As TV premises go, iZombie isn’t much more irrational than The Flying Nun or My Mother the Car. The CW show, which just wrapped its second season with a hellish battle, features an ambitious, intelligent med student played by Rose McIver, who in the pilot episode attends a party where cocktail banter turns into an undead feeding frenzy. When she wakes up craving brains for breakfast, Liv Moore (note ironic name) somehow finds the wherewithal to team up with Ravi, a police forensics investigator (Rahul Kohli), thus ensuring herself a steady diet of fresh brains and a number of tasty cases to keep the show percolating. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars — the latter also produced by iZombie creators Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero — the show has an overarching season-long plot but also compelling one-hour whodunits.
Fans of Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars probably weren’t completely sold on this show during its first season. But Thomas and Ruggiero managed to gin it up this year into something solid by pumping up the snappy dialogue and rigidly ritualizing the hour show — first a stinger, then the murder of the week, followed by the first delicious brains dish Liv devours. They also build real danger into the show: Characters may not be as vulnerable as Game of Thrones principals, but fates reverse regularly. The noir-ish feel of the show has little to do with its look, as it takes place in a Seattle where it apparently never rains. Yet the pulse of the story — detective work — is undermined by the dishonesty of nearly everyone on the show. Liv, who is a closet zombie, temporarily takes on the personality of the last brain she ate for a while, and regularly deceives her hunky fiancé, Major (Robert Buckley), during Season 1. In Season 2, Major manages to hide his own secret life. Like a good messy mystery, nobody is him- or herself.
Meanwhile, the fun continues, ever widening, quip by quip. “You know what would be fun?” asks a man playing a zombie on a fictitious show that Liv loves called Zombie High. “A show where the zombie is the star.”
“That would be dumb,” replies Liv’s boss, Clive.
The real pleasures of the show come from the geekier comic-book world. iZombie was a graphic novel first, and the show begins and ends with drawn panels. It has an adult-comic-book feel — pulpy sex and violence and the occasional gross-out smeared through a screen of pop-culture references. “I’m going home to take a Silkwood shower,” said Liv’s traumatized DA buddy. Fanboys and fangirls are used to constant jokey self-consciousness, but even Buffy didn’t pull off the sheer amount of inter-textual ribbing that iZombie offers, and in this season, the jokes mounted up, but so did the scary apocalypse promised as the FBI, a rival zombie brain producer, and a startlingly bland-faced menace named Mr. Boss gathered. And don’t forget the zombies. Tune in again.
iZombie Seasons 1 and 2 are now available on DVD.