Rob Thomas is a writer, so he's obviously concerned with story and character and other matters creative. But he's also a veteran writer/producer – and, as creator of “Veronica Mars,” a man who had to do a lot of selling over the last couple of years – so he also is well aware of when art has to bend for commerce.
So when Thomas – who, with fellow “Veronica Mars” vet Diane Ruggiero-Wright, has adapted the Vertigo comic “iZombie” for the CW – was asked why Rose McIver's character, Liv, doesn't bother with spray tanning, hair dye, or other attempts to disguise her condition as an intelligent zombie, he was very blunt.
“In some ways, it's the least logical decision she could make,” he admitted, since many of the show's other zombies (notably David Anders as a drug-dealing zombie named Blaine) do make an effort to look more normal. “The truth of the show is the reason she doesn't spray tan or dye her hair to look everyone else is she will look great on our poster.”
Eventually, he said, they would come up with an in-show reason, and has talked up the idea of Liv being an “out and proud” zombie, even though she conceals her true nature from everyone but Ravi (Rahul Kohli), her colleague at the Seattle morgue.
McIver, the New Zealand native and “Masters of Sex” alum placed in the center of this, has found both the makeup and the fake brains she has to eat a mixed blessing. The makeup takes between 90 minutes and two hours to apply – and, because it has to cover every inch of exposed skin, she's pleaded with the costume department for long sleeves and pants whenever possible – “but when I put it on, it does a lot of work for me.”
As for the brains, “It's like coconut gelatin, kind of,” she explained. “Independently, it would be okay, but to combine it with what looks like blood, we have vegetable juice poured all over it… It's not really idea, but we're working on it.”
(“It's not sexy like it should be,” added Anders. “We have spit buckets.”)
Though Liv's look is modeled on the character from the comics – and “iZombie” artist Mike Allred draws the show's opening credits, as well as the comic book-style panels that appear at the beginning of each act – the show is mostly a procedural that borrows a few devices from the comic, particularly Liv's ability to share the memories, talents and personalities of the people whose brains she eats, which lets her solve crimes with the help of Ravi and local cop Clive (Malcolm Goodwin). The comic book features a whole monster cosmology (one of Liv's best friends is a were-terrier), but Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright wanted to keep things streamlined, and wound up with a show that feels very much like if Veronica Mars(*) grew up and became a zombie – down to Liv narrating her adventures.
(*) Remember, “Veronica Mars” was one of the shows in the CW's inaugural schedule, as a holdover from UPN. And in between then and now, Thomas and Bob Dearden wrote the very funny “Veronica” web spin-off “Play It Again, Dick” for the CW's digital platform CW Seed. (Continuing the blending of the two franchises, Dearden also wrote a season 1 “iZombie” episode.)
“I think that Veronica's hardened,” Thomas said of the difference between his two heroines. “I always wanted us to, at our best in those voiceovers, strive for this very Raymond Chandler-esque hard-boiled cynical worldview. I think that Liv in 'iZombie' is more naturally a softer character. Part of the journey for her is a return to sweetness and light and finding things that are worth going on living for. While I think the technique is the same, their attitudes are pretty different.”
Because the CW is a network built around attractive young actors(**), the traditional decayed zombie look of “The Walking Dead” and the George Romero movies doesn't turn up often, except when Liv encounters a zombie who's gone too long without eating a brain. Thomas said that they wanted Liv, Blaine and other zombies to seem like they could have relationships with people, and joked that at one point, “We were were calling the show 'ZILFs.'”
(**) “One Tree Hill” alum Robert Buckley, who plays Liv's ex-fiance Major – and who's much funnier than your average CW handsome person – responded to a question about this, “The CW has an attractive, young person thing?! Am I the last person to figure this out!?” (Later, when asked his first direct question, he said he wanted to seem smart when he answered, and produced a pair of eyeglasses from his jacket.)
And unlike “The Walking Dead,” “iZombie” exists in a universe where all those other zombie movies and TV shows exist, and Liv frequently rents zombie movies to get a better handle on her condition.
“It was something we really enjoyed about the show,” said Ruggiero-Wright. “It's so prevalent in pop culture that we're having fun that she's doing that for research. If I became a zombie, that's what I would do. I would watch 'The Walking Dead.'”
“iZombie” premieres Tuesday, March 17 at 9 p.m., after “The Flash.” It's a fun show in about the best timeslot the CW could give it.