Our usual feeling is that network TV needs another police procedural like a hole in the head, but we’ll make an exception to that rule for a crime-fighting zombie. iZombie comes with the imprimatur of Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, and the pilot holds up to that expectation, with snappy dialogue and fun characters.
As mentioned in our Sneak Peek, iZombie is based on a comic book (it was kind of exciting to see the big “Vertigo” logo at the end of the show!), and although it diverges from the book quite a lot right off the bat, it still retains some good bits. Our heroine, Liv Moore (Rose McIver), looks quite like Gwen of the comic. And the great title sequence (featuring music by Deadboy and the Elephantmen) is done in comic style by Michael Allred, co-creator and illustrator of the comic book series.
The pilot wastes no time in getting us quickly up to speed. Five months ago, Liv was a promising young resident on her way to becoming a heart surgeon. She had a tall, handsome and charming fiancé (Robert Buckley) named Major Lilywhite (this show doesn’t mind hitting the nail hard on the head with the character names now and again). All that changed one night at a yacht party that would later come to be known as the Lake Washington Massacre—there’s a sudden zombie outbreak on the boat, and Liv jumps overboard—but when she wakes up in a body bag on the beach, she’s got a scratch on her arm, a new metal look, and a craving for brains.
Since then, she’s learned to do what she can to avoid going “full-on George A. Romero”—she leaves her residency at the hospital for the Medical Examiner’s office, where meals of brains are more easily procured, and leaves poor handsome Major as well. She cares too much for him to let him marry a zombie (and yes, the “Z” word is not avoided on this show, as it is in some other entertainment media about the brain-eating undead we could mention).
Fun facts about Liv’s zombieism:
- She needs to eat brains regularly (and preferably with lots of hot sauce), or she starts turning stupid and mean.
- Anger or violence also crank up her zombieosity—she gets monstrous and moany and her eyes go red—but she also seems to gain a zombie’s relentlessness and lack of fear.
- Her etiologic scratch was inflicted by a guy (played by David Anders) on the doomed party boat who a few moments earlier was trying to sell her a mysterious new designer drug called Utopium. The isolated and maritime nature of the outbreak along with the dearth of survivors means that the public doesn’t know anything about the zombie aspect of the massacre, and Liv believes she is the only one of her kind around.
- A side effect of Liv’s frontal-lobe diet is that she has visions and memories of the people whose brains she eats. She also finds that she temporarily takes on some of their traits and skills—in this episode, she finds that she’s become a kleptomaniac who speaks fluent Romanian (“Romanian Mean Girl,” actually).
- As with most zombies, she can take extreme physical damage without being noticeably bothered or permanently harmed.
Liv’s drastic lifestyle change has caused concern amongst her family and friends—the aforementioned (now) ex-fiancé, Major; her roommate, Peyton (Aly Michalka); her mother, Eva (played by Molly Hagan, whom we will always think of fondly as rich-girl Shayne in Some Kind of Wonderful); and her younger brother Evan (Nick Purcha). Less concerned and more fascinated is her boss at the ME’s office, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli). Through his epidemiology skills and examinations of the party boat victims, he suspected the cause of the massacre was related to some horrible contagious disease. And since he also knows both that Liv was on that boat and that a lot of the cadavers passing through their morgue have left with less grey matter than they arrived with, he soon becomes the only person that knows Liv’s secret. He’s a wonderful ally for Liv, as not only does he begin working at finding a cure for her condition, but he makes her brain doggie bags to take home for late-night snacking.
On the crime investigation side of things, we have Det. Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) of the Seattle Police Department—he’s the rookie at Homicide, having transferred from Vice two months ago, and doesn’t appear to be very good at it yet. So he’s happy to take help where he can find it—Liv’s knowledge of his most recent crime victim’s mind (explained by Liv’s being “psychic-ish”) provides him with his first lead in the case (well, pretty much all the leads, really). Though Babineaux doesn’t know Liv’s true undead identity, he still makes most of the best “you look like a zombie” jokes in the episode, calling her “dark princess—’cause, you know, you’re all—I don’t know what you are. Emo? Goth? Which is the one who’s too tortured to go on living?” And he comes up with the crime-fighting nicknames “Cagney & Pasty” and “Dirty Debbie Harry.” Ha!
It’s hard not to see iZombie as a revenant Veronica Mars—but we’re not inclined to try too hard, as we’ve missed that show. Liv even narrates iZombie just like Veronica used to do. The show reminds us throughout of its comic book roots, with scene-opening transitions and captions done in comic style like the title sequence, as well as our cultural attraction to zombies—Liv researches her condition by watching Night of the Living Dead, and glimpses her ex-fiancé playing a zombie-hunt first-person-shooter. She even dresses as a less cute, more shambly zombie for a charity haunted house (“go meta or go home,” as we Supernatural fans like to say). But it’s the fast-paced, sharp, and often hilarious banter that will be the making of this show. The cast is well selected to be able to keep up the pace—and this pilot crammed a lot of backstory and exposition into a fully fleshed out murder mystery, so we can see they’re up to the challenge. Pick up a bag of Hellfire Cheezy Puffs and tune in next week—we think you’ll dig it.