iZombie returns to the CW on January 12 with the 10th episode of its second season. So far, the show has been a delight, pirouetting through the clunkier aspects of its premise — a medical-student-turned-zombie assists a homicide detective by eating the brains of murder victims — with a verbal style that has been compared to Veronica Mars, which was iZombie creator Rob Thomas’ previous project.
Veronica Mars inspired a cult following among those who became addicted to the show’s quick, verbal sparring and surprisingly large heart. The show’s teen detective, Mars (Kristen Bell), navigated her adolescence and romantic pairings in a way that felt emotionally realistic for a character her age, but she also worked as a private investigator, acting as more of a well-developed and adult professional than characters around her expected.
iZombie has a similar affection for its protagonist, although zombie-medical-examiner Olivia “Liv” Moore is not a teenager. She is a decidedly millennial twentysomething whose original hopes for her life and career were overturned. The show watches her gain new friends and become self-actualized in a job she wouldn’t have predicted for herself before the show began.
Although her circumstances involve being a member of the walking dead and not simply being underemployed due to a liberal arts degree, Liv’s story is one familiar to most viewers her age. She is disconnected from older characters who can’t understand her choices — dropping out of her residency, breaking ties with her fiancé — and is struggling to define herself in a world where former paths-to-success have been rendered obsolete.
Though iZombie is a functioning twentysomething’s sitcom, it also uses horror tropes in a way that honors zombies from previous media without committing to the genre’s typical bleak attitude. Though Liv is a zombie, she keeps herself from going “full Romero” by eating chunks of brains from the morgue regularly, chopping them up as pizza toppings and hiding them in cheese quesadillas. Dressing up the human brains is simply Liv’s attempt to feel normal; she doesn’t actually taste any of the junk food additives. As a member of the undead, Liv has to add as many spices as possible to her food in order to taste it at all. In some episodes, she’s even pictured drinking straight hot sauce in order to feel something.
When Liv does go “full Romero”, it’s effectively scary. Also frightening are the zombies being kept under observation by Max Rager, the company that originally created them. Though the show is funny, and its episodic plot-lines typically involve Liv’s hijinks as a consultant for the police, the developing threat of a zombie apocalypse has been looming over iZombie’s second season. When the show picks up next week, it promises to commit to that threat.
From the beginning, iZombie has rendered its central subject with levity, letting Liv crack jokes about her undead predicament with her friends, without losing sight of its overall apocalyptic vision. Though Liv has found a way to cope as a zombie, keeping herself afloat with brains she ingests as part of her day job, the audience watches several villains attempt to eradicate all zombies, regardless of their character. Other undead, like Blaine, one of the series’ strongest and most intriguing characters, creates more zombies like him as a vampire would, infecting them through bites and forcing them into servitude with the promise of a brain supply only he can provide.
Here, iZombie borrows from contemporary vampire stories, though it doesn’t seek to sexualize its monsters, as most vampire shows do in earnest. Though the CW admittedly isn’t the origin of some of iZombie’s themes — monsters vs humans, holding back the apocalypse via a teen girl — it’s telling a story about monsters using real, joyful humor, which is a rare feat.
The show also treats its minor characters well, making each of the people who seek to help Liv interesting in their own right. Ravi, the medical examiner who was the first person to share Olivia’s zombie-secret, is portrayed by the likable Rahul Kohli. He does play comic relief in most episodes, serving sometimes as a straight-man to Liv’s antics, and sometimes as a stereotypical fan boy; his romantic interests get their own screen-time and stakes. It’s safe to say Ravi has become a fan favorite, notably engaging in a supportive and fun platonic friendship with the series’ lead, without any awkward attempts at a romance.
Another stand-out is Ravi and Liv’s boss Clive, the homicide detective who still thinks Liv is a psychic, rather than a zombie. In a recent episode, the show explored Clive’s private life, giving him a feasible romantic interest and a bevy of secret hobbies, including an obsession with Game of Thrones. On a weaker show, this might have been a misstep, or the writing team’s attempt to avoid furthering the plot for an episode. However, iZombie managed to make an already-likable character even more engaging. Honoring what makes each of its characters worth watching is the show’s greatest strength.
When it returns to finish its second season next week, the show deserves a growing viewership, even just for telling a story about zombies in a consistent, and pleasurable way. It has all the gore and suspense to satisfy horror fans, but it avoids some of the traps grittier horror shows fall into by maintaining its sense of humor. After all, when was the last time you got to watch zombies and have a little fun? Rick Grimes may be formidable, but no one’s ever called him likable.