'iZombie' Season Two Continues to Be the Spark of Life in the Zombie Genre
TV's most lively zombie returns on DVD, and she, and the rest of the cast, are as fun and wild as ever.
Amid a post-Walking Dead popular culture brimming with zombie narratives, properties, and merchandising, the CW's surprise hit of 2015, iZombie, proved to be a gleefully refreshing take on the famously maudlin genre. Returning for a second season, iZombie brings back its unique tone, style, and characters in the continuing story of Seattle morgue assistant and reluctant zombie, Liv Moore (Rose McIver). Alongside her spunky English boss, Ravi (Rahul Kohli), and her partner in crime-solving, Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), Liv continues to use her special mind-eating/reading abilities to bring Seattle's criminals to justice.
After the season one finalé, in which Liv and Ravi managed to find a cure for the zombie virus, only to be forced to use it on Liv's ex-fiance Major (Robert Buckley), and her zombie nemesis, Blaine (David Anders), the two are back at square one in finding a new cure for Seattle's incognito zombie population. All the while, the two must oppose the continued evil plans of Max Rager CEO Vaughn Du Clark (Steven Weber), as well as the newly human Blaine, who's begun running an underground brain market beneath the funeral home he now operates. As with its first season, iZombie proves to be a standout show, with some of the most consistently funny, entertaining, and memorable writing and characters currently on television.
Picking up after last season, Liv remains estranged from her family after refusing to donate blood to her brother Evan (Nick Purcha) when he's caught in the Meat Cute explosion that destroyed Blaine's former brain provision operation. Liv and Major continue to struggle with their feelings for one another, which is only made more complicated when Ravi and Major become roommates. On top of that, Liv's best friend and Ravi's ex, Peyton (Aly Michalka), returns to town after high-tailing it last season when she watched a full-on-zombie-mode Liv kill one of Vaughn Du Clark’s henchmen.
As for Major, he's been threatened into abducting and killing Seattle's zombies for Vaughn Du Clark -- under threat of Liv's life -- and becomes the media-deemed "Chaos Killer". To top it all off, Liv's new roommate Gilda/Rita (Leanne Lapp) is secretly Vaughn Du Clark’s personal assistant (and even more secretly: his daughter). To iZombie's continued benefit, it's these complex relationships and secrets among the main cast that keep the tension and intrigue running throughout the season, to both dramatic and comedic effect.
Just as much in its second season as in its first, iZombie's greatest strength is its distinctly zany sense of humor, something to be expected from Rob Thomas, the creator of Veronica Mars. The comedy in iZombie is reliably witty, sharp, and hilarious, from wisecracks to slapstick; even down to the comic-book-style narration boxes that open every post-commercial break scene, which provide a delightfully regular (and somehow not painful) array of puns (ie, a scene in which Major receives a concussion subsequently opens with the description "Major Head Wound").
The dialogue and character exchanges remain the area in which the show shines brightest, as the cast's excellent chemistry allows an ecstatic, rapid-fire banter that is consistently enjoyable and often laugh-out-loud funny. The show is thankfully rarely bogged down by the characteristically gruesome tropes of the zombie drama, save for the occasional scene of over-the-top zombie-killing. Even the show's characteristic schtick -- Liv's receiving memories and personality traits from people whose brains she eats -- is made light of each episode through scenes of Liv preparing the brains in a variety of recipes, from stuffed peppers to scrambled eggs. Light-hearted touches such as this are a frequent reminder that iZombie has never been married to the zombie genre's inherent melodrama.
Liv's consumption of brains in each episode is another high point of the show's comedy, as it presents an endlessly entertaining and impressive exercise for actress Rose McIver. Over the course of the season, McIver gets to play an assortment of wild character archetypes through Liv, including a prototypical frat boy, a racist old man, a sex-crazed housewife, a pugnacious stripper, a David Blaine / Criss Angel-esque magician, and an obsessive, stalker ex-girlfriend, making McIver very much her own one-woman show. Liv's transformations are a regular whirlwind for her clueless partner, Clive, who in one episode describes the experience to a frat boy Liv:
Clive: "It's like a box of chocolates with you, partner. I don’t know what I'm going to get."
Liv: "You're gettin' chocolate, bro."
