Describing the premise of the CW”s “iZombie” always makes me feel slightly dumber. You see, Liv (Rose McIver from “Masters of Sex”) is a promising med student who gets bitten by a zombie, but discovers that she retains her intelligence and personality so long as she gets a steady diet of brains. And when she gets a job at the local morgue for steady access to brains without violence, she discovers that eating other people”s brains gives her temporary access to their memories, skills and personality traits, which she uses – by posing as a psychic for cop Clive (Malcolm Goodwin) – to solve their murders.
But if the premise – some of it borrowed from the DC/Vertigo comic, but leaving out the comics” monster cosmology (which also includes were-terriers, mummies and ghosts) – sounds ridiculous, the execution by the “Veronica Mars” duo of Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright is a lot of fun. It”s not exactly “Veronica becomes a zombie” – as both Ruggiero-Wright and Thomas would dispute – but the snap of the dialogue is pleasingly familiar, and if the cases of the week aren”t thrilling, the show more than makes up for it in showing Liv dealing with both her zombie nature and the new memories and abilities that come with each meal.
At press tour, I spoke with the creators separately, starting with zombie movie and comic book fangirl Ruggiero-Wright. (Look for Thomas tomorrow, and I”ll have some kind of recap of the premiere, which airs tonight at 9.)
Favorite zombie movie?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: “ Shaun of the Dead.”
So you prefer your zombies with some comedy?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: Yes. I mean, I do love other zombie movies, but if I had to name a favorite it would be that.
Even though “The Walking Dead” creators explain it over and over again, does it bug you when you watch that show and the people don”t know what zombies are?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: It doesn”t bug me, but I wanted to do a show in which zombies were part of the pop culture, because it makes it so much more fun to me. It makes it so much more ridiculous. If you”re in a world in which zombie movies exist, you”re less likely to think that that”s a zombie, because it”s just fake, it”s bullshit. You”re not going to believe it. I love that we get to comment on it. I love that we get to watch those movies as research. I love that we get to make jokes about it and it just makes it more fun.
Were you aware of this comic before Warner came to you about it?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: I wasn”t. Rob had called me and told me that they had a zombie comic that they were interested in doing and I immediately said yes without even reading it. And then read it and was super excited about it. We used it as a springboard, but it was still the greatest springboard.
Was there any point at which you”re like, “Okay, the were-terrier is in the show,” or you knew right away you were throwing most of that stuff out?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: We knew right away. And while I really enjoyed that, it creates a different kind of show, and that kind of other worldly show is not something I know that Rob is that interested in. But also it”s so hard to do, and we just wanted it to look good and it”s going to be so hard to do a ghost and a were-terrier and not have it look cheesy. I worried that it would separate people from the show where our show as it is now is kind of accessible, and then it has this supernatural element. Where if it was too supernatural, I”d just worry that it wouldn”t be accessible enough.
As a lifelong comic book nerd, how does it feel to be doing an actual DC Comics adaptation?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: It”s the best thing in the world. It”s the best thing in the world. You get to go to DC and they have a room that you can go into and they give you free DC merchandise. I”m not even kidding. Every time I see he”s our executive, he gives me DC swag. My son Rex has like every Batman pajama in this town. And you also get to go there and see the figures that they”re working on, that they”re starting to make, ones that didn”t make it. And I”m just in there like taking pictures. It”s like getting the keys to the kingdom. It”s amazing.
Even though the show is a very loose adaption of the comic, I did like that you brought in Michael Allred to do the credits.
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: Oh he”s amazing. Why wouldn”t we? And even though the character is different in our show, we were definitely inspired by (comics writer) Chris Roberson”s work. He is the foundation of it, without a doubt.
What kind of discussions are there in the writers” room about how much Liv can be taken over by the brains she eats? How long things last, etc?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: We had so many conversations about it. I have to say one of the reasons that we decided to make her have these abilities is that “Matrix” moment of “I know Kung Fu.” We just kind of wanted to have that moment of, “Holy crap. How did that happen?” And that”s just so much more fun than her just getting flashes of memories. Getting to play with her and having her entertain all these different personality traits and abilities is just so much more fun.
In the four that we saw, I believe three of the four she winds up eating male brains.
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: Yeah, I guess that is true for three of the first four. But then she definitely eats female brains too.
I bring it up because when she eats the male artist”s brain, she gets more amorous, but she doesn”t suddenly become attracted to women or anything like that.
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: Well she doesn”t suddenly become attracted to women, but she does suddenly get more sexual. She does get turned on by that girl that he was having an affair with, but it doesn”t make her a lesbian.
But that”s the sort of thing you guys have to actually sit and talk about and decide.
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: Yes, yes. We have to have lengthy five-hour discussions about whether or not it makes sense. Because in that episode, for example, she kind of flirts with that girl, but then she flirts with a guy. And so there are a lot of discussions about how we do have to have it that she flirts with multiple people so it doesn”t just seem like she”s taking on his personality and is hitting on the girl like he was sleeping with, to show that she”s just getting the essence of his traits, essentially.
Because you and Rob wrote “Veronica Mars” for so long, and because of voiceover, and because Rose is pocket-sized, you”re gonna get a lot of, “So it”s Veronica Mars becomes a zombie.” Are you okay with that?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: I don”t think we”re going to get that. Because it”s so different that when you see it she. Veronica was so snarky and quick, and that”s not this character. I think we”ll get that from people who don”t watch the show. “Veronica Mars” fans that watch the show, I don”t think will make that comparison.
Given the depth of the “Veronica Mars” fandom, which you got to experience in the Kickstarter campaign, is it a bad thing if that”s what people are expecting when they go in?
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: I think if we give them another version of “Veronica Mars,” they”d be pissed, because I think they”re such loyal fans and purists that they”d be like, “Don”t screw with the love of my life.” I think they want to keep Veronica Veronica and they want us to do more of that – make another movie. I don”t think they want us to kind of recreate it in a different way.
And as the person who is responsible for so much of Veronica”s voice, have there been times when either something you”ve written or something someone on the staff has written makes you say, “We can”t do that, that”s too Veronica?”
Diane Ruggerio-Wright: It”s not that it”s too Veronica. Veronica was a little tougher and sometimes I”ll write a tougher kind of version and Rob will note that. But he says more “too Diane” than “too Veronica.” But even during the pilot process, he didn”t read anything and say, “That”s too Veronica.” But the whole noir of Veronica, when you”re writing in that mindset, it”s just so different than writing this.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com