iZombie: Season One: a review

The television series iZombie has always been advertised heavily on the DC superhero shows I like to watch. So, I was aware of its existence. I just never felt compelled to watch it.

Let me explain. When I saw the earliest commercials, I dismissed the show as an attempt to capitalize on the mega-hit that is The Walking Dead. I like the AMC zombie show (where, incidentally, the word zombie is never used) and I’ve since become a fan of Robert Kirkman’s comic book which inspired it. I also liked a couple of the George Romero movies. This doesn’t make me a fan of all things zombie. For instance, I’ve never managed to get past the first season of Fear the Walking Dead. At least not yet.

I tell myself that I’m not a judgmental person, but the evidence doesn’t support this. I passed judgment on iZombie without ever watching a single episode. It was, I told myself, just a hipster take on the zombie holocaust with that usual CW spin that involves good-looking people sharing personal drama.

Well…it is that. Sort of.

The only reason I started watching it on Netflix (finishing the last of the 13-episode first season this morning) was because I had watched Veronica Mars, which was created by Rob Thomas. This made me interested in whatever else he may have had a hand in creating. There’s Party Down, which I haven’t watched yet, and then there’s iZombie, which happened to be readily available on Netflix. I watched the first episode and was immediately hooked.

The premise is, of course, insane. Olivia Moore—known as Liv to her friends—is a type-A medical resident with a perfect, handsome fiance and a bright future as the series opens. Then she attends a boat party that turns into a raging zombie massacre, wakes up already in a body bag on shore, and her future has been changed. She is a zombie.

At this point, the show flash-forwards six months or so. Liv now has colorless hair and pasty white skin. She abandoned her burgeoning medical career to work in a morgue, where she has ready access to fresh brains to eat. Oh yeah, unlike in TWD, zombies in this universe require brains to continue to exist. As it turns out, eating brains also gives Liv access to the deceased person’s memories and allows her to solve murders.

In many ways, this reminded me of that series Pushing Daisies. Remember that one? The pie-maker who could bring dead people back to life by touching them? I liked that show, too.

Eating brains has another side-effect. Liv also picks up the deceased person’s personality traits, habits, tics, addictions, or whatever else may be handy to propel the plot, such as the ability to understand and speak Czech in the pilot episode.

This episode sold me on the premise. It was apparent that iZombie was a murder mystery show with some urban fantasy elements. The protagonist of the show is another smart, tough female in the Buffy Summers/Veronica Mars mold, only this time a living dead medical examiner instead of a vampire slayer or teenaged private eye. The dialogue is crisp and witty, and for a show that deals with some heavy subjects, it has an overall tone that is mostly lighthearted and often funny. Funny without sinking to sitcom levels, I should add.

As with Buffy and Veronica, and the other CW shows I mentioned, Liv is surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Major is her now ex-fiance, who doesn’t know Liv has been turned into a zombie at the beginning of the season. Ravi, her boss at the morgue, knows she’s a zombie and quickly becomes her staunchest ally while trying to find a cure. Clive Babineaux is the homicide detective who relies on Liv’s brain-eating visions to solve murders, although he believes that she’s psychic, not a zombie. Liv’s best friend and roommate Peyton is an assistant district attorney who doesn’t quite understand her recent lifestyle changes. Liv also has a mother and a younger brother who show up in some episodes.

And then there’s Blaine DeBeers, the former drug dealer who is responsible for turning Liv into a zombie and is quickly established as the season’s Big Bad, in Buffy parlance, along with the evil Max Rager energy drink corporation. Blaine is played, to the hilt, by David Anders, who I remembered from Alias, and who I was surprised to discover is actually American and not a Brit. His character on this show has been compared to Spike on Buffy (who was also not a Brit). With the white-blond hair and tendency towards evil, I understand this comparison, but Blaine manages to come across as much more menacing. By this season’s end, I believe he has been responsible for more deaths than Spike was during the entire run of Buffy. Anders’ performance makes Blaine an engaging character, with a sardonic wit and devilish aura.

The show does have a mystery-of-the-week structure. Someone is murdered, Liv eats their brains, and then Liv and her Scooby Gang solve the crime. Along the way, Liv temporarily picks up different talents, personality quirks or bad habits. This is more entertaining than I’ve made it sound.

There’s also episode-spanning arcs, like the mystery of missing kids from the skate park, or the truth behind the zombie virus, or Major’s fall-from-grace and becoming a zombie-hunter by the last episode of the season. Will Liv’s friends and loved ones ever realize that she’s a zombie? And how will they react? Will Liv and Major ever get back together? You know, typical CW fare.

Despite my own snarky comments about the series, I really do like it. I’m looking forward to watching more.

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