iZombie is such a strange show. It is essentially a USA procedural airing on the CW, but narrated by a lead actress who comes off like Veronica Mars’ slightly more sullen sister. If Psych, Veronica Mars, and Pushing Daisies had a freaky threeway resulting in a zombie baby it would be iZombie. That’s not really a good or bad thing. It just means that if you are familiar with those other shows, as I am, it can take a while to see iZombie as having a unique identity of its own. On the plus side, it also means that here in its second episode iZombie is already pretty settled into its basic formula, not working overly hard to re-establish all of its characters and story arcs for anyone who missed the pilot. In fact, several of the people from the pilot aren’t even in this episode, thus establishing right away that Liv’s family members will be recurring characters, not full time. If you want something more focused on the family dynamics and drama after one family member has become a high-functioning zombie check out BBC’s In the Flesh. That’s not really what iZombie is going to be about.
The basic plot of “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?” involves a philandering, famous artist found dead with a paint brush shoved through his eye, and the chief suspects are the grieving wife (played by Judy Reyes, aka Carla from Scrubs) and manager. Clive, Liv’s cop friend, insists the wife did it because it’s always the spouse, a suggestion Liv’s finds abhorrent, indicating that she’s apparently never watched Law & Order before. Once Liv gets her taste of the victim’s brain, she begins seeing his memories of sensual love-making sessions with his various mistresses, which leads to a new set of suspects. That’s the meat and potatoes of the murder investigation. Clive and Liv progress through several new suspects before circling back around to the original two, widow and manager, with the result not being particularly surprising.
Along the way, Liv adopts the victim’s love for painting and passion for art, giving us a fairly funny moment of Liv looking up at the random wall art in her apartment and asking her roommate, “Why did we buy this? It’s horrible!” But Liv’s not just suddenly an informed art critic; she has the victim’s considerable skills as well, which she puts to good use to create her own painting for the apartment. The personality quirk she picks up is the victim’s passion for life, specifically sex, resulting in Liv openly flirting with several of the ridiculously attractive suspects they interview. One of them memorably observes later in the episode, “I’ve heard of good cop, bad cop, but bad cop, horny cop? That was a first.” This could have been a very awkward part of the episode, bordering on tasteless in the wrong hands. It could have also simply been used to pander and showcase Rose McIver’s impressive curves, but instead it was actually fairly funny, with McIver particularly nailing the landing when randily observing “Yeah you are” after a male model-esque suspect explained that he was a quarter Cherokee.
That’s not quite how this part of the show played out in the pilot, though. There, Liv’s ability absorbed from the victim’s brain was speaking and understanding Romanian and her personality quirk was kleptomania. That ability was instrumental in solving the case while the quirk was more comic relief that also functioned as some kind of metaphor, with Liv connecting the dots between the two in her wrap-up voice-over at the end of the episode. In “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?”, neither Liv’s ability nor personality quirk factor in the outcome of the case, though she does again connect them thematically to her life in a wrap-up voice-over. Before she reaches that point, she attempts to seduce her ex-fiance, pursuing passion the way the artist did, but he rejects her advances, straight up confused by why the version of Liv he’s known for the past 6 months is suddenly (and, as we know, temporarily) gone. Ultimately, she’s granted a week to feel alive and passionate as a way of making her reach a remarkably Dead Like Me conclusion, “Parts of me were dead even before I became a zombie. So, now maybe that means it’s possible for parts of me to spring to life now that I am dead.” I think there needs to be a cap on the number of times Liv ever says anything remotely like that, but as this is the only the second episode it’s allowable for the show to play the “It took dying for Liv to truly learn how to live” card. I mean, come on – they freakin’ named her Liv Moore, maybe as a joke about getting to literally live more while also as a nod to her need to live more as a zombie than she did as a human. The source comic book didn’t bother with that noise – it’s main character is named Gwen Dylan.
Liv’s sudden ability to draw and paint did serve an important function to the story: The police sketch she made of her zombie maker resulted in him showing up at the morgue, which frankly overtakes much of the episode. As soon as David Anders’ Blaine DeBeers shows up, Clive and the crime of the week go away for a while, only really returning once Clive pops back in after having obtained some really crucial information on his own. That was pretty lazy, but Blaine is the character the critics who screened iZombie’s first 4 episodes really responded to, comparing him to Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He certainly bears a slight physical resemblance with the spiky blonde hair and general rocker chic clothes, and he is instantly funny.
