[Posted by Jeremy Grayson]
“I used to be passionate, inspired, alive. Now, I’m mostly just hungry. And… a zombie. So there’s that.” – Liv
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of zombie fiction. The horror genre has delivered a seemingly never-ending string of vampires, mummies, and werewolves, and while plenty of ghoul-centric books, films, and TV shows have been spookily entertaining, zombie-centric stories, with their moaning, groaning, brain-chewing antagonists, have always struck me as repulsive. And the recent rise in zombie fiction (presumably stepping in for all the sexy vampire fiction) has done little to increase my interest – I’ve never even seen a complete episode of The Walking Dead. Mostly, I tend to avert my eyes at anything related to (as Bart Simpson calls them) the living-impaired.
There is one happy exception, however. iZombie, a series which airs on TV whenever The CW remembers to schedule it, is heavily focused on the world of the deadheads. Yet I’ve consistently enjoyed it since its 2015 debut, and would go so far as to call it the most entertaining show I’m currently watching. (Note that I did not say “best.”)
The show concluded its third season earlier this week, with a finale that was both shocking and horrifying, as well as a guarantee that the status quo of the series will never be the same. Yet none of the intense drama which unspooled felt contrived – it was simply the next logical step in a show that has successfully continued to build upon its mythology with each passing season.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Loosely based on a comic book from DC’s Vertigo lineup, iZombie follows Liv Moore (played by Rose McIver), a young woman who also happens to be a member of the undead. To all outward appearances, she’s a normal person (albeit with slightly paler skin), but she needs brains to survive. Not wanting to feast on innocent bystanders, she takes a job at the local morgue, allowing herself a steady supply of brains… and the ability to solve crimes. Eating a person’s brain causes Liv to gain that person’s memories (similarly to the visions Cordelia received on Angel), and most episodes see her using that power to investigate a murder.
That description may sound pretty cheesy – perhaps like a supernatural spinoff of CSI – but it’s only the surface to the story. iZombie was created by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, respectively the creator and executive producer of Veronica Mars. One of the best TV dramas of the 2000s, Mars shined on many levels – particularly when it came to weaving season-long arcs with mysteries of the week. Similarly, iZombie may start out as a quasi-supernatural procedural, but over three seasons, it’s built up an impressive mythology that stretches far beyond the confines of any individual episode.
To try and explain this mythology would take up much too much space – there are simply too many branches, and I’d only end up getting lost in the tree itself. Regardless, even as the story arcs in the series can border on convoluted, iZombie trusts the viewer to keep up, rarely repeating exposition beyond the obligatory “Previously on…” segments.
And viewers are compelled to keep up, because gosh darn it, this show is just so much fun. Much credit goes to McIver, who is given one of the most versatile roles on television since Tatiana Maslany began working clone duty on Orphan Black. In addition to gaining the memories of those she feasts on, Liv also gains defining aspects of their personalities, and each new episode gives McIver a new “character” to play with. She can be an agoraphobe, a narcissist, a grumpy old man, or even a makeshift superhero. These various personalities are played for laughs – but they also quite often tie into the shows various themes and character arcs.
The show’s sense of humor also offsets the built-in yuck factor. Liv’s various meals are prepared in brief cooking-show-style montages, as she blends, toasts, or purees each new brain in a new (and disturbingly delicious) way. Hannibal Lecter’s got nothing on a woman who likes her grey matter as cracker spread.
And of course, there are the puns. If Bob’s Burgers is willing to go the extra mile for a bad pun, iZombie will travel to a whole other county. Start with the main character’s name, then continue with the names of the show’s various businesses (Meat Cute, Fillmore Graves), and top it off with the hand-drawn intertitles which appear throughout each episode. (There’s some clear Frasier influence with that style of wordplay.) iZombie has never met a wacky pun it hasn’t loved, and its commitment to this built-in goofiness offsets some of the show’s darker and more disturbing moments.
I haven’t even talked about the show’s electric supporting cast (which includes actors familiar to genre TV, like David Andres and Aly Michalka, and relative newcomers like Rahul Kohli and Malcolm Goodwin), or its impressive makeup, or its terrific theme song. But deconstructing every angle of this series runs the risk of sucking all the fun out of it. iZombie is a series that deserves to be enjoyed on its own terms – both at a macro and a micro level – and whether you’re a fan of the undead or not, this show makes for some excellent brain food.
(Hey, I can do puns, too.)
The first two seasons of iZombie are currently on DVD and streaming on Netflix, and Season Three will begin streaming July 5th. Season Four will premiere in 2018.