The wonderfully bananas series about a zombie medical examiner, who also solves crime, is infectiously charming. It's maddeningly charming. The pilot of this series should be tranquilized, tagged, and studied for its charm. Yeah, we really liked iZombie.
You've probably seen a lot of, "iZombie is like Veronica Mars if Veronica Was A Zombie," headlines. That's because it's true. But you don't have to be a super fan of Rob Thomas (the creator of Veronica Mars and showrunner for iZombie) to fall for this zombie police procedural. I know, I can't believe I just typed "zombie police procedural," but seriously, hear me out. It's just good, really good.
However, if you are familiar with the Rob Thomas style, hold on to your quirky, self-aware hat, because this whole thing is peak Rob Thomas, from the writing to the delivery. Hell, in one scene, the main character zombie actually leans back in a police detective's chair and eyes a room full of officers like she knows something they don't, WHILE HER MONOLOGUE IS NARRATING THE SCENE. So yeah, it's channeling Veronica Mars, hard. But I promise you, it's not tired. And all the characters are so delightfully different from anything you saw in Neptune that you're going to have fun. And yes, the pilot also opens with a "party trauma" scene that the whole series centers around, but there's zombies in it, so relax.
The actual premise is anything but simple, but somehow the show makes it work way better than it sounds on paper: main character Liv Moore was in medical school, engaged and happy until she was scratched at a party by a zombie. Since the infection, she's dropped out of school, dropped her fiancé, and picked up a job at the medical examiner's mortuary. But wait, there's more! Her new zombie life now makes her craves brains. And when she eats said brains, Liv absorbs the memories of the dead person she's feasting upon. Liv then uses those memories to (what else!) solve crimes. There's more on top of that as well, such as the obligatory monster rules and how Liv must follow them or become a raving, wild, brain-hungry zombie, but we'll get to that later.
It's a completely batshit premise, but it works. This could be partly due to the fact that the pilot whizzes through the origin story in no more than ten minutes, because iZombie doesn't pretend like you don't know what a zombie is. Oh, and they actually say the word zombie, unlike Walking Dead, which avoids the z-word for reasons that I still cannot understand. This is the here and now, people. You've all seen a film. You know how this works. They're called zombies.
After the introduction, the audience is dropped into Liv's life as she's still learning how to cope with her new plight. And because she's not a terrible person, she uses her zombie gifts for good, and because this pilot moves at a lightning pace, no one really questions her motives. So she finds an ally who's bewildered by her zombie-ness (character Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti) and another possible future pal, Detective Clive Babineaux, whom she pairs up with to help solve crimes. Ravi is an immediately likable, filter-less open book, but Clive is a bit more toned down and has this raspy delivery that is really working for his character. Can't say much about either from what I saw, but they can both keep up the rapid-fire banter pace that Rob Thomas likes to create.
And while we're on the topic of banter, HOT DAMN there is some serious quickstep tongue speak going on in iZombie. But it's not wasteful; every page in the script matters. Even in the beginning, pre-zombie Liv's life is quickly laid out by a small bit of dialogue.
"So basically every day of your life is like the end of 16 Candles?"
Of course, it's not all words. Even the blocking sets up the gags. Just to really land that 16 Candles joke, Liv's fiancé Major (yes, his name is Major) is revealed through traffic, Jake Ryan-style. Dammit, it's delightful.
And the hits keep coming. Just get a load of this bold, beautiful banter:
Informative AND funny. Take that, every other comedy show that has come out in 2015 so far that is not The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Everything in the pilot is really well put together. Even the voice-over narrative, which has been beaten to death thanks to 10,000 years of primetime drama work. Why? Because it's not awful. Here's a particular moment of self-reflection Liv gives to the audience that I found not overly done or leaning on the tired narrative trends of metaphors or puns:
"They want to help, I get it. But my burden is of the bare it alone variety. The really annoying thing is how right they are. But I don't have post-traumatic stress, I have post-traumatic ennui, post-traumatic defeatism, post-traumatic what's the point?"
After the setup and all the banter, the rest of the show becomes a balance between Liv trying to find a way to keep her distance from the ones she loves (Major, her mother, most of her past life) and solving an actual crime with a brain she ate. My only real complaint is with the crime part. The big mystery was easily predicted a few minutes into the pilot, and the supporting cast of SVU players were really... well... not great. It was too easy to point out the culprit, and the gaggle of witnesses felt like Law & Order paint by numbers. This could be a lot better. And as solving smaller crimes while trying to find a cure (and who it was that started this whole zombie mess) could be a driving force behind iZombie, I truly hope they up the game in this department.
But overall, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Deeply. It was a refreshing reminder that television can be both silly and smart. I've got all my fingers and toes crossed for this series, because this pilot was tight, smart, fast, and really engaging. Please, please, please let this be my new female-led ass kicking show of choice. Because it really feels like it could be.
Oh, and a fun sidenote: the series also pays tribute to its progenitor, the comic of the same name, in a pretty big way. The whole introduction sequence is told in comic form (which also helps narrate what happened to Liv for those joining in late) and all the commercial breaks flashed in and out of comic panels, like so: