End of Season Report: iZombie, Season 1

12 Jun

iZombie

iZombie has an almost laughably gimmicky high concept premise. Protagonist Liv has her life together; great fiancé, about to start on a promising medical career. Then, all of a sudden, she becomes a zombie, which in this universe is a cross between zombie and vampire. She breaks it off with the fiancé for fear of infecting him (sex as well as blood infects), and gets herself moved over the medical examiner’s office for convenient access to free brains. She needs to eat brains to keep herself alive and mentally together, but these brains also have side effects. They give her both the personality traits, positive and negative, of the people whose brains they were, and visions into those people’s lives. She then uses these visions to help solve their murders.

Rob Thomas is an experienced professional showrunner and it shows. Unlike many shows that take some time to find their feet, iZombie seems to know what it is and what it’s doing from the get go. . This is no epic conspiracy supernatural show that intrigues but threatens to go quickly out of control and has no idea where it’s going. The pacing is smart – there aren’t alternating episodes where tons happen followed by boring episodes as the creators need to slow down to avoid getting too far ahead of itself. The season starts with case-of-the-week murders, with the serial plot sneaking in and taking up more and more screen time as the season progressed, just as the two shows which iZombie is most like did, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars. I don’t normally watch most shows that are largely procedural but those two are amongst my favorite shows of all, because although they start with a procedural base they elevate it over time through depth of character and top notch dialogue.

iZombie is tone consistent as well, which is something CW’s other very good freshman hit Jane the Virgin could learn from. Jane the Virgin is loaded with lots of good stuff, but suffers from tone issues, as one episode is serious, and one is light, and the contract often feels confusing and unnatural. iZombie knows exactly what it is from day one, and keeps that tone level balanced, right between brooding and irreverent, light and dark, sarcastic and earnest. Rob Thomas is, with Joss Whedon (and of course I don’t want to short Diane Ruggiero-wright who is the co-creator along with Thomas of iZombie and longtime Thomas consigliere) of mixing comedy and drama and finding strength in the contrast, rather than incongruity. Rather than seem out of place, the mixture uses the humor to build the drama, and vice versa.

iZombie’s gimmick; not the visions, but the personality transfer is a brilliant way to have Liv face off against her personal issues under a different guise every week; a dose of pep from some cheerleader’s brains have her girlily reconnecting with her roommate and best friend. A young mother’s brains have her overprotective, reengaging with her mother and younger brother. It’s a smart technique and keeps every episode slightly different, and Rose McIver, who is the key to the whole kit and caboodle sells it and embodies these different personalities effectively.

The supporting cast, while limited is strong. Ravi is Liv’s boss at the M.E.’s office. He’s the only person who knows that she’s a zombie, which makes him an invaluable ally in her cause, and he attempts to use his knowledge and lab to find a cure. Major, her ex-fiance, feels like he’s being forced into the show at the beginning, as there’s no logical place for him. However, in the second half of the season, his investigation into the existence of zombies, and his involvement throws a wrench in the plans of the primary antagonist, Blaine. David Anders is fantastic as Blaine, who serves as kind of a black market (not that there’s any other kind) brains dealer to zombies, creating the zombies himself to serve both as minions and as customers. His wisecracks and sarcastic one-liners are frequent episode highlights.

The single most serial episode, the finale, delivered in a big way. There was a massive action scene featuring Major escaping from captivity and mowing through his kidnappers and torturers to the tune of After the Fire’s Der Kommissar; much of the time in this show such a scene might feel out of place, but here it worked perfectly and the song choice was a perfect example of the balance between the dramatic and the comedic. (How Major so expertly fired weapons he had just purchased is a reasonable question, but one I’m willing to move past.) At several points in the episode, scenes were unpredictable because at any given point, you could take a reasonable stab at what was going to happen, but you could also guess a couple of equally plausible alternatives, which essentially meant you didn’t know which was going to happen. The events both entertained and satisfied some major first season arcs, while leaving a lot out on the table for next season.

iZombie’s first season wasn’t revolutionary or breakthrough or entirely original television, like recent breakthroughs Transparent, Hannibal, and Rectify, but the show delivered consistently week to week an excellently written product that always left me wanting more, and I’m more glad that I realized I’d be even a few weeks into the season that the show is coming back for a second season.

 

 

 

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