[This is a review of the iZombie Season 2 premiere. There may be SPOILERS.]
So, you turned your ex-fiancé into a zombie and now he won't talk to you. You refused to donate blood to your brother when he was dying and now your entire family won't talk to you. Also, you're a member of the restless, brain-eating undead. What do you do next? If you're Liv Moore, you get right back on the horse and start investigating another murder.
"Grumpy Old Liv" is a mellow season opener - an episode that could very easily have just been another entry in Season 1. This week's victim is Wendell, an elderly man with a serious mean streak who gets crushed to death by his own car after someone carelessly kicks the jack out from under it. In typical iZombie fashion, only two or three potential suspects are introduced and in the end it turns out that one of them murdered him. It's a simple case that provides a comfortable backbone for the episode, so that the rest of the running time can get on with developing character arcs and dealing with the fallout from the Season 1 finale.
This week's brain infuses Liv with exactly the grouchy temperament that she needs to deal with being shunned by her family and Major, along with a bout of racism that makes things rather awkward with the two guys that Liv works with. It's lucky that Clive has grown accustomed to shrugging off Liv's strange behavior, because receiving a backhanded compliment like "You're one of the good ones" is a little bit harder to shake than watching Liv tell a suspect that his ironic T-shirt is dumb.
Aside from the fact that it involves a very cute dog, the case of the week isn't really interesting enough to warrant much discussion. More interesting by far is the reveal that Ravi's zombie cure has the strange side effect of giving its subjects - which so far include Major, Blaine and the morgue's pet rat - a sixth sense that allows them to sense zombie presence. Since Max Rager is interested in wiping out all of the zombies in Seattle, this ability is potentially very useful to slimy CEO Vaughn, which leads to Major's character arc taking a troubling turn.
Throughout the first season of iZombie, Major was portrayed as being tooth-achingly sweet-natured and good-hearted. He worked with troubled youths, he cared about his charges enough to go on a full-tilt investigation into their disappearance, and even martyred himself to a stint inside a psychiatric hospital. In the Season 2 premiere, Major murders a family man in cold blood, for no reason other than the fact that the man was a zombie and Vaughn made vague threats towards hurting Liv if Major didn't become his personal hitman.
It's a bold and pretty jarring move. After all, Liv couldn't bring herself to kill Blaine in Season 1, and Blaine had a lot more blood on his hands than Major's poor personal training client. It will be interesting to see how this subplot continues to develop over the rest of the season, but even given Major's animosity towards zombies it's difficult to accept the idea of him suddenly becoming Seattle's lead zombie exterminator.
iZombie's other problem is a villain problem. Blaine has found a less offensive way to obtain brains for his clients and has switched his focus to distributing utopium rather than fresh human remains, which means that Vaughn is now the main threat. In Season 1, Blaine was the primary antagonist and carried out his antagonism in a pretty one-note manner, but he was a complex honeycomb of characterization compared to Vaughn. Vaughn is an evil guy who does evil things because he likes money (and being evil), and so far that seems to be as deep as his character goes. For now it feels like a second-tier Season 1 villain has been dubiously promoted to the top spot in Season 2, and Vaughn just hasn't exhibited the kind of substance required to be a compelling nemesis. Either iZombie needs a different big bad, or Vaughn needs to step up his game.
Overall, "Grumpy Old Liv" still feels like one of those middling-quality Season 1 episodes. The show has embraced its procedural-with-a-twist formula, but it needs more creativity to keep things interesting. Since the season plot arcs that are being set up feel like an extension of those from Season 1 (creating a zombie cure and foiling Max Rager's plans), it would be nice to see some more investment in the case of the week and the rich gimmick of Liv's week-to-week personality changes.
Thankfully there's always witty banter to keep things light ("Did you find the guy who did that to your hair or is he still at large"), and even if iZombie has yet to become a drama that keeps viewers on the edge of their seat, it's still very watchable.
iZombie returns next Tuesday with "Zombie Bro" @9/8c on The CW. Watch the promo below.
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