot this season as well. There was just one major problem with it: the structure was an awkward compromise.

The best example of this major problem is Major. His plotline is set up in the very first few episodes: he’s hunting zombies because Max Rager is forcing him to. It’s an interesting plot.

But from those first few episodes until right before the finale, the plot didn’t move forward at all. We got the illusion of momentum, moments where it seemed like Major was gaining the upper hand or that Clive and his FBI agent girlfriend were onto him, but nothing really changed until Major was actually arrested. Similarly, Max Rager is developing Super Max and studying zombies. All season.

What we have there is a plot that would fit much better in a shorter season (as Jaden suggested). The other option is this: ease off the serialized storytelling.

iZombie sort of does this with the case of the week, but this season it seemed like far more screen time was being spent on the story arc. I think that was a mistake. Time should only be spent on the story arc if it moves the arc forward. Otherwise, just focus on the episode’s story and keep the arc stuff in the background.

I’m also going to echo the comments about directing. I think flat directing really undermined what should have been a heartbreaking final scene with Drake. To use a comparable CW example of how that scene should have been directed, look at almost any episode of The 100.

Rita was very oddly underused and had an anti-climatic end. I also was a bit confused by the zombie horde in the finale and whether they were actually different from Liv and Blaine or whether Liv and Major were just mercilessly killing people who were only a brain away from being more-or-less normal.

I’m going to ease off now because I gave this thing a B and I really, really like it. The characters are amazing. The highlight, as with last season, was Ravi. I’d watch an episode which was just him sitting alone in a room spouting clever dialogue. Blaine seems to be heading in interesting new directions, as does Major. I’m intrigued to see where the story goes next season, since the cliffhanger promises a very different Season 3.

To wrap up, some (but by no means all) of the highlights for me were: Cape Town, Zombie Bro, and Abra Cadaver. I think Cape Town was my favorite. The best episodes were those that really embraced their own story rather than just treading water for the finale. My big fear for next season is losing those great brain-of-the-week plots for an even more overarching story arc, but I’m looking forward to seeing where the show goes next.

Grade: B


 

What Philip said:

(Editor’s Note) Philip didn’t write up a review, but did offer his thoughts in an online conversation, which I’ve copy pasted and edited lightly for clarity.

I liked (the finale) for the intensity and finally able to get some serious zombie shit happening. But I did find it a little bit odd how easily Liv and Major killed all of those zombies in “full on zombie mode” that in reality could have been saved. They had to, obviously, for Clive’s sake, but it was still odd.

The Drake (death) scene was weird. I think it was because they didn’t show Liv at all. They didn’t have her try and fail to pull him off, didn’t show her not wanting to pull the trigger, just boom unseen head shot.

Also they SO did not have to kill off Gilda, those bastards. (show runner and writers). She was presumably well fed (even before eating her father’s brains) so she didn’t have to be killed off.

 

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