Everything, and nothing, is different on iZombie. It’s still a loose procedural, with undead coroner’s assistant Liv Moore (Rose McIver) and Det. Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) solving weekly murders. Oh, but hey—the entire world now knows about the existence of zombies. Oops.
This would be a strange place for a newcomer to start the series, but honestly, it wouldn’t be tough to jump in with the beginning of season four (though you’re denying yourself the pleasure of three previous seasons of one of TV’s most reliably entertaining shows). For the past 45 episodes, Rob Thomas’ adaptation of the Vertigo comic book has kept its primary narrative conceit—that zombies exist in the world, they’re just like us (save for the whole “undead and need to eat brains” thing), and Liv is one of them—as an in-world secret, the majority of people in the Seattle setting blissfully unaware of the hippocampus-hungry population living among them. That began to change last season with the introduction of Fillmore-Graves (iZombie embraces wordplay to a degree unseen since Arrested Development), the zombie-run paramilitary outfit preparing for humankind’s discovery of the undead. Season three ended with that discovery, following the unwitting zombification of a large percentage of Seattlites; season four depicts the fallout.
What long seemed like a bad idea is turning out to be just the jolt of creative energy iZombie needed. The city of Seattle has been utterly transformed in the four months since the global discovery of zombies, and not in a good way. Fillmore-Graves has essentially taken over the city under martial law (though law enforcement and city government continue to operate, meaning Aly Michalka’s Peyton Charles is still fighting the good fight as the mayor’s chief of staff), walling off the city, enforcing curfews, and doing its best to maintain good relations between humans and zombies. Easier said than done: Anti-zombie sentiment is rampant, and underground coyotes are illegally moving people in and out of the city, not to mention turning many with mortal illnesses into zombies—a strict no-no, given the already tenuous food supply for the city’s undead. Chase Graves (Jason Dohring) is desperately trying to keep the powder-keg situation from igniting, no easy task given the growing support outside of Seattle for simply nuking the city and wiping out the zombie population altogether.
It’s dark stuff, but Thomas and Ruggiero’s light-hearted humor keeps the show firmly on the side of breezily enjoyable. In fact, the new season is dealing with the bleaker day-to-day existence of iZombie’s beleaguered Seattle residents by cranking up the humor, and the first installments are among the series’ funniest. The weekly acting exercise granted McIver—Liv dines on the brains of the murder victims she examines, adopting their personality traits and helping Babineaux catch the killer—is still a solid comic conceit and allows her the chance to play a sports-obsessed husband, a bitchy old society woman, and a hockey goon. The high point of these early episodes is a two-part hunt for a serial killer, which not only finds Liv becoming a lovestruck rom-com fanatic, but also alters the show’s structure to grant her Sex And The City-style monologues.
Those brain-devouring identity shifts are a reassuring display of how little has changed for iZombie fans. Although eating the brains of the deceased is now routine for other zombie cops—though the accompanying flashes of victims’ memories are inadmissible in court—the day-to-day routine for Liv and Clive is largely the same. Rahul Kohli’s Ravi continues to delight, as his self-administered zombie vaccine mostly works, aside from the occasional brain-craving and white hair. And David Anders’ Blaine DeBeers remains the most charming, peroxided antagonist since Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Spike, a cheerfully amoral bastard wiling to do whatever it takes to make a buck and live life on his own terms, consequences for others be damned.
The consistency is broken up by a few bumpy transitions. The show doesn’t seem to know what to do with Peyton, especially now that her relationships with both Ravi and Blaine have ended. For now, she seems to function as little more than “supportive friend,” periodically given a scene at work just so we know how the Fillmore-Graves situation is unfolding in the halls of power. And a new religious-based menace orchestrated by Blaine’s disturbed father (Robert Knepper, whom The CW chose not to remove from iZombie following multiple sexual assault allegations) is intriguing, but doesn’t yet have enough depth to be more than a strange diversion. The series makes an abrupt pivot into more ambitious narrative efforts in episode five, and stumbles several times in trying to explore new ways of storytelling, primarily through not justifying some of the changes.
Still, if it occasionally slackens, that’s only because iZombie is so steadily good that subpar episodes and missed story beats stand out far more than they would in a lesser series. Neither of Thomas’ previous cult favorites, Veronica Mars and Party Down, lived to see a fourth season, and iZombie seems to be luxuriating in the opportunity to really expand and do some formidable world-building. But this is a show that ultimately wants its audience happy; Liv Moore is out there solving crimes and eating brains, and the television landscape is better off for it.