For all the complaints we might have about the zombie genre being completely played out, it continues to surface some of the more interesting fare in television and film. The biggest reason for that, obviously, is because a zombie movie or television show is rarely about the actual zombies themselves. They’re devices often used to impart social messages or, in a case like The Walking Dead, to study human behavior in extreme environmental conditions. There’s a great little British zombie series called In the Flesh that uses zombies to address Britain’s immigration problem. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead provided commentary on Cold War politics and the American cultural environment of the 1960s. Shaun of the Dead was about the mindless monotony of our lives, 28 Days Later was about anti-imperialism, and I don’t know what the social message behind the French series, The Returned is, but it’s creepy as hell.
What’s kind of refreshing about The CW’s zombie series, iZombie, is that there isn’t a lot of complex social commentary coursing through it. It’s just a flat-out fun zombie series. If you can look past the silly premise, and the puntacular name of the lead character (Liv Moore), iZombie may be the best procedural on television (granted, the competition isn’t exactly fierce).
From Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, iZombie mixes Veronica Mars with Bones and Psych. It’s about a 20-something, ambitious, Type-A doctor (Rose McIver) with a fiance (Robert Buckley) and a successful future in front of her, who is mysteriously infected during a yacht party. When she wakes up, her skin is pale, her body temperature is cool, and she has a sudden hunger for brains.
Liv does what anyone might do in that situation, I guess: She tosses aside her fiance (to protect him from her), quits her residency program, and gets a job in the county morgue where there’s a steady supply of brains. The catch is that when she eats someone’s brains, she gets glimpses of their memories, which helps her to solve their murders. Naturally, she teams up with a detective (Malcolm Goodwin) to help investigate cases, telling her partner that psychic-like visions help her.
On paper, it’s a silly premise, but it works, mostly because the writing is quick-witted and the supporting characters are a blast. The murder-of-the-week cases can get a little tiresome, but like Veronica Mars, there’s also a series-long storyline to keep us captivated even when the murder cases fall flat. That arc entails the origins of the zombie infection and another Spike-like evil zombie (David Anders) who is killing the city’s homeless population to survive. We also find out along the way that there are a lot more zombies than we might have first suspected, and in a way, Rob Thomas plays it up like the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica: Who is alive? And who is undead?
iZombie is not a show that will win any Peabody awards, but ratings are solid enough that it’s almost a sure bet for a second season. It’s there that I hope that iZombie can turn the corner from fast-paced, entertaining procedural to a more mythos-rich series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even if it doesn’t, it’s enjoyable enough to seek out and watch in between episodes of darker, more bleak drama series.