Well, he’s funny once you get past the “Isn’t that the guy from…” questions since Anders is a very well-traveled TV actor at this point. I first saw him as Hiro’s nemesis on Heroes and last saw him as Elena’s scheming uncle on Vampire Diaries. Since then, he’s had a run on Once Upon a Time. So, I knew that he can play villains, but I didn’t know that he could be funny. He told TV Guide that everyone in Hollywood felt the same way, and it took Rob Thomas to give him a chance, with his instructions being to “chew as much scenery as possible until no walls are standing.” Blaine is meant to be the charming, slightly loopy drug dealer turned zombie who claims not to remember turning Liv into a zombie on the night of the boat fire. His motor mouth is a nice contrast to Liv’s sullenness, but you know he’s not at all trustworthy, confirmed later on when we get an introduction to the black market brain dealing operation he runs.
Blaine appears to be the part of iZombie that will push the plots past mere cases of the week and Liv’s CW-mandated romantic drama with her ex-fiance, which will apparently give us plenty of sad songs playing in the background during their particularly pained moments. That’s why I am a little concerned that I don’t actually love Blaine as a character. Oddly enough, I was most distracted by how dated his pop culture references were. Having him name check Sideways, LL Cool J, and Fight Club as well as use words like “homies” and “brah” (instead of bro) was either their way of highlighting his age difference from Liv, or simply a sad byproduct of aging TV writers attempting to create a “cool, hip” new character, like a zombie version of Poochie from The Simpsons. I honestly don’t know which one it is, though I obviously hope it’s the former. Even with all that, Anders does get some genuinely good lines, like referring to the morgue as the brain automat. They’ve cleverly set him up as the vaguely likable villain of the story, apparently having seamlessly transitioned from drug peddling to brain dealing and now headed for battle with Liv since her job would make her a fantastic supplier.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While not as strong as the pilot, “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?” was an enjoyable, if somewhat predictable episode of this odd fake psychic zombie procedural, giving McIver a bit more Veronica Mars spark and introducing a clearly important nemesis who might end up a beloved frenemy.
1. Naming the main character of your zombie show Liv Moore reminds me of a Family Guy episode in which Brian decides to name the main character of his next novel Norm Hull “because he’s just a normal guy, but not everyone is going to get that. That’s for the scholars, 100 years from now.”
2. I must have misunderstood Liv in the pilot when one of her voiceovers mentioned she can’t have sex. I took that to mean she literally can’t have sex anymore due to her zombieism, but Blaine seduced and presumably bedded an older woman in this episode. Maybe Liv simply meant she couldn’t risk losing control and hurting someone during sex.
3. Can zombies cry? Liv comes closes after being told off by her ex-fiance, and it suddenly made me wonder whether she should be physically capable of crying.
4. Speaking of which, apparently that girlfriend Liv’s ex-fiance had in the pilot has been dropped from the show because surely she would have come up at the end when Liv tried to seduce him.
5. It feels like this episode didn’t completely earn its last act break when it appeared the quarter-Cherokee model-esque guy was prepared to murder Liv only to come back from commercial and reveal he was just trying to hook up with her what with all of her flirting earlier. Then that attempted hook-up turned very rape-y.
6. Speaking of which, that guy calls Liv an albino temptress. Do most people assume she’s albino? The same goes for Blaine. Because it seems like hardly anyone even notices how pale they are.
7. I am still a little thrown that Clive is totally accepting of the idea that Liv is psychic. At least on Psych, Shawn always worked with two cops, one of whom was bubbly and believed in psychics, and the other was stern and always suspected Shawn was faking.
8. Would the Medical Examiner be allowed to just leave his job in the middle of the night and attend a party? Yeah, when the writers need him there to conveniently solve the case.
THE SECOND OPINION
ScreenRant: “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain” isn’t as strong as the pilot episode and it doesn’t really have any laugh-out-loud moments, but what it does do is establish more of the emotional heart of the show.