[This is a review of iZombie season 1, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
Writers of television shows, and crime shows in particular, seem to approach the concept of technology like a cautious hiker poking at an unfamiliar species of fungi with a stick. Police procedurals can whip around the workings of a murder case on a weekly basis with ease, but stick a computer in front of the characters and things usually get very silly very quickly. From Jesse using a light gun (complete with recoil) to play Rage in Breaking Bad to the baffling sight of two people operating the same keyboard in NCIS, TV has definitely used up its three strikes when it comes to the subjects of hacking and video games.
Given that track record, iZombie's hacking/video games episode '"Virtual Reality Bites" is relatively inoffensive, if only because the subject is an internet troll and internet trolls deserve all the mockery they can get. It doesn't hurt that lovable mortician Ravi and strapping social worker Major have both been portrayed as fans of video games, which helps to dilute the stereotypical nature of this week's corpse: a bearded fat man who sat in a basement all day playing an MMORPG, eating junk food, and yelling at people on the internet.
After the autopsy of the basement-dwelling troll indicates foul play might have played a role in his death, lucky Liv gets to drink down a smoothie made of his putrefied brains and gets a dose of his character traits: agoraphobia, a craving for Cheetos and Mountain Dew, and l337 h4x0r s|<1llz. A couple of dingy visions later and Liv suspects that a peanut allergy might be the cause of death. The victim had no shortage of enemies, but the power of internet anonymity meant that almost none of them knew who he was.
It's not all warlocks and revenge porn, though. Blaine's zombie paramour lets her hunger get the better of her and eats the brain of a delivery boy, leaving behind a corpse and a suspicious zombie crimelord. Clive's investigation of the killing brings him to Blaine's charcuterie, where he unknowingly comes within a hair's breadth of being turned into gourmet zombie food.
Perhaps it's just the bruises on his face from last week's zombie beating, but Major seems to have a little more texture in this week's episode as he pursues a story thread that's almost completely independent from Liv. With the youths under his care being chewed up (literally) and spit out (not literally) by Blaine's brain operation, Major inches closer to the truth that zombies not only exist but are multiplying. The final scene of the episode also suggests that Major isn't Liv's only loved one about to get drawn into the zombie drama.
Speaking of love interests, undead musician Lowell makes a comeback this week and offers a little more of his backstory, though whether it's true or whether he's just another Blaine in disguise remains to be seen. Once the small talk about how Lowell became a zombie (he got drunk and woke up that way) and where he gets his brains (a funeral home) is out of the way, the potential for a pasty new love story lies at Liv's feet - if only she can get past her issues long enough to grab it. The potential, that is.
Perhaps it's because the not-complete-bungling of a TV episode about gaming is such a pleasant surprise, but "Virtual Reality Bites" is definitely one of the best iZombie episodes for a while - perhaps even the best since the pilot. It feels like the writers were actually invested in the crime of the week, rather than treating it like an obligation, and there was a lot of wit in the writing. The episode also benefited from taking occasional time off to follow other subplots; Liv is a likable character, but that doesn't mean the audience has to spend every second with her.
If this is the start of an upward turn for iZombie after its post-pilot dip then it's very welcome. It might be a little formulaic, but the ongoing season arc is solid and when it's couched in an engaging murder-of-the-week the show is suitably entertaining. You could say that with this week's episode the writers... leveled up.
I'll show myself out.
Sim Reaper: [On recording] I am the Sim Reaper. I am the keeper of the web. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies tremble before me. I am invisible, intangible, untouchable. I am the bringer of cyber darkness. Fail me and I will delete you like so much digital noise.Liv: Why are all the good ones unavailable?
Lowell: This isn't a date. It's a drop-by.Liv: Maybe that's what you call it in Buckingham Regalshire.
iZombie returns next Tuesday with "Maternal Liv" @9pm on The CW. Watch a preview below: