TV: iZombie Recovers, Lucifer Falters, Lost in Space Disappoints

Lately there’s been an unusual excess of sci-fi and fantasy TV for me to watch. Unfortunately, it hasn’t all turned out to be must-see television, but it has been interesting enough for me to have a few thoughts to share.

"Brother Love" (Robert Knepper) in iZombie season four(Un)Life in New Seattle:

I went into season four of iZombie with a fair bit of trepidation. While season three impressed out of the gate, over time it began to flag badly. The plot was extremely over-complicated and confusing, and most of the characters ended up going in dark directions that I didn’t care for. I was worried the show was losing its mojo.

However, I am pleased to report that, with only a few episodes left, season four has been kicking all of the ass.

iZombie is now a very different series from when it started. It’s gone from a very simple, lighthearted show with a very small focus to a much more intense drama where the very fate of humanity may hang in the balance.

It’s a big adjustment, but I deeply admire the writers for being courageous enough to shake things up so much, and for the most part, it’s paid off. Season four of iZombie still maintains much of the quirky charm and off the walls humour that made us all fall in love with the series, but it’s now a bigger, more powerful story as well.

I was initially skeptical of the show’s continued reliance on the case of the week formula — it was one of the things that dragged season three down — but they’ve mostly done a good job of making the cases tie into the greater narrative, and they haven’t been afraid to buck the formula when the situation calls for it.

The cast of iZombieSimilarly, I didn’t at first enjoy the idea of bringing Angus back into the story, as it felt like his plot had been pretty conclusively wrapped up, but “Brother Love” has became one of the most spectacularly creepy yet gripping aspects of the series to date.

My one big complaint would be that the season’s attempts at social commentary have largely fallen flat. The conflict between zombies and humans is clearly intended to echo real world prejudices, but real world minorities aren’t an existential threat to the human race, whereas zombies are, so the anti-zombie perspective ends up far more sympathetic than the writers seem to want. Any message of tolerance is lost in translation.

It also feels like a little bit of a missed opportunity not to revisit Liv’s estranged family now that the zombified cat is out of the bag and they (presumably) know why she couldn’t save her brother, but it’s already such a packed season I can understand why they haven’t tried to cram that in on top of everything else.

Aside from that, season four of iZombie has been nearly flawless.

I was pleased to see the show has already been renewed for a final season. Even before the announcement, I was thinking to myself that the story seemed to have about one season left in it, so I think this will work out well.

Hell fallen:

On the other hand, Lucifer’s third season ended up being mostly a disappointment. It started out okay, and it had some good ideas, but a number of missteps dragged it down.

The official logo for the TV series LuciferFor one, it focused far too much on relationship angst. The conflict between Linda and Maze was utterly unnecessary, and the love triangle at the heart of the season was just terrible.

I hate love triangles at the best of times, and this one was made worse by how uninteresting Chloe continues to be. For a romantic arc to work, the love interest has to be appealing to the viewer, but Chloe just isn’t appealing at all. She’s dull, wooden, and lifeless. I can’t understand why anyone would want to be with her, let alone why two immortals would end up competing over her.

Also, the case of the week formula began to really bog things down. It’s always been the weakest element of Lucifer, but rather than de-emphasizing it as iZombie wisely has, Lucifer clung to it with an incredible fervour.

It became painfully predictable. Each week, a new murder where there’s no relevance to the meta-plot, the true culprit is blindingly obvious, and Lucifer makes it all about him in an incredibly childish manner.

Lucifer’s immature ways were amusing for a time, but by now, I was expecting the character to have evolved. Even a show as silly as Lucifer needs some character development.

Lucifer with his renewed wings in season threeHe does finally grow a bit by the end of the season, but only after a truly painful expanse of episodes where the series pretty much just chased its tail.

The frustrating thing is that season three had a lot going for it. “The Sinner Man” was a very interesting villain, and his arc had some memorable twists. There was potential there. Charlotte’s storyline this season was nothing short of brilliant, but it got largely ignored in favour of the petty angst that defined so much of season three.

Sadly, Lucifer has now been cancelled, which means season three may well be its last, barring a miracle pick-up by Netflix or some other network. Despite my criticism of season three, I would like to see it continue. As iZombie illustrates, one bad season doesn’t necessarily spell doom for a show, and the ending of season three did look set to move the show in a fresh direction.

Doldrums, Will Robinson:

Going in, I heard a lot of good buzz around Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot from people whom I respect. Therefore I was quite surprised by how boring it turned out to be.

I mean, it’s not terrible. I’ll probably watch the second season (which is already confirmed). But I can’t say I’m impressed.

For one thing, it is, to be blunt, pretty dumb at times. I never fully recovered from the brain-achingly silly pilot.

The robot and the Robinson children in Netflix's Lost in Space rebootSeriously, guys, that’s not how ice works. At all. I don’t expect a lot of realism from my sci-fi, but when you’re screwing up something you could have tested in your home refrigerator…

The biggest problem, though, is that none of the characters feel real. Dr. Smith is so cartoonishly evil she seem ends up feeling more ridiculous than sinister. The rest of the cast (with one exception) is little better. They all feel forced and unreal.

