Comic book themed TV and movie fatigue is real, and it bothers me a lot. I tried very hard to like it Jessica Jones and failed. I have nothing to give you Daredevils and your Gothams and your The flashIt’s just a giant Liz Lemon-class eye-roll. I can’t even say I “hate” them, because “hate” still requires some emotional investment.
So imagine my surprise when I found a comic book derivative show that I really love: The CW’s iZombie, which is currently nearing the end of its second season. Created by Veronica MarsDiane Ruggiero-Wright and Rob Thomas, the show is loosely based on the 28-issue Vertigo comic of the same name and admirably juggles the reliability and predictability of a crime-of-the-week police procedural with a multithreaded series.
The name of the show is short, so here’s the extended premise: young doctor Liv Moore (Rose McIver) has a great job and a great fiancée (Major Lilywhite, played by Robert Buckley) and everything is going great! But one night Liv, against her better judgement, decides to put herself out there and socialize; she is on a party boat when an apparent zombie outbreak erupts, infecting her and radically changing the course of her life.
As with many genre shows, part of the fun of iZombie is how it modifies the standard formula. iZombie‘s zombies are not automatically transformed into mindless Romero-esque shamblers or aggressive 28 days later-style monstrosities. They are the same people, only mushy and hungry for brains, and they can infect others with zombieism through cuts or sexual contact. Not until they go without brains long enough for the show’s zombies to become standard horror tropes. While they can lose control and become enraged if provoked, the circumstances leading up to this and the degree to which the zombies can control it are based on the needs of the story. And, crucially, when iZombie zombies eat brains, they pick up some personality tics and memories from the deceased.
Back to Live. She quits her job to work at a morgue to secure a steady, discreet source of brains, and she breaks it off with her fiancé. She quietly muddles along like a despondent shell of her former self until her mortuary worker Ravi (the ravishing Rahul Kohli) finds out what she is. Lucky for her, he’s a friendly nerd with a knack for science. Ravi is more interested in befriending her and finding a cure than handing her over to the authorities. Around the same time, Liv teams up with Seattle agent Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), who has arguably my favorite name of any TV character ever. He is unaware of the zombie secret, so when Liv swallows the brains of murder victims and uses their memories to help him solve cases, she and Ravi pretend Liv is a “psychic” who has “visions” (this is hardly known). more absurd than the truth). She has to eat anyway; at least this way she feels like she’s doing something good.
And that’s the basis of the show. Liv and Clive solve a different mystery each week, and each new personality tic somehow comments on Liv’s social life and the wider story the show tells.
Honestly, while I enjoy the procedural aspect of the show, the viewer has to suspend a staggering amount of disbelief. What detective would so blindly entrust his career to a “psychic”? How is any evidence they collect admissible in court? (Easily, Clive and Liv almost always manage to squeeze a tearful confession out of that week’s killer after confronting him or her with illegally obtained facts.) Why does no one notice that so many corpses leaving Ravi’s morgue do so? without their brains intact? Why can’t Clive figure out something is wrong with Liv, even though she behaves very differently in each case, often in ways that reflect the victims’ personalities? iZombie is nice, but also very stupid.
The overarching plot is more satisfying and it works in some fun characters while building suspense. There’s Blaine (David Anders), a hate-to-him frenemy along the lines of Buffy‘s Spike, who runs a brain black market that keeps Seattle’s growing zombie population from spiraling out of control. There’s poor Major, who pushes Liv away for his own protection, but who still gets caught up in what’s happening to her. There’s Liv’s best friend Peyton (Aly Michalka), who has to watch Liv drift away without really understanding why. The second season features some memorable villains that constantly pit our protagonists against each other. There’s so much going on that the show feels unfocused at times, but so far iZombie always manages to keep all his records spinning. And every time a new main character discovers Liv’s Zombie Secret, the show counts.
Combining a large serialized story with smaller, weekly, open and closed stories is something many shows struggle with; most crime shows are explicitly episodic and formulaic, while dramas and comedies focus on the big story (sometimes at the expense of the standalone episode). iZombie‘s mix of the two is reminiscent of Veronica Mars at its best. Fans of that criminally underrated show will appreciate it from iZombie steady trickle of sly references and cameo appearances (and the tonal similarities) to its predecessor.
iZombieThe 13-episode first season is now available on Netflix. Head over to iTunes, Amazon, or another video store to watch most of the 19-episode second season (ending next week), though the most recent episodes are on Hulu and the show’s website. If you like what you see, good news! Last month, iZombie was renewed for a third season and will return in the fall. The show is fun without being callous, and it tells a compelling story without being as dark and humorless as most contemporary TV dramas. It’s also the best zombie-based procedural police show on TV. Doesn’t that count for something?