iZOMBIE Is a Witty, Original Take on the Zombie Psychic Detective Genre

It is usually a bad sign when a network cancels a pilot screening near the last minute. If you read the Comic-Con schedule, you would have thought that the first episode of iZombie screened twice. It didn’t, but the extended first look and the producers’ explanation soothed my qualms. Apparently they're recasting a few roles and doing some reshoots, and they aren’t showing the pilot anywhere until that is done, but what we did see of the show was pretty fantastic. Not being recast were series stars Rose McIver, Malcolm Goodwin, Rahul Kohli, Robert Buckley, and David Anders, along with executive producers Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, who were all on hand to talk about the show and take audience questions. Who is getting fired? They didn’t say, but on Veronica Mars, Thomas recast the dog after the pilot, so maybe history is repeating itself.

Here’s the concept: Based on a comic book by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, iZombie follows Liv, a promising medical resident who goes to a boat party and turns into a zombie. And though she manages to hide it, it disrupts her life and leaves her a little bit adrift. Okay, a lot adrift. She breaks up with her fiancé, quits her prestigious residency and transfers to the morgue (which I think makes her a pathologist), and lets a raging case of mid-twenties ennui set in. Then one day in the morgue she eats the brain of a murder victim and discovers that she absorbs the memories, skills, and personality traits of the people whose brains she eats. So she is forced to pretend to be psychic and help the cops solve the crime. Obviously.

The CW actually approached Thomas and Ruggiero with the comics and asked them to create the network’s next big female star, and they’ve found a live one with McIver. The New Zealander is warm and engaging and funny, and very very very pretty. I mean, it’s the CW, so everyone is pretty, but McIver stands out, even on that network. The rest of the characters (with apparently a couple of exceptions) are really well cast — funny and sharp and good-looking. Kohli, who plays Liv’s boss and confidant, is particularly great. If there is any justice (and there isn’t), he should be a breakout star.

The obvious comparison to Veronica Mars is somewhat apt. The creative team is the same, which means the aesthetic is similar. There is a voiceover, and McIver even sounds a bit like Kristen Bell. It’s hard not to think of the show as “Veronica Mars is a zombie in her mid-20s,” especially given the crime solving aspect. However, the setting of the show is very different, and the focus is less on the hell of the high school class divide and more about the struggle of finding yourself in your twenties. It’s so hard, you guys. Also, while Liv has had a trauma, she hasn’t been through the dumping, best friend’s murder, paternal persecution, social abandonment, maternal abandonment, and rape that Veronica went through, so she isn’t so misanthropic. Thomas thinks the show is more Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Veronica Mars. But fans of Thomas’ previous shows will be glad to note that the pilot does prominently feature one Mars alum, and the villain’s name is Blaine DeBeers, as in Roman DeBeers, Martin Starr’s character on Party Down. They might be related.

Fans of the zombie genre are probably wondering what kind of zombie Liv is if she can keep her friends and family in the dark about her status, and the answer is, a different one. She’s not a fast zombie a la 28 Days Later, or a slow zombie a la The Walking Dead, or even a super old school voodoo zombie. She’s not going to decay. She’s mostly just pale, a bit listless and desensitized, and in need of regular brains or she gets dumber and meaner. If she goes too long, she’ll go a bit Hulk-smash to get them (although, since iZombie is a DC property, you’ll never hear that reference on the show). Also, although there will be fights with other zombies, this show is never going to be as gory as something like The Walking Dead. But it is a playful, original take on a few old tropes.

iZombie went from barely on my radar to the top of my most-anticipated new shows. I’m a bit worried that The CW lists it as “Coming Soon” without a specific premiere date, but hopefully they’re just waiting on the reshoots to formalize its planned release. When it does air, you should check it out.

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