"iZombie," "Lucifer" and "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." -- three shows whose obits had already been written -- returned this month. Oddly, it's only the zombie show whose death will stick.
I can understand if the ratings for "iZombie" may have slipped. The CW show has moved far afield of its initial premise, which means older fans might have drifted away while potential fans of the new concept may not have found it.
And what a shift it's been. The show has never resembled the DC/Vertigo comic book it's based on to any great degree -- in fact, it began in 2015 as a typical TV police procedural with a typically mismatched buddy-cop team. Only one of the cops was buttoned-down, by-the-book Det. Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodman) and the other was a zombie -- manic pixie girl and assistant coroner Liv Moore (Rose McIver), who could get clues to murders by eating the victims' brains.
This oddball arrangement -- I mean, Liv's not even really a cop -- was buttressed by unrelenting puns about undead life and sparkling dialogue, not only between the leads but with and between Liv's boss Ravi Shakrabarti (Rahul Kohi), assistant D.A. Peyton Charles (Aly Michalka), doofus ex-boyfriend Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley) and would-be zombie crimelord Blaine DeBeers (David Anders). That should have been enough to sustain the show indefinitely.
But boy, things have changed. The wordplay and banter remain, but everyone's miserable and grim. The worst of it is: I think the good guys are the bad guys now.
The existence of zombies has been revealed, with more than 10,000 of them in Seattle, which has now been walled off by the U.S. Army. The human population of Seattle is trapped unwillingly within those walls, and kept there by the zombie power structure, hostages to prevent the Pentagon from nuking the city. Liv is now a coyote, smuggling in humans with terminal diseases to zombie-fy them, despite the creation of new zombies being highly illegal. (And in the last episode, two pre-teens were turned -- pre-teens who will now never be post-teens. Chew on that a while.) Major is head of Fillmore-Graves, the Blackwater-like, all-zombie mercenary group that runs the city's security -- and is, as the conflicted Lilywhite tells his troops, "an occupying force." Everyone works hand-in-glove with the despicable DeBeers, who has become necessary (and wealthy) due to his criminal network importing brains to feed the zombies so they don't go "feral."
This is further complicated by the writers attempting to use zombies as a stand-in for every persecuted or marginal group. While it's briefly amusing to see black zombies call themselves "whities," and for human comedians to be criticized for cultural appropriation when they dress in "whiteface" to do zombie skits, the fact remains that zombies aren't the persecuted group -- they're in charge. It's the humans, as despicable as they act on the show -- and, boy, are they loathsome -- who are a persecuted underclass, unable to leave the city and forced to live with creatures who are physically much stronger, difficult to kill and salivating at the prospect of eating their children's brains. Yeah, they're pulling false-flag operations and assassinating zombies. But, honestly, what would you do?
I laugh at the jokes -- which are still funny -- but then am overwhelmed by the cognitive dissonance. Showrunner Rob Thomas told Variety he's got plans to wrap the series up in big bow, but it's difficult to see how from where we sit today. It's going to take a heckuva kill shot to clear up the troubling moral murkiness.
For guilt-free enjoyment, audiences can turn to "Lucifer," which was canceled after three seasons on Fox, but rescued by Netflix. Since the third season ended on a cliffhanger, the streaming-service reprieve is a godsend. Or is it a devil-send? Oh, the moral murkiness!
Just kidding. "Lucifer" follows the "iZombie" formula of taking a complex, mature-reader comic book from DC Comics' Vertigo line and turning it into a police procedural with a mismatched buddy-cop team. But they whitewashed Lucifer -- who is the biblical Satan -- pretty thoroughly, explaining that religious accounts of his intrinsic evil are simply bad press. He is, in fact, a guy who never lies, who is a champion of free will (hence the Divine Rebellion), has relatable daddy issues and is really irritated at people blaming him for their own evil acts and desires.
Not that Lucifer (played by the charming Tom Ellis) is fault-free. He's an enormous narcissist, for one thing, and has the sexual morals of an alley cat. But it's all played for laughs as Lucifer solves crimes as a "police consultant" with buttoned-down Det. Chloe Decker (Lauren German).
For the first three seasons, "the Detective," as Lucifer calls her, laughed off Lucifer's consistent refrain that he is the devil, his brother Amenadiel is an angel and Decker's roommate is a demon. But at the end of Season 3 she found out he wasn't joking, completely upending the status quo and raising a million questions -- questions which would go unanswered when Fox canceled the series.
Enter Netflix, which launched Season 4 on May 8. And while the premise of the show remains unchanged -- Decker and Lucifer still solve crimes -- there's a lot going on in Decker's head that is slowly being revealed. Each of the other major characters are going through their own crises, with one losing her faith, another embracing his love of violence and a third discovering she's pregnant -- with an angel's baby.
Where "Lucifer" is going now is anybody's guess. But thanks to Netflix we have a chance to find out.
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." got a similar reprieve, although it didn't go anywhere. ABC announced last year that this season would be its last, and abbreviated as well (like "Gotham" on Fox). But then Netflix canceled all its Marvel shows, and Disney (which owns ABC) suddenly saw "S.H.I.E.L.D." in a new light -- not only extending this season to its normal length, but guaranteeing another one.
Unlike "Lucifer," the Marvel show had prepped for the end. The showrunners had expected 2018's Season 5 to be the last, and the season finale tied up all the plotlines. Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) was dying, and he and Agent May (Ming Na-Wen) had moved to Tahiti (frequently referred to on the show as "a magical place") for his final days. Fade out.
But then came the stay of execution. Season 6 began May 10 with Coulson already dead, and the other regulars returning to their jobs with a slew of recruits under new leadership. Meanwhile, four agents are in deep space in search of a fifth, who was returned to a sleeper ship after S.H.I.E.L.D. altered the timeline last season (long story).
If you're wondering where Thanos and "the Snapture" plays into all this, don't. Wen told TVLine that the show and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are going their separate ways.
"I think at this point it's safe to say that we have departed from following the Cinematic Universe ... and are just telling our own stories and our own situations," she said. "All this is happening pre-Snap."
That's actually good news, because the TV show's obvious effort to keep in sync with the movies -- effort that wasn't reciprocated -- was hindering its own stories. Now "S.H.I.E.L.D." can continue in a timeless never-never land just before "Avengers: Infinity War" and tell its own tales without the headache of responding to every MCU film.
And so far, so good. Gregg isn't entirely gone, as he plays a new character named Sarge that we suspect may be from a parallel universe. Agents Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) has defied orders and endangered her team to find the aforementioned missing agent, boyfriend/partner Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), which won't end well. Alphonso "Mack" Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) is now director, bringing the discredited S.H.I.E.L.D. (see "Captain America: The Winter Soldier") out of the shadows to operate openly again, abetted by May and former lover Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley).
And Daisy "Quake" Johnson (Chloe Bennett) is with the deep-space team, establishing a reputation as dangerous renegade -- and Earth as a pariah planet. That dovetails with the apocalyptic future the team avoided last season, which doesn't bode well for the altered timeline.
"S.H.I.E.L.D.," despite being crippled in its first couple of seasons by events in the movies, has always been blessed by strong storytelling, great acting, terrific production values and great F/X. Now, with the MCU manacles off and a guaranteed future, the potential and scale just expanded.
So, in the immortal words of Jasper Sitwell (the true-blue comics version, not the traitorous screen version): "Don't yield, back S.H.I.E.L.D.!"
I've always wanted to say that.
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(c)2019 Andrew A. Smith
Visit his website at comicsroundtable.com.)
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