I also thought the plot was undermined by how much of the show’s drama is dependent on the incompetence of the Robinson children (especially Will, who is just terrible on every level). Either they’re superhuman wiz kids who can serve as part of a deep space exploration mission, or they’re just kids who make mistakes, in which case they have no place on a mission like this. You can’t have it both ways, but that’s exactly what Lost in Space tries to do.

The only strong mark in the show’s favour — aside from the admittedly amazing production values — is Penny, who is awesome. Alone among all the cast, she feels like a real person. She acts pretty much exactly how I would expect a teenage girl to act. She’s precocious, but not superhuman, and relatable in a way the other children aren’t.

And her snark is delightful.

As I said, I’ll probably return for season two, but for me Lost in Space is very much in the “I’m watching this because there’s nothing better to do” category.

TV Recommendation: Lucifer

Since I already had a Crave TV subscription for Discovery, I decided to peruse their other selections. One show that caught my eye was Lucifer, and while I didn’t know much about it going in, it didn’t take long for it to win me over.

The official logo for the TV series LuciferLoosely based on a comic book of the same name, Lucifer focuses on the titular character, Lucifer Morningstar, also known as Satan, Beelzebub, and so forth. He’s the Devil, in other words. After a few thousand years of running hell, he got bored with the place and moved to Los Angeles, where he operates the nightclub Lux and lives a life of decadence befitting the lord of sin.

Lucifer’s playboy life takes an unexpected turn when one of his human friends is murdered. Lucifer finds himself mixed up with the police investigation into her death and develops a fascination with the detective in charge, a former B-list actress turned straight-laced cop named Chloe Decker. Alone of all humanity, Chloe is somehow immune to Lucifer’s devilish powers, and he wants to know why.

And the series pretty much goes from there. It’s basically yet another cop show with a supernatural twist, a standard police procedural apart from the fact one of the “detectives” is literally the Devil.

It’s a pretty basic show. The ending to each episode’s mystery of the week is usually very easy to see coming, and for the most part it’s just following standard tropes. It’s also no stranger to plot holes and is generally not a show you should think too hard about.

What makes it worth watching, though, is Lucifer himself. The actor who plays him, Tom Ellis, is absolutely brilliant. He’s perfectly charming and impeccably witty, and even at his sleaziest, he’s still irresistibly lovable.

Tom Ellis as the title character in LuciferHe’s got range, too. Lucifer is mostly a comedic show, but on occasion it does have some more dramatic moments, and Tom Ellis absolutely nails those, too, injecting an incredible amount of pathos into the role. It’s amazing how sympathetic Lucifer can end up being (sympathy for the Devil, heh).

A core conceit at the heart of Lucifer’s mythology is the principle of history being written by the victors. God won the war in heaven, so we humans have only ever heard his side of the story. Naturally, he paints Lucifer, his rebelling son, as evil. But Lucifer himself tells a different story.

Devout Christians may be bothered by the idea of the Devil being presented as a sympathetic, if clearly flawed, person (and indeed the show has been protested by some activist groups), but I’m about as far from Christian as it’s possible to be in the Western world, so to me it’s an interesting new take on the mythology.

Also, to play Devil’s advocate (pun intended), I have heard it suggested that the message of Lucifer is, in truth, deeply Christian: the idea that no one is beyond redemption, not even the Devil himself.

Lucifer also feels like a refreshingly different character in some of the ways in which he defies the usual cliches of “superhero” type characters. Whereas normally in shows like this the protagonist seeks to conceal their true nature, Lucifer is quite open about it. He’s happy to tell everyone he meets that he’s the lord of hell. It’s just that people usually don’t believe him, viewing it merely as an eccentric affectation.

The cast of Lucifer circa season twoThe show’s liberal attitude to sexuality can also be refreshing, if at times selective. It seems to me that matters of gender and sexual orientation would matter little to immortal celestial beings, and this is reflected by Lucifer and his demonic lieutenant, Mazikeen, both of whom seduce humans of either gender almost constantly.

We see a lot more of Maze with women than we do of Lucifer with men, so it’s not perfect, but at least the effort was made.

On the downside, Lucifer’s co-star, Chloe (Lauren German), is a lot less compelling. She’s rather wooden and just kind of dull in general. It’s fine when she’s just playing the straight (wo)man to Lucifer’s whacky antics, but in more serious scenes, she flounders.

The rest of the cast is mostly just okay, with no else being as delightful as Lucifer or as dull as Chloe, but I will highlight a couple standouts.

One is Rachael Harris’ “Dr. Linda.” Dr. Linda is Lucifer’s hilariously unethical therapist, and like him, she manages to nail both her comedic and dramatic scenes. She’s a real treat.

The other (and the thing that first drew my attention to Lucifer) is the great Tricia Helfer, who joins the cast in season two to play Lucifer’s mother, the “Supreme Goddess of All Creation.” If Tricia Helfer isn’t enough to convince you to watch a show, what is?

Tom Ellis as Lucifer MorningstarOverall, Lucifer isn’t the smartest show ever, and I wouldn’t expect it to be more than it is, but it’s fun. The sheer awesomeness of Tom Ellis is enough to compensate for the show’s hiccups. I’d recommend giving it a try.