“Life’s short and then you die. And then… then you have make some decisions. You can skulk around, lamenting all that you’ve lost, trying to keep yourself numb and isolated. Or you can embrace who you are.”
For years I’ve been hearing about how “hot” vampires were on television and in the movies. It all appeared to start with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it actually goes back a lot longer ago. Zombies, on the other hand were the sole property of feature films, usually extreme low-budget affairs. AMC’s The Walking Dead has changed all of that. Suddenly zombies are very hot and populating one of the highest rated shows on television. Add a spin-off, and the domination continues. It wasn’t going to take long for someone else to join the field. Enter iZombie, and we’re off and running.
iZombie isn’t really anything like The Walking Dead. Yes, both are taken from comic book source material. But if you’re looking for the gore-fest and dark drama found on AMC, you might be a little disappointed. If you’re looking for a fresh approach to a rotting corpse, iZombie will provide that and some.
Liv Moore (McIver) is a promising medical resident looking forward to a life in cardiology. Not much of a party girl, she lets herself be talked into going to a boat party. She picked the wrong place to start. The party turns into a zombie massacre, and she’s scratched by one Blaine DeBeers (Anders) and wakes up in a body bag on the shore of the lake. She’s been turned into a zombie.
Jump ahead, and Liv has changed her life to accommodate her new unlife. She’s traded in her hospital gig for a job at the medical examiner’s office where she can access a supply of brains without hurting anyone. She’s dumped her fiancée Major Lilywhite (Buckley) for fear of turning him into a zombie if they should exchange body fluids. She passes off her new pale look and white hair as a fashion statement and attempts to carry on. That is until she’s caught eating brains by her boss, Ravi (Kohli), who has already suspected her condition. He agrees to allow her to stay, and she’s going to let him use her to work on a cure. It’s a pretty good arrangement, but eating brains has something of a side effect. When a zombie eats someone’s brains, they take on their abilities, personality traits and memories which come in flashes. Helping out struggling Detective Clive Babineaux (Goodwin), she ends up helping to solve murders with her gifts, which she passes off as psychic abilities to hide her condition from Clive.
Every good story needs a villain, or this would merely fall into the police procedural with a twist. David Anders has filled that slot rather brilliantly for years. Fans of Alias and Heroes know that all too well. The truth is he doesn’t even appear to have aged in the 20 years since Alias. Maybe… No, that can’t be right. He plays Blaine, the zombie who turned Liv. He’s got a nice little business going on the side. He turns wealthy or powerful people into zombies in order to extort large sums of money to provide them with brains. These he gets by murdering runaway teens, which gain the attention of Liv’s ex-fiancée Major. That’s where the powerful victims come into play. He’s running a mob-style organization out of a local butcher shop. You never always know who is a zombie, because many will dye their hair and use tanning spray to hide the distinguishing features.
The formula pretty much starts with a new body in the morgue and Liv trying to find a better way to eat the brain. One week it might be as a pizza topping or taco filler. Another week she’s having a salad or sushi. She gets flashes that become clues for Clive, and they end up solving a murder. She’s also plagued by Blaine, who ends up causing her a lot of trouble for her and particularly Major, who is getting too close to the truth.
The show doesn’t feature much in the way of blood or gore. It’s actually more tame than a good episode of Criminal Minds. The brains look pretty clean and don’t have any gory details. This is not about exploding heads or hanging-out guts. The zombies are pretty normal-looking except for coloration, that is unless they go full zombie mode. Once in a while Liv’s eyes will turn red and her face will get vein-covered. She’ll get great strength, and it only happens if she gets upset. Let’s just say you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.
The best thing about this show isn’t any of the f/x or murders. It’s the acting of Rose McIver. She’s worth the price of admission. The actress has a wide range, and she gets to use it all here. Each brain means a slightly different personality. She might now be insane or an alcoholic. But McIver does more than demonstrate a few personality tics. She works wonders with both subtle and overt facial expressions. She’s literally a genius when it comes to those slight little things that completely sell a scene. It could be a lecherous leer when looking at one victim’s mistress bending over a table. It could be a hint of sadness. Whatever it is she’s doing, it makes the show work. This could fall quickly into camp if she didn’t treat it so seriously.
The supporting cast works. McIver develops nice chemistry with Rahul Kohli. Their scenes are always some of the strongest stuff in the show. If you think you’re seeing a lot of guest stars from Veronica Mars, that’s because you are. Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero have brought a lot of their staff and favorite actors from that show. This is basically done by the same team and it certainly has a lot of those same kinds of sensibilities and certainly a very similar kind of off-beat humor. They describe it quite accurately as Buffy meets Mars.
Who would have thought that zombies could be such fun? They’re here to stay for a while, and I think that’s going to translate to some fun television viewing for all of us. The kinds of situations are a fresh take on the crime stories you are used to watching. And Liv has her own unique way of solving them. “A call girl gets murdered, you eat her brains, you help find her killer. It’s like the Elton John song.”