Pilot episodes and origin stories have one thing in common: they can be a real chore. Done wrong, they resemble the dull paperwork filled out before any fun can commence: here's the world, the main character, the supporting cast, premise, etc., etc.. If it's a spinoff, take a shortcut past the rules, and those who run out of time are free to use an additional thirty minutes (don't forget to show your exposition).
Rob Thomas - the creator of Veronica Mars and The CW's new supernatural procedural iZombie - has a hunger for just the good stuff, and seems to understand that his audience isn't comprised of dim-witted hermits. It's 2015, which means no time needs to be spent defining the undead instead of selling a unique twist. Protagonist Liv Moore (Rose McIver) has her superhero origin story told within the first three minutes of iZombie's pilot: she was a regular girl went to a party and woke up a zombie. Now she works in a morgue, eating the brains of the recently deceased to maintain her cover by keeping herself from turning into a groaning, shambling, murderous member of the undead. Got it? Good.
The actual bulk of the pilot episode, written by Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright (Veronica Mars) picks up several months after Liv's transformation, which has left her pale-skinned and white-haired - a look McIver wears surprisingly well. Liv has established a steady supply of brains and has her life (such as it is) in order, but feels lonely and directionless after quitting her promising job as a heart surgeon and breaking off her engagement with handsome fiancé, Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley). Just when she needs it most, Liv finds a new ally in her boss, Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), who is fascinated rather than disgusted with her condition, eager to uncover the secrets of the very-much-undead.
Liv also finds a new purpose in life beyond eating the brains of the recently-deceased. Homicide detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), who isn't altogether skilled at his job, comes sniffing around the morgue for clues and finds them when Liv offers up memories from the girl whose brains she recently consumed. Operating under the belief that Liv is a psychic, Clive brings her along on the investigation and Liv discovers a certain solidarity for her fellow dead, making the case a personal one. After all, it's got to be more fun than sitting at home and chugging bottles of hot sauce.
iZombie seems like it could be the perfect antidote to the gripping but grueling drama of AMC's The Walking Dead Sundays: spend Monday in a depressed funk over the latest character killed, relying on iZombie as a palette-cleanser. The show isn't all lighthearted humor, but the combination of case-of-the-week crime-solving, sincere drama and dry, witty humor makes for an addictive blend - especially for a network more stacked with drama than procedurals.
The show also boasts a strong principal cast despite being comprised of relatively unknown actors. McIver brings both attitude and vulnerability to Liv, creating a character who's just plain likable despite her low BPM, and shows great chemistry with both Kohli and Goodwin. The rest of the ensemble feels a bit flat by comparison, but perhaps they'll evolve after being given a little more screen time.
Fans of Vertigo's "iZOMBIE" comic series may be disappointed in the deviations from the source material, but the show provides plenty of nods to its roots with opening titles featuring co-creator Michael Allred's artwork and comic panel introductions for each new chapter. The unfolding drama is fleshed out (so to speak) by Liv's narrative voice, which helps to smooth the pace as she leads the audience from scene to scene and into occasional flashbacks. The decision to skip her early days as a zombie also leaves the door open for anecdotal flashbacks in future episodes.
The Bottom Line
If you like zombies, mysteries, procedurals, clever dialogue or good television, then iZombie's pilot is absolutely worth watching. And between the fresh feel of the show and the episode's ending stinger, Thomas and co. will almost certainly convince you to stick around for the rest of the season. In the horde of similar-feeling supernatural shows like Being Human, The Vampire Diaries or Constantine, iZombie really feels like it possesses its own voice early. Perhaps it can be criticized for having a formula too similar to Veronica Mars, but fans of the series won't find that a negative - and sticking with his comfort zone hasn't dimmed the spark of Thomas' writing.
As mentioned at the start of the review, pilot episodes can often be a slow start that ends up being followed by a great season. In the case of iZombie, the pilot came hot out of the gate - and we're just hoping it can stay this good.
Ravi: Raul Cortez. The gangbanger gunshot victim. You finished the autopsy for me. Well, the detective on his case needed me to open him back up. Guess what he was missing.
Liv: A strong male role model?
Clive: That's it? I thought I had a psychic sidekick. I was working on a bit. Cagney and Pasty.
iZombie returns next Tuesday with "Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?" @9pm on The CW. Check out a preview of the episode below:
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