iZombie TV Reviews

iZombie’s “The Exterminator” (S1,EP3) & Breaking Down the Formula

Let’s break down the formula of iZombie in “The Exterminator”:

  • Brain of the Week: A sociopathic hitman.
  • Case of the Week: Trying to find the evidence to connect the hitman’s death via a hit and run to his last assignment, which was to kill a high-profile businessman, whose death has been blamed on a random homeless guy.
  • Liv’s Absorbed Ability of the Week: Actually, she gains no real ability, per say, unlike when she could speak Romanian in the pilot or paint in the second episode. Instead, she adopts the hitman’s sociopathic leanings thus making her coldly logical and without emotion for most of the episode.
  • Liv’s Absorbed Comic Relief Personality Quirk of the Week: Spouting off obscure trivia items at inopportune times, thus making her a whiz on trivia nights at a bar.
  • The Sad Voice-Over Wrap-Up Explaining What Liv Learned, Preferably Referencing How She’s Technically Dead: “That’s the thing about pain, isn’ it? Really feeling it doesn’t make it stop; it just shows you that you’re still alive.”
  • New Twist on the Formula: It was not a straight-forward homicide case Clive was working on from the get-go, but instead two seemingly unrelated cases thrown together as the episode progressed.
  • Slight Serial Advancement: David Anders’ Blaine is preying on local skateboarders, likely killing some and getting others hooked on his special drug that makes people zombies (I think), already victimizing at least one kid from the Halfway Home Liv’s ex-fiance works at.

I don’t really break it down like that to be critical. It’s not like me pointing out that this crime procedural has a clear formula qualifies as some real deep insight. That formula is kind of a given at this point, and the formula of these procedurals is often what makes them comforting, as many a Law & Order binge watcher can attest. I break it down like that simply because it seemed like the most efficient way to summarize “The Exterminator,” an episode about a dead exterminator who turns out to be a hitman who turns out to have murdered a man whose death turns out to have fallen to Liv’s roommate to prosecute because it turns out she’s a lawyer.

Frankly, I had no idea what Liv’s roommate did for a living, and it was only last week I realized they were merely roommates and not sisters. Even after “Exterminator,” I am still not clear if the roommate completely understands that Liv has been working with the cops for weeks now, not just on this one case. It’s a logical choice to bring the roommate’s profession into the legal realm thus easily connecting her to the crimes of the week, but it seems like something they’re barely going to touch because the longer the roommate is in scenes with Clive the more likely it is that he’ll reference Liv’s psychic abilities thus causing the roommate to ask, “I’m sorry.  Did you just say that Liv’s a psychic?  Since when?”

iZombie 3.3As for Liv’s abilities/quirks, her inability to feel emotions was basically the flipside of the last episode when she was deeply in touch with her emotions and in sensual love with life, art, and the human form. There, her emotional whirlwind ended up drawing her ex-fiance back into her life and ultimately hurting his feelings whereas here her lack of empathy hurt her roommate, who had the first big case of her career temporarily taken away due to Liv’s meddling. It felt like the flip side of the same coin, and it does present the concern that Liv will drift through this show in various emotionally compromised states. For example, will she soon eat the brain of a mother that somehow temporarily motivates her to be a better daughter only to revert back to the old status quo with her mom once the absorbed brain wears off? If so, will that be an acceptable aspect of this show’s formula, or will it have grown tiresome?

Thus far, Rob Thomas and his writers/producers are pushing forward with the idea that Liv’s brain eating is akin to an addiction as opposed to a basic component of survival, with the brain of an artist or hitman offering Liv welcomed escapes from who she really is. The problem I see with that approach to the material, and it might also just be a problem with this show’s general set-up is they are veering toward Dollhouse territory. The main character of that beleaguered Joss Whedon drama was basically a blank slate who had different personalities and abilities imprinted on her every week, but there was absolutely nothing to her when she was in her natural state as Echo, a crucial error they failed to fix until the second season. It was like what if Sam Beckett ceased to exist every time he leapt into someone new on Quantum Leap. You are left with a show lacking a central character who has any kind of defined personality or compelling story.

With iZombie, by having Liv so overtaken by the abilities and personalities of the victims she consumes it can sometime leave the question of who the heck she really is beneath all of that, other than a girl who looks sullen and can fire off a mean Veronica Mars voice-over. I’m not saying that it’s exactly like Dollhouse, though, because Liv has some pretty clearly defined character traits, but if the brains make her behave in ways she never normally would maybe we need to see an episode or two when she’s mostly herself to establish some kind of baseline.

veronica_mars_movie_trailer (1)
And now for my Token Veronica Mars reference in the review.

But then I think – Um, she’s pretty much just new Veronica Mars. There’s 3 seasons of baseline from the real Veronica Mars, and if you have a general idea of what Liv is like isn’t fun seeing her so flirty last week and sociopathic this week?   Plus, when she stumbled upon a trivia contest at a cop bar in “The Exterminator” she named her team with Clive “Piggy and the Brain.”  As a huge Pinky and the Brain fame, I suddenly feel as if i have everything I need to know about Liv.

The one aspect of “The Exterminator” that genuinely surprised was inevitability the part that didn’t neatly adhere to the show’s formula. Liv and her medical examiner friend discovered that the girl who invited her to the boat party had also been turned to a zombie, stuck in a hole somewhere near the accident site this whole time, her mind and body deteriorating to the point of making her the show’s most traditional representation of a zombie to this point. It was an interesting worst-case scenario to look at, i.e., that’s what Liv would become if she went that long without eating brains, and it resulted in a surprisingly dark zombie vs. zombie fight. It seemed almost inevitable that the medical examiner would accidentally fall into the hole with the zombie girl, and Liv would have to save him. Where it surprised and suggested more interesting things for this show in the future was the absolute brutality of it, Liv smashing the girl’s head in and briefly turning on her friend, lost in full-on zombie mode.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The case-of-the-week was suitably twisty, although it never really seemed like there were any prime suspects other than the ultimately guilty party. I saw it coming when Liv and company entrapped the suspect due to a fabricated confession and window blinds obscuring the face of the medical examiner pretending to be a sanitation worker; I did not see Liv going full-on zombie and temporarily losing control. Going forward, I’d prefer to see more of the latter, but the formula in the former is oddly comforting.

THE NOTES

izombie 3.21. I made this same exact joke last week, but because I am still amused that they seriously named the lead character of their zombie show Liv Moore I am still reminded off the 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. Liv tossing the brain in the garbage disposal at the end is part of the addiction metaphor, their version of her simply pouring all of her alcohol bottles down the drain. However, I did have a brief moment of, “Hey, that’s some guys brain that you just threw in the garbage disposal!”

3. Presumably, every other zombie in this universe temporarily absorbs the memories and quirks of the victims they consume, right? Or is Liz somehow special?

4. I loved the way Liv and Clive ignored the hitman’s widow as she yelled at them through the car window.

5. Lots of zombie pop culture jokes this week, like “Zombie Playboy,” “I signed up for Z-Date,” referencing how the classic zombie moans “Brains!” and endlessly shambles forward, and equating Popeye and his spinach to Liv and her brains.

6. I’m curious how much people are invested in Liv’s drama with her ex-fiance at this point in the show.  I mostly feel whiplash from it, since the pilot suggested he’d moved on, then the second episode dropped that, now the third episode has re-introduced that, this time with a totally different girl than in the pilot.

THE SECOND OPINION

ScreenRant: “It’s natural that a show told from mostly the protagonist’s point of view will end up focusing on that protagonist, but the entire world can only revolve around Liv for so long before the audience starts to question why everyone else just feels like a prop.”

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