I’ve never really understood the whole zombie craze. Yes, everyone needs a good apocalypse escape plan, just in case, but zombies have never really worked as serious monster-villains for me. They shamble around and eat brains? And we need five hundred stories about this why, exactly?
So when I heard Veronica Mars’s Rob Thomas was working on a new show called iZombie, I never really thought I’d watch it. It just didn’t sound like my sort of thing.
Luckily, it was then recommended to me enough times that I decided to watch it, because iZombie is fantastic.
Like many great genre shows before it, iZombie‘s title and quick summary don’t really do it justice. Here, ambitious medical student Liv is turned into a zombie after a particularly disastrous boat party, and needs to eat brains to survive. But when she eats someone’s brain, she takes on some of that person’s personality and memories. So she gets a job at the police morgue, convinces a homicide detective that she’s a psychic, and uses her visions to help solve people’s murders.
It’s a ridiculous, fun, tongue-in-cheek set-up to allow for the “mystery of the week” story structure, and it’s treated with just the right balance of humor and sincerity that it works.
But, like Veronica Mars before it, the show’s real strength comes from the overarching story that builds in the background — a story that I don’t want to spoil, as it really is better as a surprise, but which is not a zombie apocalypse story. It is a story of both human and zombie villainy, but villainy on a far more real-life scale.
The show, unsurprisingly, is very reminiscent of Veronica Mars, with a strong Buffy flavor as well. If you enjoyed Veronica Mars, iZombie will give you nostalgia in all the best ways. It utilizes the mystery-of-the-week and protagonist voiceovers that will be familiar to Veronica Mars fans, and presents its supernatural elements with a blend humor and genuine emotion to create a show that is really fun to watch, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but that also really sucks you in and packs a punch too.
Is it as strong as Veronica Mars’ first season? No. But that’s an incredibly high bar to meet, since Veronica Mars’ first season is almost perfectly plotted, and it’s as strong if not stronger than Veronica Mars’ other seasons.
Unfortunately, like Veronica Mars‘ before it, the show suffers from what I can only call “Female Protagonist Syndrome,” where it presents a really interesting and well-developed female protagonist… and then forgets to include any other female characters in the main cast. Liv is a great character, well-defined despite her habit of taking on new character traits each week, but her best friend is underdeveloped, her mom is rarely seen, and all other recurring characters are male. The cast of iZombie is fairly diverse, but it’s trapped in the “characters are only female if they have to be” trope — moms and best girl friends, but not the police chief, or the detective, or her boss, or the villain.
But despite that, it’s a winning show. It has a ridiculous concept, but somehow it works, and it’s the first show in quite a while that sucked me in with the pilot and had me addicted by episode four. Some plot elements feel slightly rushed, probably because of the 13-episode season, and a couple of minor plot points got a little lost along the way, but it’s gripping and enjoyable throughout. Even if one plot point in particular has scarred me for life.
And it’s incredibly refreshing to see a genre show that aims to be enjoyable, rather than grim. It’s gripping and emotional, without relying on gratuitous violence and the audience shock factor — just delicious character-driven drama, a healthy dose of plot twists, and a great sense of humor too.