Unlike “Death Moves Pretty Fast,” “The Fresh Princess” doesn’t go full-on ‘90s movie homage in terms of structure. There are Clueless references*, but at the same time, the episode doesn’t draw as much inspiration from 1999’s Drop Dead Gorgeous as one would expect or even hope. Of course, that might just be an intentional way to draw attention away from the otherwise more obvious fact that Gayle, the victim’s mother, was the “murderer.” (It’s a whole thing.) But like “Five, Six, Seven, Ate!” was to dance flicks and “Death Moves Pretty Fast” was to the ‘80s, “The Fresh Princess” is very much a love letter from writer John Bellina to the ‘90s when it comes to the case-of-the-week. And when it comes to providing two exceptional music drops, because the “Wannabe” drop is perfect… and then the “Sunny Came Home” drop happens, allowing Shawn Colvin (and the power of iZombie’s editing) to blow the Spice Girls away and back to 1996.
In an interesting change of pace, this episode even doubles down on mystery as Ravi and Peyton work their own investigation, following the trail toward “Beanpole Bob.” While ‘90s brain fuels the case-of-the-week, this is an episode wrapped not just in that particular decade’s nostalgia but in iZombie’s nostalgia as well. You know, the type of thing that’s typical for a series’ final season. That, of course, means another check-in with Liv’s estranged mother (and now also brother), but it also means the return of Blue Cobras leader AJ (Tim Chiou), another reminder of Scott E’s past existence, and even a mention of Major’s past utopium addiction. (The show mentions Blaine and Peyton’s past relationship relatively often, so that doesn’t count here.) This nostalgia doesn’t inform the Ravi/Peyton story in this episode the way it does Liv’s, but it does contribute to the overall fun of the two working together. Fun that ranges from Ravi’s attempt to prove to Peyton he’s “a veteran law enforcement professional” to couples breaking and entering and everything in between. It’s obviously no surprise that Ravi/Peyton have a great dynamic, but given the lack of Peyton/Aly Michalka in this season, a plot like this is like a drink of water in a desert. And it all builds to them realizing Martin must be “Beanpole Bob.” No offense to Clive, but it’s pretty satisfying to watch a medical examiner and an ex-acting mayor show off their detective skills outside the actual criminal case like this.
Last week, I noted how the salesman brain conveniently took a backseat during Liv and Martin’s moments of quality time; it would’ve been fine had the series stuck to that type of thing consistently, but since it gave up on reining in the brains a long time ago, it didn’t feel earned. But this episode actually features Liv maintaining her ‘90s teen pageant contestant brain characteristics without the brain completely, absurdly taking her Liv’s personality. While Laurie-Beth Spano’s (Mellany Barros) brain creates the perfect opening to go absolutely wild with things—as the rare way to make the “decades in a coma” trope work—it probably allows for the best, most balanced depiction of Liv on a brain in a long time. This Liv line really drives that point home:
“The world is full of all kinds of people. I just want to make it a better place for all of them. I mean, that’s basically how I feel, even if it comes out sounding a bit corny.”
Yes, Liv’s fueled by beauty queen brain to say things a certain way, but even with the personality, she’s not saying anything particularly out of the ordinary for her to believe (in a less corny way). If anything, this all just amplifies her natural disposition as a best friend. It’s all just wrapped in a pretty pageant bow, which ends up being exactly what she needs with all the family drama in this episode.
Ravi and Peyton putting together that Martin Roberts is “Beanpole Bob” at the end may have catastrophic implications for Liv… but it’s also a relief after going through another episode of Martin bullshitting his way through his daddy-daughter time with Liv. (Bill Wise brings something interesting when he’s scheming, but the same can’t be said for his reformed act in these two episodes.) The audience knows every step of the way that Martin’s evil—and the chance of a face turn’s slimmer than a beanpole—sp even though he’s succeeding in duping Liv into caring about him, it’s all clearly building to iZombie wanting the audience to care (in a way other than wanting to yell at the screen, “No, don’t trust him!”) when his sudden but inevitable betrayal comes. Instead, there’s just a desire to get it over with already. (The issue with making Liv’s father the father of all zombies, however, means it’ll now never be over with.) It certainly doesn’t help that iZombie also brought back a far more compelling villain in Mr. Boss during all of this, and he’s offscreen while this villain whose plan is based on misguided evolution belief isn’t.
On the plus side, this episode sort of wraps up the core Moore family story in a way that doesn’t leave as bad of a taste behind as “Filleted to Rest” did. But while the estranged Moores come across better than they (even Evan, despite being offscreen) did in that previous episode, it’s still messy and not just on an emotional level. In fact, maybe iZombie should’ve just left this part of the series dangling or handled it offscreen if it was still only going to barely handle it at all as it does here. As we learn here, Evan’s had cancer since the Meat Cute explosion, something neither he nor Eva mother told Liv until now (when they want something). Eva had said before that Evan wanted nothing to do with Liv either, even as Liv tried to connect, and now we know that was despite him having cancer.
Let’s just accept that general premise, as cruel as it is. Now, even if you accept that, how can you accept that Liv’s first instinct when Eva tells her about the cancer treatment issue is to suggest Fillmore-Graves’ “Emergency Exit Program” over her own human smuggling operation? How can you accept Evan not making the cut for that program—one where the entire criteria is that the medical attention can’t be received in Seattle, which it can’t—when this season has already established that Major personally goes through all the applications? (Actually, has anyone made the cut? The humans who escaped through the false flag were smuggled out with Renegade resources.) And let’s not accept the general premise: Did Evan want to shut Liv out of his life or was it all Eva? Because there’s no indication either way. Evan doesn’t even get to process meeting his father here. In a season of iZombie where the littlest amounts of joy are worth treasuring, the drama with Liv’s family isn’t so much compelling as it is... drama with her family. Neither side is worth rooting for, even when one is known by the audience as completely evil. Liv’s dad’s a monster, her mother’s a shrew, and her brother… Really, this episode doesn’t care to do much with Evan—even though he’s the one dying—other than make him an asshole. I don’t know that anyone missed Evan, but at this point, he’s old enough to know tact, right? It’s not like he’s Cordelia Chase. “Who the hell is this guy? And what’s with his rug?” Why is this all he says other than his two lines about vomiting and his superficial praise of Liv’s look?
What’s so frustrating about iZombie’s return to Liv’s family is that, the most interesting thing to come out this is seemingly something the series has no desire to follow up on, despite the interesting conflict: When Martin tells Evan all it will take is one scratch to save his life, Eva very pointedly says, “But he won’t be Evan.” This is such a loaded line, as it gets to the fundamental issue Eva has with Liv, which is that she believes her daughter is dead and gone. She believes zombieism follows Buffy The Vampire Slayer vampire rules. That’s not the case with zombies, and while it’s something Dead Enders may believe—and the show doesn’t say Eva is a Dead Ender, but it would help sell this a lot better**—it’s not shown to be a normal piece of information everyone just believes. Not with Hi, Zombie on the air, after all. You’d think the parent that’s a zombie would have a more interesting story, but he doesn’t. Other than the metal plate in his head, we know everything about Martin and what drives him. The same can’t be said for Eva (which is sadly a waste of Molly Hagan) or Evan Moore.
At the same time, it’s worth acknowledging (and somewhat appreciating) that iZombie finally addressed and handled this particular series loose end, as imperfect as it is.
All the while, Dolly Durkins is back. She’s also the one responsible for Sloane Mills’ kidnapping, as she’s already made clear she’d love it if the U.S. government nuked Seattle (despite her, a human, also living there). Everything culminates in the Piesta, which is equal parts ridiculous and a nice reminder that Seattle isn’t just a dead zone where people don’t go on about their lives. (It’s really hard to tell from week-to-week at this point.) Those factors make it the perfect place for Dolly to strike with a very hungry Sloane and her boyfriend Jesse—almost as perfect as Major being the one to shoot Sloane in the head, effectively pulling the trigger in nuking Seattle himself. As previously mentioned, “Sunny Came Home” does a lot of heavy lifting in this scene, which requires proper presentation to make it look like a massive tragedy—to look like a city-wide event that has been turned completely upside down. It’s really not perfect, but director Tessa Blake does her best with tight shots on the action to make the chaos seem as large as it possibly can. (Major only having three Fillmore-Graves soldiers at his disposal this episode does more harm to this illusion than the actual size of the space.)
But even with the issues, the point remains that this is something big, on multiple levels. In fact, if there’s one thing Dolly’s presence actually promises, it’s something big. It takes dealing with a truly unpleasant character to get there, but you can’t fault iZombie for having at least one new character who gets things done.
- * I’d argue the original Clueless reference (Ravi’s “Oh, so what is this? She eat the cast of Clueless or something?”) doesn’t work, as Liv’s behavior in that scene leans 100% into the beauty pageant of it all instead of the ‘90s.
- **With the Martin of it all and Eva’s belief has about zombies, do you think it is at all possible that there was ever a moment in the writers breaking the story where it was actually Eva in the Dolly role? Not only would that have been far more interesting with this human-zombie civil war, the question becomes which of Liv’s parents will blink first. Plus, then there’s a parent that (unlike Martin) actually has a chance to make amends.
- Laurie-Beth Spano even has the Jessie Spano hairstyle to fully live up to that name. But not a caffeine pill or an apology from Liv to Clive for her ancestors owning slaves to be found in this episode.
- In the world of iZombie, Lunchables are actually Grubables. And the pizza is still inedible.
- Clive: “‘90s teen pageant girl brain.”
Clive: “Eh, that was more 80s.”
- Clive: “What’s this? You said you had a vision, not a vision board.”
- Liv (on phone): “Your ex is such a pig. You def traded up. Rav is the bomb. Like, part Prinze Jr., part Van Der Beek—but with a beard.” I’ve never felt more seen.
- “What’s up, P-nizzle?” and “WAZZUP.” As much as I appreciate the latter, these are both anachronisms in the brain personality. Snoop’s “-izzle” language blew up in the early 2000s, and “WAZZUP” debuted December 1999… after Laurie-Beth fell into a coma.
- Darcy: “Does that look like a wig?”
Major “Why would a zombie wear a zombie wig?” You can’t just ask people why they wear wigs. Also, Darcy and Don E are perfect for each other—and perfectly bad good investigators, unlike Ravi/Peyton—even if I still think Darcy’s personality is more bucket list-fueled than anything else.
- Don E: “You think Sloane got kidnapped again? I mean, once: Shame on us. But twice?”
- Peyton reveals to Ravi that she was fired as acting mayor because of that whole selling the naming rights to the Space Needle to fund (successful series) Hi, Zombie grift. She did tell him this was going to happen.
- Some punny Pieesta booths: “Pauly S’mores,” “Cross My Tart,” “Pie, Tonya’s,” “I Did It [PIE] Way.” And Dolly’s booth is “Twenty-Four Blackbirds Pie Co.,” a “Sing A Song Of Sixpence.” reference.