by Matthew Thompson
It has been no secret how much I have been anticipating the premiere of iZombie. I’m happy to report the pilot episode represents a promising start for this new series that looks to be another fun addition to what has grown into a surprisingly great lineup of shows for The CW.
iZombie focuses on Liv Moore (played by Rose McIver), once a promising doctor-to-be with the handsome fiancé and seemingly perfect life, who has turned into a slacker who works in the local morgue. What caused this sudden about-face in her life? Well… she became a zombie. It is through this that the show will develop its unique spin on the police procedural. To keep from becoming one of the shambling horde we know from so many films and TV shows, Liv must get a steady diet of brains which is where her job at the morgue comes in handy. Her midnight meals have some side effects though: she gets visions of the deceased’s life and even picks up some of their habits. These abilities prove helpful to rookie detective Clive Babinaux (Malcolm Goodwin) who Liv meets in the first episode. And their relationship will be the bedrock on which the case-of-the-week elements will be set.
The actual case presented in the pilot about the murder of an escort is solid if unspectacular. But it does a great job of introducing us to the prime characters of this side of the show and the quirks that will help these procedural elements stand out from the pack. The psychic cover-up for Liv’s visions is cleverly utilized if not exactly new for the genre. More interesting to me is the idea that she unconsciously picks up traits from whomever’s brain she partakes in. In the pilot, this comes in the form of a troubling bout of kleptomania and a very sudden, very helpful knack for speaking Romanian. The latter is a boon to the case while the former is something that could have potentially been a nuisance. I see a lot of potential in this penchant for picking up both good and bad habits from her last brainy meal. It is through this murder investigation and the ones to follow that Liv finds new motivation in her life after death.
Rose McIver is great in the lead role. The brief snippets we get of her in her old life are well-done, but she really shines as the slacker with the pale complexion and taste for grey matter. Her condition lets her explore some interesting emotions during the pilot and McIver plays them all well. She has also grown sarcastic in her stint as a zombie and it is here that creators Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright’s knack for witty dialogue shines through. This aspect is particularly strong when she banters with her boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), who discovers what she has become in this first outing. Their initial discussion about her predicament shows how humorous this show can be (I’ve included a few choice bits from this conversation in the bullets below). It is a lightning quick back and forth that acts as a perfect representation of Liv’s acerbic tongue and Ravi’s ability to keep up without missing a beat. The fact that he isn’t weirded out by Liv’s condition even for a moment, but instead actually jazzed about it makes the scene even more fun.
Ravi is the strongest member of Liv’s supporting cast so far with Babinaux close behind. Her family, roommate and ex-fiancé don’t land quite as well here, but I think this is as much a fault of the pilot having to juggle so many things that it simply isn’t able to service these characters’ introductions in as strong of a manner. That is something that I would assume (and hope) is rectified in the coming weeks. I was very intrigued by David Anders’ character who we only get to see a bit of during this first episode. He seems perfect to play a zombie with a more violent and villainous slant than Liv and I’m excited to see more of his character as the show progresses.
Finally I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the Veronica Mars vibes emanating from iZombie. While I love the premise and enjoy the comic, it is Rob Thomas’ role in the show and the comparisons to Veronica Mars that had me most excited about this series. From the young, snarky female lead solving crimes to the aforementioned razor-sharp dialogue to the narration to the similar notes that Josh Kramon’s score hits, fans of Veronica Mars will find plenty familiar here and none of it is a bad thing.
Comparisons to that show bring me to my final question about iZombie and that is its balance between its procedural elements and its more serialized ones. One of the aspects that made Veronica Mars so strong were all the things going on beyond its weekly cases. Especially the season long mysteries that were often so personal in nature that Veronica whittled away at over the course of the show. It is often these elements that make my favorite procedurals stand out from the pack (think how Fringe and Person of Interest improved when they doubled down on their serialized storytelling). It is impossible to tell how iZombie will balance these aspects going forward based on the pilot, but the seeds for an interesting mythology and grander stories beyond Liv’s weekly investigations are clearly here which is another reason the pilot seems so promising.
A few more things:
- The shows doesn’t have a ton in common with the comic for those wondering. This is a very loose adaptation. Pretty much a zombie getting memories from the brains and investigating being the big carryover. I loved all the other monsters and the logic behind them in the comics, so I will sort of miss that (assuming it doesn’t end up popping up later). But sometimes it is better to not tread so close to the source material and be your own thing. Not sure a were-terrier translates to TV very well either!
- Having said that it doesn’t shy away from its comic roots. I loved the comic-inspired intro (which was done by the original iZombie artist Mike Allred) and scene transitions. Very slick stuff.
- Some of that great dialogue I mentioned earlier: Ravi: “Guess what he was missing?” Liv: “A strong male role model?” and Ravi: “Did you know I used to work at the CDC? I got canned, wanna know why?” Liv: “Because you believe in zombies?”
- On that note, I love all the references to zombies in pop culture throughout the pilot. Some really fun stuff there. One of the reasons this first outing was so funny.
- Liv’s name is a little on the nose!
- A couple more funny moments: Liv picking up a ton of bronzer and Night of the Living Dead at the store. And something about her reaction (“Wait… me. What?”) with the look on her face after meeting Clive at his precinct really cracked me up too.
- One more for Veronica Mars fans: Cliff McCormack actor Daran Norris as weatherman Johnny Frost. The first of many VM guest spots I hope!
With a great concept, some good laughs and plenty of witty dialogue, iZombie is off to a great start. I think whether you come in as a fan of zombies in general, the comic, The CW’s recent flare for genre television or Veronica Mars, you will find a lot to like in this new series. Did you check out the pilot? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks for reading!