“Life’s short, and then you die.”
Protagonist Olivia “Liv” Moore (Rose McIver) states this via voice-over in iZombie’s pilot, striking the nerve of overwhelming nostalgia to a previous CW series: Veronica Mars. Both shows come from the same creative minds (Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright), but the eponymous heroine of Veronica Mars throws out a much bleaker version: “Life’s a bitch until you die.” It’s odd to think a show with a zombie lead is more optimistic than a show with a human, teenage one, but such is life—or, more appropriately, the afterlife.
iZombie is full of the quick-witted banter with a side of overwhelming darkness that Veronica Mars was lauded for, amplified against a supernatural backdrop. It also features guest stars appearances by Veronica Mars alumni and the same affinity for voice-overs and pun-based restaurants/cafes (like “dog-friendly Internet cafe” Mutt Bowl Surfers). All of these comparisons are meant in the best way possible: Television can only be better for having the voices of Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright back on a weekly basis.
While the show is based on (or inspired by) the Vertigo comic iZOMBIE, the only thing that remains from the comic is the general premise of a twentysomething zombie girl who uses the memories of the brains she eats to solve murders. In fact, the show quickly cracks wise in the second episode about how the zombie-procuring profession from the comics—grave-robbing—is the hardest possible method to get brains before moving on to other things. There are no were-terriers, ghosts, or mummies here, at least not in such early stages of the series. Instead, iZombie provides a zombie-centric supernatural procedural with a sharp focus on the possibilities of that premise, while also paying homage to its comic roots. The fantastic opening credits, as well as the beginning of each act, are presented in comic-book form, and with them come the promise of the show’s darkly fun vibe.
iZombie isn’t just Veronica Mars And Zombies. After a supposedly innocuous boat party turns into a possibly drug-induced-zombie-boat-party massacre, Liv is transformed from a surgical resident into the living dead (and city morgue employee, to get a quick fix of brains). iZombie takes the old adage of “you are what you eat” literally, as Liv (and presumably other, less empathetic zombies) gains the memories, skills, and personalities of whoever the last brain she ate belonged to—whether that includes a fear of pigeons, anti-social personality disorder, or kleptomania. Liv decides to use her brains—the ingested ones, that is—and her in-the-know boss at the morgue Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli) to help Seattle PD homicide detective Clive Babinaux (Malcolm Goodwin) solve murders. Suddenly, this isn’t just a zombie detective show; it’s a fake psychic zombie detective show, and boy, is that an untapped market.
Other than the genre focus, what makes iZombie stick out from its procedural brethren is actually the biggest procedural part: the detective. While Babinaux could just as easily be a stick in the mud who wants to know what Liv is hiding or thinks she’s a fraud, he’s actually very much on board with her “psychic” schtick, if not mildly put off by her lack of linear storytelling. It would be easy for Babinaux to just be the straight man, but he is just as likely as Liv or Ravi to work on comic bits about the situation—he admits to work-shopping and landing on “Cagny & Pasty”—and freely admits he likes having a psychic partner. This setup falters occasionally when Liv has to explain away (fortunately rare) bursts of zombie tunnel vision (“full-on zombie mode” or “raging out,” depending on who you ask) with the lame “adrenaline” explanation (otherwise known as “The Smallville Defense”).
Liv’s afterlife isn’t all crime-solving, as only five months have passed since she “caught” zombie. She still has a human life to balance, full of people who think she merely has post-traumatic stress disorder. That includes her roommate Peyton (Aly Michalka), her beyond-perfect (and insanely named) ex-fiancé Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley), her teenage brother Evan (Nick Purcha), and her overbearing mother, Eva (Molly Hagan). At no point does anyone think that Liv’s new pale visage is the result of something other than PTSD, which is about the biggest leap in a series about zombies. Subsequent episodes have zombies going out of their way to maintain their human appearances with bronzer and hair dye, but Liv remains, well, lily white.
However, if Liv could assimilate so easily, she wouldn’t have half as many problems as she has right now. While Liv learns how to control her zombie nature, she’s also trying to learn how to become a part of her family and friends’ lives again, even as she wrestles with the fear of accidentally turning them into zombies.
The irony inherent in iZombie is that Liv gains more life experience being dead than she would have as a human: Her name is “Liv Moore,” after all. The glimpses we get of human Liv aren’t exactly the most dynamic, as the opening moments of the pilot make us wonder whether she was a (frustratingly) perfect human being; in later episodes, characters point out that she found the very act of having a hobby to be a childish trait. Luckily, this personality doesn’t transfer over to her zombie form. If you’re going to be a zombie in iZombie you need to be dynamic, a goal that Liv (McIver’s first starring role) and her zombie nemesis and sire, Blaine DeBeers (David Anders), have no trouble achieving.
At the risk of overly comparing this new series to others, due to its subject matter and somewhat macabre sense of humor, it’s easy to see this as the spiritual successor to Reaper, and even easier to measure it against the holy grail of quirky supernatural procedurals: Pushing Daisies (with a side of Wonderfalls). This is all very good company for a new series to be in. As it stands right now, much like Liv, iZombie is searching for its own identity. That’s why telling a different story from the comics is the best possible thing Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright could have done. While this series has similarities to their past work, it’s not shackled to getting the show “right” for the comic source material.
With critical favorite Jane The Virgin embracing the camp of its telenovela roots and The Flash reminding people how fun superhero shows can be, The CW is proving that there’s room for quirky, inventive approaches to television. iZombie is another win for The CW.