[This is a review of iZombie season 1, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
The only thing worse than being a zombie is being a lonely zombie, but that doesn’t mean that Liv Moore is ready to let just any pale-faced, albino-haired man into her life. That’s especially true when the first other sentient zombie she meets is smooth-talking Blaine (David Anders), who didn’t make the best first impression. To be specific, he offered Liv drugs, slapped her on the ass and then scratched her and turned her into a zombie. As more of his actions are revealed over the course of “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain,” it becomes pretty clear that Blaine is poor best friend material.
This isn’t just a zombie show, though; it’s also a crime procedural, which means that showrunners Rob Thomas and Dianne Ruggiero are obligated to stick some kind of crime into each episode. This week it’s another murder, this time of a successful painter who was gruesomely stabbed in the eye with his own paintbrush. Luckily there are enough brains left to make a tasty snack for Liv, who soon finds herself dosed up with an artist’s vision of the world, an aptitude for florid description and a lusty appreciation for both men and women.
The murder mystery itself really does feel like an obligation rather than a natural part of the story, which is a somewhat worrying omen given that the show’s entire formula is based around crime-solving. The matter of who killed the late artist is very procedural: a parade of suspects are introduced, each of them is given a potential motivation, and at the end the suspect who was supposedly written off turns out to be the culprit. It’s the flat pack furniture of a crime procedural story, and the most exciting moment in it is the realization of, “Hey, that’s Carla from Scrubs!”
Luckily there’s enough running time left for “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain'” to lay out what are probably going to be the most interesting aspects of iZombie going forward. Liv picking up personality quirks and skills from the people whose brains she eats seems very fitting for a character who is struggling to rediscover her own goals in life, and like Quantum Leap‘s weekly body possession it’s one of those ideas that offers up virtually endless story opportunities.
Meanwhile Anders, who is probably iZombie‘s most recognizable cast member due to his roles in shows like Heroes, The Vampire Diaries and Once Upon a Time (not to mention playing another intelligent zombie in horror comedy The Revenant), has the makings of a suitably charismatic primary antagonist, though we’ve yet to see the chemistry between him and series lead Rose McIver really fly. Hopefully, they just need some time to warm up to each other.
One theme that is brought up in both Blaine and Liv’s storylines is the idea of brains being an addictive substance for the undead. Blaine decides to use his existing skill set as a drug dealer to convert a wealthy barfly to the zombie cause, forcing her to become reliant on him for a steady supply of brains. Meanwhile, Liv gets temporarily addicted to the effects of eating the artist’s brain and can’t resist going back for another dose, even after the crime is solved.
“Brother, Can You Spare a Brain” isn’t as strong as the pilot episode and it doesn’t really have any laugh-out-loud moments, but what it does do is establish more of the emotional heart of the show. Liv’s long-suffering ex-fiancé Major, who manages to defy jilted lover stereotypes by being remarkably chipper most of the time, gets fleshed out some more as Liv’s sudden passionate nature leads her to inadvertently toy with Major’s heart. The fact that he isn’t willing to put up with this thankfully saves him from veering into dopey pushover territory.
Overall, iZombie needs more of the sharp humor from the pilot, less chunky exposition, and more interesting cases to solve. To be honest, there probably wouldn’t be many tears shed if the crime procedural formula was dropped altogether. Detective Babineaux can stay, though. He’s cool.
Liv: His lips were thin, but there was substance to them. It kind of grew from his mouth like a secret he couldn’t keep.
Jimmy the Sketch Artist: So, thin lips.
Blaine: I’ve cut all of the poisonous people out of my life. Who were apparently the only people in my life. So it’s just me now.
iZombie returns next Tuesday with “The Exterminator” @9pm on The CW. Watch a preview below: