iZombie returns for its third season on Tuesday, and this underrated CW comedy/drama really deserves more attention. Despite its title, The Walking Dead doesn’t have to be your jam to enjoy the series; in fact, you don’t need to care that much about “zombies” with a capital Z at all. The show doesn’t waste time over-explaining its premise - the story begins when our heroine Liv, a Type A med student, goes to what turns out to be the world’s worst boat party and subsequently gets infected. After dying and coming back as a zombie, Liv changes her whole life—she breaks up with her fiancé, distances herself from her family, and quits her job to go work at the morgue so she can get brains without harming people. In the world of the show, zombies get flashes of memories from the brains they consume, and pretty soon, Liv decides to use her visions to help solve their murders.
iZombie has all the wit and charm of Veronica Mars, and it shares a whole lot of its DNA. It’s created for television by Rob Thomas and Dianne Ruggiero-Wright (it was also adapted from a comic series of the same name). Thomas, of course, created Veronica Mars, and Ruggiero-Wright served as a writer and executive-producer on the beloved teen series. These two collaborating again and writing the same amazing dialogue as they did on that show should be reason enough to draw folks in here. The creative team cares about their zombie mythology and certainly have fun with putting a unique spin on how they’re created, but ultimately they focus more on character and fun cases of the week. Just like in Veronica Mars, all of the humor and heartbreak, even the intrigue and mystery, comes from the level of investment in the people who are involved. In this respect, most episodes feel like self-contained mysteries that would make for compelling stories even without the genre element.
The show doesn’t take itself too seriously—which actually allows it to be serious on occasion. For a TV show about a character who’s technically dead, it touches on a lot of real emotions too. Liv’s strained relationship with her family, her friendship with Ravi, and her romantic history with Major all feel relatable, regardless of the heightened context they exist in. The relationships are one of the show’s biggest strengths—as are the minor characters connected to the cases Liv investigates (seriously, some guest stars just walk onscreen and absolutely break your heart for an episode; another thing in common the show has with Veronica Mars). What makes the series feel grounded is the wonderful way Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright consistently find their tonal sweet spot: comedy, genuine emotion, and a smattering of brains.
One would think that after two seasons the show had burned through all possible personalities for Liv to take on, but apparently Rose McIver has a limitless set of skills. iZombie has plenty of fun with the whole “brain of the week” conceit, but rarely coasts by on that alone; the writers always manage to dovetail the murder case with a personal problem Liv is dealing with. Some shows would try to ham-fistedly pass their gimmick off as character development, but this show is smarter than that. iZombie deftly mixes overarching storylines with its more procedural elements, and even when the “brains” feel like they’re out of sync with the rest of an episode’s plot, they’re just fun. Liv’s malleable personality is also a huge part of what makes her so interesting. In a great season two episode called “Reflections of the Way Liv Used to Be,” Liv eats the brains of another Type A girl and it’s our first real glimpse outside of the pilot of who she was as a human. Liv is such a fascinating character because on the surface, the person she used to be is gone forever; at the same time, who she is now is fluid, and she’s changing all the time. The new Liv is being slowly revealed to the audience while she herself comes to terms with her constantly shifting identity in this new life. Put simply, the show uses its “brain” plot device to reveal more about Liv, not less.
Season two really expanded the world of the show and gave the characters more complete story arcs. Over the course of the season, Clive had a relationship and finally learned about zombies; Blaine became human again, and then got amnesia; and Ravi get closer to finding a cure for Liv, only to end up back at square one again. Some of the subplots meandered a little bit, like the Mr. Boss thread, but that was probably a result of having more episodes to make (season two had 19 hours to fill, as opposed to the 13 in the first season).
Last year’s fantastic two-part finale really shook things up for all the characters. Halfway through the first season, Major was already showing sings of moving beyond the confines of his love interest role, but season two still took his character to some pretty dark places. In the finale, Major’s season-long arc as the “Chaos Killer” came to a head with his arrest. In order to save him from turning into a zombie behind bars, Liv finally chose to bring Clive into the fold. Clive’s decision to drop the Seattle P.D.’s case against Major cost him everything, both professionally and personally. And just when Ravi thought he and Peyton would be together, Blaine showed up at exactly the wrong moment to come between them. (Poor Ravi.) “Salivation Army” had the most action of any episode to date: Liv, Major, and Clive broke into a prison-themed Max Rager party and Big Bad Vaughn Du Clark was (presumably) finished off by a hoard of his zombie test subjects in a glorious sequence. The finale tied all the season’s threads together and left the door open for new threats—because as soon as Du Clark is left in that elevator to die, a new threat presents itself.
This year, there are no secrets between the main characters—they’re all on the same team (Team Z, that is), and it will be exciting to see how they all come together to fight this new threat. Based on trailers, it looks like iZombie’s third season will be growing the cast of characters even further. The finale introduced us to Vivian Stoll, a private military contractor who now owns Max Rager. Stoll and her group are zombies too, and they want to make Seattle the undead capital of the world. “Are you with us, or against us?” Stoll asks Liv in the final moments of the season. It was a great note to end the season on—and it’s where we’ll pick up in the premiere.
Zombies might be ubiquitous in pop culture right now, but this show really brings something unique to the table. The Walking Dead is still a ratings behemoth, but its numbers have been on a steady decline all season long. I strongly encourage any of those viewers that have abandoned ship and are looking for a different kind of zombie fix to catch up on the first two seasons of iZombie, which are currently available to stream on Netflix. Season three premieres this Tuesday, at 9 p.m. Welcome back, Team Z.