Last year, I decided that I was finally going to stop being a woman in her thirties that watched shows on the CW. My interest in The Vampire Diaries, the final show that I was watching on the network, had begun to wane and when I decided to jump ship it seemed like a good time to part ways with all things CW. I was always slightly embarrassed by my association with a network that isn’t necessarily known for much other than teen soap operas; I still stand by The Vampire Diaries as an enjoyable show, but I do have a pop culture reputation to uphold.
However, I decided to wade back into the CW waters this spring when they debuted iZombie as a midseason show; there was good critical buzz around the show and it came from a good pedigree, since the show was created by Rob Thomas – not the guy from Matchbox 20, but the man behind Veronica Mars. I actually have never watched Veronica Mars – another hit to my pop culture cred – but a lot of people whose opinions I respect really dug the show, so I figured this was my chance to redeem myself and get in on the ground floor of his new show. Though zombies are close to reaching the same saturation point that vampires reached a few years ago, I haven’t quite hit the wall yet so a show about zombies that would not be as bleak as The Walking Dead appealed to me. Since Tuesday nights are pretty open in my TV schedule – RIP Justified – I decided to take a chance and see what all the fuss about Rob Thomas was all about.
Now that I’ve watched a handful of episodes, I have to say that iZombie is a pretty fun show. It’s not necessarily appointment television, but I do look forward to new episodes every week and it’s a nice change of pace from a lot of the prestige dramas and dark comedies that I tend to consume. The show is primarily a procedural – a genre that generally that doesn’t hold much interest for me – but the writing is smart and funny, the characters are well-developed and the general premise and overarching story arc are engaging. I don’t know how this holds up to Veronica Mars or the graphic novel that iZombie is based on, but I was surprised by how much I dug the show. When I forgot to set the DVR one week, I was legitimately disappointed and scrambled to find the episode I missed on-line. That’s the sign of a fun show.
iZombie does a good job of quickly setting up the premise in the pilot episode – Liv Moore (Rose McIver) is an over-achieving medical resident with a hunky fiancée Major (Robert Buckley) and a type-A personality. One night, she decides to live a little and attend a boat party. The evening turns tragic when the boat is overrun with zombies; Liv is turned and her whole life is upended as she learns to adapt to her new after-life. She leaves her residency for a job in the Seattle PD medical examiner’s office, where she’ll have plenty of access to brains. She ditches a confused Major and keeps her condition a secret from everyone, except for her boss Ravi (Rahul Kohli), who becomes her friend and ally. Liv discovers that one of the side effects of eating a person’s brain is briefly taking on their memories and personal quirks and she channels this special power to help detective Clive Babinaux (Malcolm Goodwin) solve murders by posing as someone with psychic abilities. While the show deals with the “murder of the week,” it also focuses on Liv’s adjustment to her condition and features some bigger, episodic plotlines as well. This may all sound silly and ridiculous, but it is actually executed quite well. The idea that she takes on the characteristics of the deceased is an interesting wrinkle and lets McIver play all sorts of different personalities. This may grow tedious over time, but right now I have enjoyed seeing slight variations on her character week to week. It keeps things interesting and adds a different angle to a formula that has been used on other shows (most recently Psych).
The strongest part of iZombie is the writing – it’s smarter than you might expect and it’s also fast and funny. The dialogue leads to some clever banter between characters and it is clear that the writers have a clear handle on who these characters are. This helps to establish the different personalities on the show very quickly; it only took a few episodes for me to feel like I really understood who these characters are as people and their different motivations. There are still layers to be revealed, of course, but these characters feel much more developed in just a few episodes than on a lot of other shows. The scenes between McIver and Kohli in particular are my favorite, as the two actors have great on-screen chemistry and have the wittiest repertoire of the group. Because they are the only two protagonists that are clued in on what’s going on, they have a shared bond that the other main characters do not have. Other characters have since been introduced that are in the same predicament as Liv, but there is not the same comradery that she shares with Ravi.
iZombie took a few episodes to find its footing and its voice, which is to be expected; to me, the only hiccup for the show is resolving what to do with the character of Major. I think that they may have finally found a way for that character to feel organic to the show and not forced in to storylines, but there was a stretch of early episodes where it felt like they just hadn’t quite figured the way to use Liv’s ex-fiancée in a way that made sense. I’m reserving judgement until a few more episodes of this new storyline, but I think that they are finally headed in the right direction with him.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite the character that David Anders has created – as Blaine, the drug-dealer turned zombie, he’s the closest thing that the show currently has for a villain and he’s delightful to watch. He’s up to no good, but he is such a presence and so charismatic that he’s hard not to root for. Any time Blaine is on screen, you know it’s going to be fun to watch.
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I recommend giving iZombie a chance. For me, it’s a nice change of pace from my usual viewing preferences and it has been consistently entertaining. The acting is generally good and the dialogue is snappy enough that I don’t mind the inherent procedural aspects of the show. I generally shy away from taking a chance on new shows early in their run– I’ve been burned too many times – I’m glad that I took a flyer on iZombie. I was an unexpected treat that adds a little spunk and un-dead fun into my week.
iZombie airs Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on the CW.