iZombie is the zombie-themed police procedural show you need to be watching

Comic book-themed TV and movie fatigue is real, and I suffer from it big time. I tried very hard to like Jessica Jones and failed. I have nothing to give your Daredevils and your Gothams and your The Flashes but a gigantic Liz Lemon-class eye-roll. I can’t even say I “hate” them because “hate” still requires some modicum of emotional investment.

So imagine my surprise when I found a comic-book-derived show that I actually love: The CW’s iZombie, which is currently nearing the end of its second season. Created by Veronica Mars’ Diane Ruggiero-Wright and Rob Thomas, the show is loosely based on the 28-issue Vertigo comic of the same name and admirably juggles the reliability and predictability of a crime-of-the-week police procedural with a multithreaded serial.

The show’s name sells it short, so here’s the expanded premise: young doctor Liv Moore (Rose McIver) has a great job and a great fiancé (Major Lilywhite, played by Robert Buckley) and everything is going great! But one night, against her better judgment, Liv decides to put herself out there and socialize; she’s on a party boat when an apparent zombie outbreak kicks off, infecting her and radically altering the course of her life.

As with many genre shows, part of the fun of iZombie is how it tweaks the standard formula. iZombie's zombies aren’t automatically transformed into mindless Romero-style shamblers or aggressive 28 Days Later-style monstrosities. They’re the same people, just pasty and hungry for brains, and they can infect others with zombie-ism through cuts or sexual contact. It’s only when they go without brains for long enough that the show’s zombies become standard-issue horror tropes. Although they can lose control and rage out when provoked, the conditions that prompt this and the extent to which the zombies can control it is based on the needs of the story. And, crucially, when iZombie zombies eat brains, they pick up some personality tics and memories from the deceased.

Back to Liv. She quits her job to work in a morgue to secure a steady, discreet source of brains, and she breaks it off with her fiancé. She's quietly muddling along as a dispirited shell of her former self until her morgue co-worker Ravi (the delightful Rahul Kohli) figures out what she is. Luckily for her, he’s a friendly nerd with a knack for science. Ravi's more interested in befriending her and finding a cure than he is in handing her over to the authorities. Around the same time, Liv partners up with Seattle cop Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), who has what might be my favorite name for any TV character ever. He isn’t in on the zombie secret, so when Liv ingests the brains of murder victims and uses their memories to help him solve cases, she and Ravi pretend that Liv is a “psychic” who has “visions” (this is just barely more absurd than the truth). She has to eat anyway; at least this way she feels like she’s doing some good.

And that’s the bedrock of the show. Liv and Clive solve a different mystery every week, and each new personality tic somehow comments on Liv's social life and the wider story the show is telling.

Honestly, while I enjoy the procedural aspect of the show, it requires the viewer to suspend a stunning amount of disbelief. What detective would so blindly trust a “psychic” with his career? How is any of the evidence they gather admissible in court? (Conveniently, Clive and Liv almost always manage to wring a tearful confession out of that week’s murderer after confronting him or her with extra-legally obtained facts.) Why does no one notice that so many of the corpses leaving Ravi’s morgue do so without their brains intact? Why can’t Clive figure out that there’s something off about Liv even though she acts wildly different in every case they work, often in ways that mirror the personality of the victims? iZombie is fun, but it’s also pretty silly.

The overarching plot is more satisfying, and it works in some fun characters while building suspense. There’s Blaine (David Anders), a love-to-hate-him frenemy in the vein of Buffy’s Spike, who runs a black market for brains that keeps Seattle’s growing zombie population from getting out of hand. There’s poor Major, who Liv pushes away for his own protection, but who nevertheless gets caught up in what's happening to her. There’s Liv’s best friend Peyton (Aly Michalka), who has to watch Liv drift away without really understanding why. The second season offers some memorable villains who constantly play our protagonists off of one another. So much is going on that the show sometimes feels unfocused, but so far iZombie always manages to keep all its plates spinning. And every time a new main character discovers Liv's Zombie Secret, the show makes it count.

Blending a big serialized story with smaller, week-to-week, open-and-shut stories is something that many shows struggle with; most crime shows are explicitly episodic and formulaic, while serialized dramas and comedies focus on the big story (occasionally at the expense of the self-contained episode). iZombie’s blend of the two is reminiscent of Veronica Mars at its best. Fans of that criminally under-appreciated show will appreciate iZombie's steady drip of sly references and cameo appearances (and the tonal similarities) to its predecessor.

iZombie’s first 13-episode season is available on Netflix now. Go to iTunes, Amazon, or some other video store to watch most of the 19-episode second season (which ends next week), though the most recent episodes are on Hulu and the show’s web site. If you like what you see, good news! Last month, iZombie was renewed for a third season and will be back in the fall. The show is fun without feeling insubstantial, and it tells an engaging story without being as dark abd humorless as most of today’s TV dramas. It’s also the best zombie-based police procedural show on TV. That counts for something, right?



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