Even in the midst of its lovable absurdity, iZombie manages to ground all its zaniness through the show's relationships. The writers cleverly manage to corral Liv's wild personality swings into thematic relevancy regarding her friendships and romances, cementing the "romantic" facet of iZombie's "romantic comedy" title. Each of Liv's personality changes and received memories manages to comment on some aspect of the ongoing storylines and character developments, often with an epiphany from Liv on her own life and those of the people around her. Liv's struggle to counteract the effects of the brains she consumes smartly reflect the most common misgivings and personal flaws found in even the best of people and the strongest of bonds, such as Liv's insane jealously of Major while on "stalker brain".
Liv's multiple personalities serve to reflect the often-frenzied array of emotions and impulses that inhabit close relationships, and her pleas of trying to "fight the brain" parallel the common struggle to avoid bad habits and rash suspicions around loved ones, as well as the difficulties that accompany the personal differences between friends and partners.
An episode where Liv adopts the strange mannerisms of a particularly bizarre stage magician, and Major's visible unease with it, even seems to reflect the struggle of a relationship in which one person suffers from mood swings. The show's creators have managed to thoughtfully use an inherently ridiculous concept as more than just a reusable plot device for each episode, and one that becomes all the more fun when Major and Blaine ultimately revert to their zombie forms and exhibit the same effects.
iZombie additionally draws its strength from a stellar supporting cast, especially in continuing the trail blazed by shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer by having some of the most comically memorable villains in current television. The "Big Bad" of the season, Steven Weber's Vaughn Du Clark, proves an equally menacing and comedic bad guy, reminiscent of the goofiness of the Mayor (Harry Groener) in Buffy season three, while David Anders' equal parts charming and sociopathic Blaine proves to be one of the most entertaining television antagonists since Buffy's Spike (James Marsters), to whom the character also bears a striking physical resemblance.
Anders' performance regularly rivals McIver's as the show's best asset, and he's often given the show’s funniest dialogue ("I'm an acquired taste. Like gazpacho or that free U2 album") and scenes (showing up to retrieve the a bottle of zombie cure from Ravi while singing "Friday I'm in Love" by The Cure, only for the scene to culminate in the two scrambling for the vial while the song plays over them). Blaine proves to be the kind of character one either loves to hate or hates to love: someone one can't help but root for and adore despite knowing about, and consistently being reminded of, the vicious things he’s done. Even a scene where Blaine tortures his own father is softened by his playing "One Day More" from the Les Miserables soundtrack on a record player, leaving one feeling seduced into loving Blaine even when trying to despise him. Blaine proves a perfectly balanced villain, one who's undeniably wicked, but irresistibly entertaining and likable.
What iZombie manages best of all is its ability to pull regularly funny performances not only out of its major cast, but guest and side characters as well. There's rarely a dull, uninteresting, or wasted character on the show, even from guest or one-off appearances. This might only prove a detriment in that very few of the show's characters seem to behave like full-grown adults, except perhaps for regular buzzkill Clive.
Vaughn Du Clark lashes out at Twitter commenters, Ravi gleefully jokes at murder scenes, and Clive's FBI partner and eventual girlfriend, Agent Dale Bozzio (Jessica Harmon) is perhaps the most facetious FBI agent on television, if her Austin-Powers-esque games of charades are any indication. Then again, a show like iZombie shouldn't be evaluated on any staunch realism in its characters, as this is certainly not its approach, instead choosing to focusing on a jovial ambiance. When iZombie does decide to go deep, however, it does so more successfully than most romantic comedy fare.
Unfortunately, the special features on the season two DVD leave a lot to be desired, as they are limited to some deleted scenes and recorded footage of the show's 2015 Comic-Con panel. While the latter definitely provides some enjoyable content --including the surprise that's Rose McIver's New Zealand accent -- the features overall feel very lacking for a program that, given its humor, chemistry, and production values, must have so much to show and say behind the scenes. Anyone who watches iZombie will come away wanting a glimpse of the off-camera side of the show, whether it be set designs, scene rehearsals, or what must be some great blooper reels, and leaving fans without so much as a glimpse into its production seems like a huge missed opportunity, and an oversight that the show's producers should consider correcting for the next DVD release.
Nevertheless, iZombie's second season proves another great chapter to a show that’s only become more enjoyable and watchable as it’s grown into its skin. With a wit, tone, and gaiety all its own, it's difficult to come away from an episode without a smile or giggle to show for it. At a time when the next big development in the current headliner zombie show is who's going to be the next to die horribly, iZombie is the perfect antidote to such punishing viewership, and a welcome spark of (undead) life.