There’s something comforting about the throwback rhythms of iZombie, a show that lives quite pleasantly in the transitional zone between old-school episodic TV and the more novelistic, long-form television narrative of the twenty-first century. The show’s third season is a great example of how it straddles this divide, somehow feeling more formulaic than ever, even as it advances the show’s world-building to refreshing new territory.
iZombie chronicles the life of Liv Moore (Rose McIver), a promising young medical student whose life goes haywire when she’s turned into a zombie. Working as a medical examiner for the Seattle Police Department, Liv helps Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) solve murders by eating the brains of the victims and absorbing their memories. Meanwhile, her colleague Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli) labors tirelessly to solve the mysteries of zombie science, in search of a cure.
For the first two seasons, the zombies were a secret underworld in Seattle, with Liv and her friends gradually getting more and more entangled in it—primarily through their interactions with Blaine DeBeers (David Anders), a skeazy lowlife who supplies the city’s zombie population with black-market brains. Season three begins the process of blowing the lid off of this status quo, as Liv’s circle of friends—including goofball ex Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley) and best-friend attorney Peyton Charles (Aly Michalka)—become official insiders into what’s going on, just as a military contractor firm , Filmore Graves, sets up shop in town. Turns out Filmore Graves is staffed entirely by zombies, who are secretly laboring to prepare the wider world for the “D Day” when the knowledge of the existence of zombies becomes commonplace. Liv and her friends reluctantly join forces with them, hoping to keep zombies a secret, or at least help to steer a careful course toward the inevitable. But as fringe elements of Seattle’s citizenry learn more and more about zombies, factions begin to develop within Filmore Graves, with differing opinions about how to handle the situation.
iZombie’s third season, aside from the introduction of Filmore Graves as a new player in the secret zombie wars, initially continues very much in the vein of the first two seasons. It still provides a murder-of-the-week for Liv and Clive to solve, delivering all the requisite signature elements: specifically, an extremely quirky murder victim is introduced, whose brains are then lovingly crafted into Liv’s dinner, which infuses her with the victim’s extreme personality and supplies her with vivid, strategically useful memories. On the episodic level, this makes the show structurally predictable, and not necessarily in a bad way. Because on top of the comfortable episodic elements, iZombie also plays the long game, setting up incremental changes in the worldbuilding that propel the show into new territory that does subtly alter the formula in a gradual way.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a showrunning strategy right out of the nineties, popularized by genre shows like The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Indeed, the latter is probably iZombie’s most obvious ancestor, with its blend of weekly monsters and season-long arcs. This makes iZombie feel behind the times in some ways, but it’s also very much of its time in others. If vampires were the sociopolitical metaphor of the 1990s, zombies are clearly today’s equivalent, a useful symbol for widespread cultural fears of The Other—for what are all our current debates on issues like immigration, xenophobia, and LGBT rights (among other things) but expressions of irrational fear that huge masses of people are attempting to reshape society in unrecognizable, uncomfortable ways? It’s in this area that iZombie’s third season is exciting, setting the series up as a potentially interesting vehicle for discussion of these issues. Based on its track record, I don’t expect it to do so with a major, heavy-handed approach, but with a brand new paradigm moving into place for season four, there’s plenty of opportunity for subtle, subversive commentary along these lines. Meanwhile, the slick surface of clever plots, hilarious dialogue, sympathetic characters, and perfectly clocked comedic performances will help the medicine go down smoothly. Very much looking forward to another season.