Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pilot Review: iZombie

iZombie (Tuesdays at 9:00 on The CW)

Have you been craving a fourth season of Veronica Mars? Good news! You got it! Only Veronica is a half-zombie this time around.

I feel like this was the pitch for iZombie, the new series from Veronica Mars mastermind Rob Thomas and former Mars writer Diane Ruggiero-Wright. While the CW show is adapted from a DC Comics storyline (yup, another one, just in case you didn't get your fill with Arrow, The Flash, or Gotham), it has been changed so much to fit into Thomas's oeuvre that it feels like a completely different animal, and not always for the better.

I won't deny that iZombie is a fun hour of television. It combines elements of a few really entertaining shows, most notably Veronica Mars and Psych, and puts a genre twist on them by making the lead a zombie. Liv (Rose McIver, Once Upon a Time's Tinkerbell) was a doctor with the perfect life: ideal job, gorgeous fiance (a completely underutilized Robert Buckley), bright future. But the one time she stepped outside her comfort zone and attended a boat party, she was attacked by zombies and killed... kind of. While the other passengers perished, Liv came back with a really slow heartbeat, pale skin, and the need to eat brains. Now she works as a coroner's assistant as a way to have easy access to food, while the rest of her life has fallen into similar disrepair. She's broken up with her fiance, her family and friends think she needs an intervention to motivate her off the couch, and her boss and confidante, Ravi (Rahul Kohli), just wants to run tests to find out what Liv's "zombie disease" is and how it could possibly be cured. Then the visions start when she ingests a murder victim's brain, absorbing the dead girl's memories, and suddenly Liv realizes she can have purpose again by using her unique abilities to help solve murders.

So yes, iZombie is a police procedural. The original comic book is more akin to Being Human, following the adventures of a zombie, a ghost, and a were-terrier in a world where dozens of supernatural creatures, from mummies to vampires to poltergeists, exist. That could have made for a chaotic, True Blood or Buffy the Vampire Slayer type show, with lots of potential storylines stemming from the different sects of creatures. In the show, though, it seems that only zombies are a thing, and even their existence is confusing. Liv is attacked by one, but he seems to "morph" (like a vampire on Buffy) rather than just exist as a foot-dragging, drooling, moaning stereotypical zombie. And Liv is turned undead by his scratch, much like in werewolf folklore. It's a bit confusing, but not much time (or any, really) is spent in the pilot establishing these paranormal rules. Instead, most of the episode follows Liv as she wanders through her house eating spicy foods (she can only taste things with extreme flavors) and contemplating her existential crises, or else she tries to solve a truly cliche murder case involving a bunch of Eastern European call girls. Neither is particularly exciting, especially when the existential moments resort to an overused voiceover. Then it's just a show about a quippy blonde helping the police solve crimes. Does any of this sound familiar?

Regardless, Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright's script is still fun. It may be a retread of many of the same elements and themes of their own earlier show, but that doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable. The dialogue is snappy, and McIver especially brings it to life with wryness and wit. There are some great visual gags, such as when Liv goes to Major, her ex-fiance, to explain her condition but finds him on a date with another girl... playing a zombie-killing video game. But there are also some problems, like why Major is even still in the picture when he and Liv are no longer an item and what his purpose is going to be moving forward. I also am not looking forward to the Psych-like treatment of Liv's involvement with the police department; she tells them she is a psychic, since that's more believable than "zombie," and I just don't know if I have the patience for another procedural about that particular lie.

But again, it's snappy. It's a breezy, light hour that offers a few laughs and a great central performance from McIver. It's very much in the noir aesthetic that Veronica Mars had (seriously, I wouldn't be comparing the two so much if they weren't essentially the same... I just can't help it), and the writing is smart when it's concentrating on Liv and her zombie infection. You could do worse than iZombie, but I can't help but feel like the creators could have done better as well.

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