David Anders, Rose McIver

If the pilot’s primary goal was to explain “What is Liv?,” episode two very promisingly signals that iZombie is just as interested in her whys. iZombie is a lot of things—a murder-of-the-week procedural, a light workplace comedy, a semi-mournful relationship drama—but the glue that holds all of these disparate tones together is Liv’s status as a zombie. It’s the most important thing to get right, informing every frame and beat of every episode. A show with lesser ambitions could make Liv a zombie and then simply tell a procedural show with her at its center, but this is a show with greater ambitions. iZombie wants to understand Liv—smartly expressed through Liv’s desire to understand herself and her evolution into the undead—and that understanding starts here, through the introduction of the zombie who turned Liv into what, and who, she is today.

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Yes, we get to meet the mysterious zombie boogeyman from the party, and the best thing about bringing in this sort of mythology character this early on is that it introduces a needed antagonist for Liv. Fellow zombie Blaine (David Anders, having an absolute blast) immediately announces his maybe-not-noble intentions by not only going to the morgue once he hears Liv is looking for him, but also by making an entrance worthy of a potential foe. Nice guys with perfectly good intentions don’t silently lie in wait on a morgue table to catch people off guard; nice guys come in through the front door and announce their presence. But the best thing about Blaine is that he obviously isn’t a nice guy, yet spends so much of his time either pretending to be one in order to get what he wants from Liv, or genuinely trying to be one in order to change his life. All of his interactions with her are tinged with him playing completely innocent about everything, including his role in Liv’s zombie transition, all while he vows that he’s trying to live a more straightforward life. All he asks from her? Some help in procuring brains via her access to the morgue.

Blaine’s humble plea might seem fully sincere, if the audience wasn’t privy to the other side of the Blaine picture. As he’s explaining to Liv he just wants to be “less of a sleazebag,” he’s on the other side of town romancing an older woman at the bar, then turning her into a zombie and blackmailing her into giving him money in exchange for fresh brains. It’s smooth and predatory and obviously something he’s done before, or at least something similar. Between this and learning that Blaine has at least some ties to the drug dealing world—and the Utopium that might have caused the zombie virus—makes for a very compelling figure going forward. That all of this is so well fleshed out as early as episode two is pretty darn impressive.

Though Blaine’s introduction was the most interesting aspect of the episode, the structure of the show is still very much tipped toward the murder-of-the-week case taking up the majority of screen time. Thankfully the cases have been decent so far, mostly because they represent a chance for Rose McIver and the very capable supporting cast to have some fun. In this week’s case, polyamorous artist Javier is murdered and Detective Babineaux has his eye on the wife Lola (Judy Reyes) as the prime suspect, over Liv’s stern objections. The artist’s appetite for beauty and sex is key here, and after eating his brain Liv quickly becomes very (and very hilariously) fond of the artist’s mistress as well as the mistress’s very attractive boyfriend. The twists and turns here are a step up from the case in the pilot, as Lola is eventually revealed as the killer after all and Babineaux is proven right despite an episode of ribbing from Liv. So far the cases aren’t quite as engrossing or emotionally involved as some the ones Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright were able to construct on Veronica Mars, but they are at least entertaining enough to hold the center of the show while the more interesting things can manifest around them.

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The only part of the show that’s still not quite connecting is Liv’s past life, especially in the case of ex-fiancé Major. Robert Buckley is doing a fine job, and the character can quip with the best of them, but tracking Liv’s feelings about him on a moment-by-moment basis is where things fall apart a bit. Part of this is because we got literally one scene of them together in bliss before Liv’s life was torn apart, but the majority of the issues seem to be stemming from the fact that so far, all of Liv’s motivations to seek him out have come from the personality traits she absorbed via brain ingestion. The Liv who gets amorous and sees the world as full of beauty because she ate artist brain isn’t the real Liv; it’s Liv clouded by the feelings of someone else, someone who is ultimately inconsequential to the story. Liv gaining the murder victim’s personality traits is a clever and fun aspect of the show, but when it comes to Liv’s angst in connection with her past, a clearer line between what is Liv and what is brain-influenced Liv would go a long way to developing her character—and, in turn, Major’s—in a more believable way.

To Major’s credit, he at least got to show a backbone in dealing with Liv’s very confusing behavior, kicking her out when she tries to kiss him and blowing up about all the ways she’s rejected him since breaking off their engagement. It’s hard to see how Major can continue to be a relevant character in Liv’s life going forward (especially considering this fight would be the logical end of all contact for most couples) so if the iZombie writers are committed to Major as a potential love interest going forward, they certainly have some more work to do to make it believable.

Still, this is a minor reservation in the grand scheme of the overall show landscape, which is impressively solid only two episodes in. The promise of more mythology surrounding Blaine and a deeper dive into the origins and existence of the zombie side of this world only sweeten the deal.

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Stray observations:

  • The opening premise recap is probably necessary for orientation purposes, but it’s a bit awkward. (These types of things almost always are, though.) At least the credits are fun enough to overcome this tiny bit of awkward.
  • I got a lot of (probably warranted) flack in the comments last week about not caring for Liv in “full on zombie mode,” but I liked it much more here when it was a bit more subtle. I think it’s the sound I don’t like, guys. The sound she made in the pilot was bad.
  • I have questions about how Blaine turned his now-benefactor into a zombie. Was it sexually transmitted? Did he scratch her? What does the Utopium drug have to do with it? I hope the hows and whys of the zombie virus (if it is even a virus) are something that we will get an answer on eventually.
  • Ravi’s glee at seeing Liv’s sudden art talent was infectious. Rahul Kohli is doing great things here.
  • The Seattle/Neptune Connection: The episode was directed by John Kretchmer, who directed many episodes of Veronica Mars. Jeffrey Vincent Parise (who plays Artie here) was Dylan Goran in Veronica Mars, the unfortunate dude at the other end of Aaron Echolls’ fists in “Hot Dogs.” (Parise also was a regular in Rob Thomas’ original Cupid series and appeared in an episode of Party Down. You have to love how Thomas keeps his favorites employed.)
  • “I hang out at the dog-friendly internet cafĂ© in Queen Anne, Mutt Bowl Surfers.” Rob Thomas and crew love a punny business name.
  • “I’m a quarter Cherokee.” “Yeah, you are.” Rose McIver continues to be great.

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