Television Review: iZombie, Season 1

Rob Thomas has written some of my favourite television shows, including Veronica Mars (the third season isn’t great) and Party Down, which is an underrated gem. Like his previous two shows, iZombie, which he co-showruns with Diane Ruggiero-White, is great and just a bundle of fun. Zombie aren’t my thing. I’ve never watched an episode of The Walking Dead. I know that there’s a character named Daryl, and that’s about it. There was also The Governor, and for a while I thought Daryl was The Governor, but I was wrong. When I booked tickets to see Rob Thomas at the Melbourne Writers Festival this week, I wondered whether or not I’d have time to see iZombie before that appearance. Luckily Stan came to the rescue (as I suspected it would, since the show hadn’t turned up on Foxtel), signing the deal with Warner Bros studios that brought iZombie to our screens last Thursday. If you wish to remain spoiler free, the first two paragraphs below the cut are safe, after that you’ve been warned.

The premise of the show is fairly simple, a doctor named Olivia Moore (Liv Moore, get it?), goes to a party on a boat and all hell breaks loose and wakes up in a body bag craving brains. She quits her job at the hospital, calls off her wedding, and gets a job in the Seattle PD morgue, where she has access to brains of the recently deceased. The first person to know her secret is her boss Ravi, who notices that some of the corpses brains are a bit lighter, and just straight out asks her if she’s a zombie. He’s delighted – he got fired from the CDC because of theories about genetic mutations leading to diseases like zombie-ism. Ravi wants to cure her, which is the beginning of one of the sweetest friendships on television. Oh, a side effect of eating brains is that she absorbs the personality of the victims and has flashbacks, and she assists Detective Clive Babineaux in his murder investigations. What makes this great is that it started as a procedural with a fun twist, but with proper character work, iZombie became more than the sum of its parts.

Rose McIver, who plays Liv is fantastic and gets to really stretch her acting muscles by playing the different personalities of the murder victims. Rahul Kohli is perfect as Ravi (more on him later) so much so that I love Ravi more than Wallace on Veronica Mars (Percy Daggs III is in an episode and still looks about 18). David Anders is having a ball as the antagonist Blaine, who is basically a zombie version of his character on Alias. If nothing else, you’ll want to check out the first episode of iZombie because it’s a CW show, and the CW attractive people factory is not a joke. The attractive people are not limited to Liv and her love interests, but also Ravi, Blaine, and her roommate Peyton. There is something in this show for everyone. Spoilers ahead.

I think the best place to start the rest of this review is with Ravi. I had Blaine down, but let’s get all of the pseudo-science out of the way first. In the pilot episode, Liv eats some murder victim brains and pours some hot sauce in it. Ravi asks her if the hot sauce is a zombie thing, and Liv is immediately worried she’ll be fired. NOPE! He’s a doctor and a scientist and is delighted that this has happened. Also he’s going to find a cure by taking Liv’s (and other zombies’) vital signs. He determines that the zombie virus was bred through some combination of the Max Rager energy drink and a tainted form of the party drug utopium. He creates an experiment where he tries different combinations of the two substances on rats, and he creates a zombie rat! He also cures it, but then it dies. At the end of the first season, Ravi has made a cure, but there’s only one dose.

Blaine, our primary antagonist, is a former utopium dealer who zombified Liv by scratching her (I just assumed zombies were like vampires and werewolves, which is how little I know about zombie mythology). Liv sees him in her dreams because she ate the brains of a hit and run victim that he cornered, and reaches out to him. She agrees to supply Blaine with brains, but then sees him with some of his former colleagues and decides it’s better to not share. He did make her a zombie after all. Blaine has learned some valuable business lessons during his time as a dealer, and creates a market for brains with himself as the monopoly. He turns rich people into zombies and charges them through the nose for brains. Not only is he controlling the supply, but he’s controlling the demand, because if he wasn’t supplying (extremely expensive) brains to Seattle’s zombie population, they’d just go out and create more zombies, making it much more difficult for anyone to find brains. Oh, also his headquarters is a butcher shop called Meat Cute, I love the tongue in cheek naming conventions on this show.

This is a CW show, so it is not without its relationship drama, and once again it is written well enough that I didn’t have any of my usual reservations. At the beginning of the show, Liv is engaged to the gorgeous Major Lillywhite (Robert Buckley, and yes that character is called Major Lillywhite), but calls off their wedding after she becomes a zombie. For the first three or four episodes of the season, we hear a lot about how Major is Mr Perfect, but aren’t really given a reason to care about him aside from his abs. Then in episode five, Liv meets Lowell Tracy (Bradley James, aka King Arthur from Merlin), a zombified musician who has enough money for Blaine to exploit. Their romance is brief, but it’s great to see Liv happy, because to be a zombie is to merely exist. It’s hard for Liv to find purpose in her life after everything happened.

It’s very easy to draw parallels between characters on iZombie and their Veronica Mars counterparts. Liv is Veronica, Blaine is Logan, Ravi is Wallace, Major is Duncan and that’s as far as I’ve gotten with these characters. What I love is the way that Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-White have improved upon these character types in some cases so that the relationship dynamics feel fresh. Teddy Dunn was not a good actor, so Duncan was basically just The Boring Guy. In iZombie, Major is attractive and is a social worker at a youth shelter, but he has his faults. As his kids go missing, he stumbles upon Blaine’s meal plan, although it takes him a while to figure out what exactly is going on. He spirals, and at the end of the season he wages war on the Meat Cute, and it’s great. My love of Ravi might just be a love of Rahul Kohli and his accent, but Wallace always seemed like a bit of an empty vessel, and I think Ravi is definitely a more fleshed out character. I’m sure some people ship Liv and Blaine, and while I was a Veronica/Logan shipper, and I see the appeal of David Anders, I think having Blaine be the bad guy was a good choice. Sure, he’s a zombie (or is he?), so maybe he could be with Liv, but David Anders is just having so much fun being the bad guy that I just want him to keep doing it.

Other thoughts:

  • Also available on Stan is the iZombie panel from San Diego Comic Con this year with the core actors as well as Thomas and Ruggiero-White. It’s definitely worth a watch, although be prepared to turn your speakers all the way up.
  • The best line about Major: “Blond pretty boy, looks like he fell out of a Nicholas Sparks movie?”
  • There’s great wit on this show, because it’s by the same people as Veronica Mars and Party Down. I can’t remember any other great lines off the top of my head, but they’re there. It’s one of the reasons Blaine is so great.
  • The second season of iZombie begins in October, and the episodes will be fast tracked to Stan Better Call Saul style. I’m a little disappointed there are only going to be thirteen episodes in the second season, even if it will probably be better for the show quality-wise. I just love it so much!
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