Zombie fatigue is in the air. Between movies and the cable takeover of “The Walking Dead,” it seems like there isn’t much else to the genre. How many episodes of gruesome deaths and a zesty yet helpless band of unlikely allies can an audience stand? So when “iZombie” swooped in midseason with vigor on The CW, a network known more for its leather-clad Canadian superheroes and vampires, expectations were low.
Another show about zombies? Another endless parade of death and dismemberment? “iZombie,” with a quiet confidence, swept all those exhausted questions aside. It brought life to the zombie genre with a winning protagonist and a great sense of humor, led by the expert “Veronica Mars” team of Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright.
“iZombie” is the story of Olivia “Liv” Moore, a Seattle cardiac surgeon resident. Liv is determined, driven and engaged to an attractive white guy named Major (this last one cements the fact the show is a CW production). One fateful night, she attends the boat party of a fellow resident, where she learns an important lesson: designer drugs and barely-legal energy drinks should never mix. The lethal combo turns many of the partygoers into ravenous, murderous cannibals, and when Liv tries to escape she’s bitten by one of the attendees. The next thing she knows, she’s waking up in a bodybag, her hair white, her eyes bloodshot, with a sudden appetite for human brains.
“iZombie” chronicles Liv’s life after death: she takes a job at the morgue’s office and sinks into a deep depression, alienating her friends, family and the aforementioned attractive white guy. Her loved ones think she has PTSD, but it’s so much more than that, as Liv’s choices have been taken away from her with one bad night. As she struggles to redefine her future and who she is, she finds an ally in Ravi, her beautifully bearded boss at the morgue, who starts to research a cure for her condition.
Liv also works in tandem with the police, helping them to solve murders through her new handy-dandy zombie powers. When she eats the brains of a person, she takes on their characteristics and gets flashes of the events they’ve experienced. She passes herself off as a psychic to Detective Clive Babinaux, and the two team up to solve cases. Liv eats the brains of murder victims, literally gets inside their heads, and gives Babinaux insights into the cases he’s working.
Liv also discovers the existence of other zombies like her, some with big plans of world domination. Liv runs into Blaine, a former drug dealer and current evil zombie mastermind, who turns out to be the guy who made her into a zombie in the first place. She also makes a connection with Lowell, another zombie, who also happens to be an attractive white guy (but this time British). “iZombie” is a delightful combination of police procedural, romantic drama, quippy comedy and thriller, as zombies start to crop up in Seattle around the same time corpses missing their brains turn up in police investigations.
The cast of “iZombie” is what truly makes all of the genre-bending storytelling work. Rose McIver as Liv anchors the show with emotion and humor. She, like Kristen Bell before her in “Veronica Mars,” seems effortlessly at home in Rob Thomas’ quick-witted dialogue. David Anders digs in with delicious relish playing zombie villain Blaine, and Rahul Kohl as Ravi delivers jokes and pathos with impossibly polished hair. Robert Buckley brings shading and dimensions to Major, a role that could have simply fallen into boring love interest territory, and Malcolm Goodwin as Detective Babinaux is a wry and well-matched foil for Rose McIver’s Liv.
Yes, this is a show about zombies. Brains are eaten on the regular, and people die. But it’s also a show that explores depression, and what people do in the aftermath of horrible tragedy, a show that explores the humor in having to reinvent a whole new future. It’s a show about connection and personal growth and rediscovery. There is a lightness to “iZombie,” even as it deals with death, that comes from an important story being well-told. It’s not perfect: the balance of procedural versus character storytelling could use an ironing out, and Liv’s family and best friend need development, but it is playful and joyous. “iZombie”‘s beating, earnest heart is on display in every episode, and that’s something worth celebrating.
iZombie airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW. Catch up on previous episodes here.