Rob Thomas Puts an Undead Spin on "Veronica Mars" with "iZombie" Review

In the world of television writing, there’s a collection of names which, besides being known as creators of various series, are renowned for having pretty awful luck when it comes to how their shows get treated by the networks they end up on. For some, like Aaron Sorkin it’s somewhat self-imposed (he walked away after three seasons of West Wing, got shut down on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and gave up on The Newsroom), while for others like Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, Hannibal,Mockingbird Lane), Joss Whedon (Firefly, Dollhouse), and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down, iZombie), it’s more of a case of studios not knowing quite how to handle the shows as they tend to fall between easily definable genres. If iZombie is any indication, however, for at least Rob Thomas the curse of studio mismanagement might finally be over.

With Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas brought the concept of crime-of-the-week television woven together with longer form storytelling to the teenage high school drama, and he did it without pandering to the younger demographic or using his platform as a full-time marketing tool to target them for 42-minutes every week. Instead, he told the story of a father and daughter detective agency where work starts to creep into their personal lives.

iZombie effectively inverts that concept with promising medical student Liv Moore’s (Rose McIver) personal life seeping into and overriding her professional career, after a boat party turns into chaos amidst a zombie breakout that leaves her infected but self-aware as long as she snacks on brains regularly to keep her zombie impulses at bay. With her newfound affliction, Liv has to significantly change the way she lives her life and so she goes from would-be doctor to a medical examiner in the morgue, engaged to single, and tanned brunette to white-haired, albino. It’s a change that understandably alarms her family, ex-fiance Major (Robert Buckley), and roommate (Aly Michalka), and it’s only further complicated by Liv’s inability to explain to them why due to the phenomenon of zombies still being considered a fiction by the rest of the world.

The only people aware of Liv’s zombie condition are her supervisor at work, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), who bubbles over with excitement at the prospect of having a disease to try to cure as a hobby (which is a subplot that bears fruit further on in the season), and Blaine (David Anders), the zombie who infected her the night of the boat party and who also happens to be the kingpin behind a brain catering service that preys on runaway and overlooked teens and provides their brains to the surprisingly large community of zombies living among normal humanity.

Luckily for Liv, she doesn’t need Blaine’s service to supply her with brains, as being a medical examiner (and having a supervisor who’s thrilled by her condition) means she gets all the brains she can eat from the poor souls wheeled into their office every week. This practice also leads to Liv’s discovery that she gets snippets of memory (and personality) from the brains of the deceased that she eats, pushing her to become more involved in homicide investigations with Detective Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) who believes her to be a psychic and a personal crusade against a corporation that might knowingly be selling a beverage that induces zombie rage upon consumption.

The season’s arc ends in a pretty spectacular fashion that defies expectations while also opening up the larger hidden world of zombies.

Keeping that in mind, iZombie definitely has a few of the fits and starts you’d expect from a series figuring out where it wants to take things and how its wants to use the rules it establishes for itself. For one, the zombie-strength concept is leaned on pretty heavily in the first half of the season but then is rarely if ever touched on again in the final episodes. It’s unclear as to whether or not the writers decided it was an element of being a zombie they wanted to drop entirely or if they just couldn’t find ways to tie it to the final episodes. A second bump is the shift of arc of Major who goes through some pretty serious ups and downs and finishes out the season as a badass. It’s something of an extreme transition from where he starts, and you could chalk it up to desperation and frustration, but all in all it just feels like too much change for one character in a 13-episode season (even if it does produce one of the best sequences in the season’s finale).

iZombie finds a rare sweet spot in comic-to-TV adaptation by being a perfect fit in writer Rob Thomas’s wheelhouse (it’s essentially Veronica Mars but with Zombies) and cashing in on the zombie craze. Which means, at its foundation, it has everything it needs to succeed: a showrunner who knows exactly what to do with a crime-of-the-week format layered over a larger story and a popular trend to exploit. When you couple that with placement on a second-tier, teen-oriented network that doesn’t have to worry as much about ratings and thus can let shows develop and spread their wings, iZombie should be running for years to come.

DVD Bonus Features

Deleted scenes and a Comic-Con panel are the only extras.

 

"iZombie: The Complete First Season" is on sale September 29, 2015 and is not rated. Comedy, Crime, Drama. Directed by John T Kretchmer, Michael Fields, Jason Bloom. Written by Diane Ruggiero, Mike Allred, Chris Roberson, Rob Thomas. Starring David Anders, Malcolm Goodwin, Robert Buckley, Rose McIver, Aly Michalka.

Oct
12
2015
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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