Former medical student Olivia “Liv” Moore takes a bite out of crime and then some in Rob Thomas’ latest CW series “iZombie,” based loosely upon the Vertigo comic of the same name. While pop culture’s fascination with the undead might seem to be well past its fever pitch, Thomas’ previous work on cult favorite “Veronica Mars” proves the showrunner has a knack for strong female leads and deadpan wit to keep “iZombie’s” pulse ticking.
New Zealander Rose McIver (“Masters of Sex,” “The Lovely Bones”) stars as Liv, an ambitious young woman with such enduring promise even her fellow surgical residents are threatened by her prodigious success. “So, every day for you is basically like the last scene of ‘Sixteen Candles,’” a colleague bemoans, upon spying Liv’s handsome fiancé (Robert Buckley) waiting for her in the parking lot. A classic overachiever, Liv has spent her life too focused on academics to bother navigating certain social rites of passage her peers have long perfected. When she reluctantly accepts an invitation to a raucous party, however, a sudden, conveniently isolated zombie outbreak cuts her bright future short and leaves Liv a (very) pallid shell of her former self.
The comedic undertones bobbing on “iZombie’s” surface make it easy to suspend disbelief when Liv’s family blames her severe change in behavior and appearance on post-traumatic stress. Viewers don’t need Liv’s self-deprecating narration to explain the real reason for her morose demeanor and chalky pallor, but the visual feast while watching Liv utilize a new job at the coroner’s office to satisfy her newfound craving for human brains is delightfully macabre. Liv’s boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), had already noticed the lab’s increasing inventory of empty skulls before he caught his new protégé slathering a fresh cerebral cortex with hot sauce. Instead of reacting with horror or disgust, he’s immediately fascinated with the scientific conundrum and becomes Liv’s ally in both researching her condition and helping her put it to good use.
Murder victims being wheeled into the morgue come with the added baggage of unsolved mysteries surrounding their deaths. Liv soon realizes she’s absorbing the memories and personality traits of the people whose brains she eats, ostensibly giving her the ability to solve puzzles the police can’t. Hotshot investigator Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) is stumped how the odd new mortician is able to supply such impeccable details regarding his most urgent cases, but Liv soon proves such a valuable resource he makes her his unofficial crime scene analyst without asking too many questions himself.
Of course, Liv, Clive and Ravi can’t exist as their own makeshift Scooby Gang without the presence of a charming antagonist to balance the narrative scales. David Anders (“Once Upon a Time,” “The Vampire Diaries”) fits the bill nicely as Blaine, Liv’s maker and token rabble-rouser who isn’t so quick to keep his newfound lifestyle a secret. Blaine’s physical and psychological resemblance to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” heartthrob and erstwhile villain Spike (James Marsters) can’t possibly be coincidental, and fans will likely interpret his character as a clever riff rather than cheap replica.
“iZombie” circumvents a deceptively formulaic structure with referential humor and multi-genre zing that incorporates supernatural intrigue, crime saga suspense and millennial ennui for a refreshing twist on the standard detective procedural. Those already citing it as a mere derivation are missing the point. “Buffy” and Thomas’ own “Veronica Mars” eschewed the temptation to take themselves too seriously, and “iZombie” wisely follows suit with another smart, self-sufficient heroine possessing personal depth, well-crafted comic timing and an especially pertinent set of skills. The TV landscape may already be overrun with hordes of comic-book spinoffs and flesh-chomping lurchers alike, but “iZombie” sets itself apart by melding both templates and featuring a female lead whose effortless likability transcends any cliché. This is one new series that goes down without any hot sauce necessary.
Will you take a bite out of “iZombie”? Or are comic book adaptations ready for the morgue? Sound off in our comment section, and stick with @TheWorkprint for all your pop culture needs.
“iZombie” airs Tuesday nights at 9/8c on The CW.
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Images courtesy of The CW