This review contains spoilers.
Zombies, like most other fictional monsters in popular culture, are often best when used as metaphors for recognisable human things. It’s why teen shows have been so quick to adopt a fantasy angle ever since Buffy The Vampire Slayer introduced the ‘high school is hell’ theme back in the late 90s.
Now, though, the trendy thing is to have your protagonist be the monster, and iZombie – Rob Thomas’ latest – sees the zombie sub-genre finally reach that crucial point in its cycle.
Our set-up is this – promising, over-achieving doctor Liv (Rose McIver) goes to a boat party that happens to be hit by a sudden zombie outbreak. She wakes up in a body-bag, realises she’s (un)dead, and we then pick up with her months later when her once-perfect existence has more or less imploded. She’s broken things off with her fiancé, become somewhat estranged from her family, and taken a job at the morgue for easy access to the brains she needs for sustenance.
While working there, she discovers that the brains she eats also imbue her with the person’s memories (and emotions), and she uses this information to help find out how some of the unnatural deaths occurred. It’s Tru Calling, but with a better central character and much sharper wit.
The show is loosely based on the DC comic by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, but otherwise seems very much like creator Rob Thomas’ brainchild. The comparisons to Veronica Mars are all too easy to make, what with the voiceovers, the procedural detective element and the slightly snarky female protagonist at its centre.
It’s all familiar in the best way, however, with there being little about iZombie that doesn’t feel completely fresh.
As for the metaphor part, Liv’s new existence is very much painted as a stand-in for some degree of depression, with her even admitting during the pilot episode that what she’s lost weren’t things so much taken away from her as they were things she pushed away by herself. She is plagued by self-doubt, melancholy and ‘ennui’, and the use of the supernatural element in connection with this works beautifully.
It’s somewhat comparable to In The Flesh, which used zombies in a similar fashion to portray the ‘otherness’ of its main character. Like Kieren Walker, though, Liv is also recovering from a significant traumatic experience that led to the end of her life, and the potential for the show to explore this element of mental health at the same time as being a fun zombie detective show is very, very exciting.
She also, of course, has a team around her. First up is Dr Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), her co-worker at the morgue and self-titled ‘eager ally’, who will be the guy bringing in bodies while trying to find a way to cure Liv’s condition, and then there’s Clive (Malcolm Goodwin), the detective with whom she will solve the subsequent investigations. What we briefly see of both is fine, though Ravi is the standout so far.
Aside from one gross-out eating scene, there’s surprisingly little horror in iZombie. It’s a dramedy in the same vein as many of Thomas’ other shows, but it so far displays no interest in being a part of the horror genre at all.
It’s actually the perfect example of everything The CW does brilliantly, with an endearing female main character, a seamless blend of comedy and drama and an ensemble you could immediately fall in love with, and so fits directly into the little renaissance the network is having right now.
In the long-term, we can presumably expect the weekly procedural element to be weaved into a bigger, ongoing arc about the zombie attack, again, much in the same way as Veronica Mars had Lily Kane’s murder mystery hanging over Veronica all through its first season.
Judging just from this pilot, iZombie is a strange amalgamation of things that inexplicably results in something that feels new, surprising and, most importantly, incredibly entertaining. It’s unlike anything we have on TV right now, which is always a good thing, and I look forward to seeing it continue to be as weird, thoughtful and unexpected as this first episode promises.
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