SXSW Pilot Review: iZOMBIE Is VERONICA MARS Meets PUSHING DAISIES

Rob Thomas' new series on The CW is a gift. 

Watch it here!

Last night The CW aired the pilot for Rob Thomas' iZombie, based on the Vertigo comic from Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, and at my screening we were also treated to an early viewing of next week's second episode, "Brother, Can You Spare A Brain?" After these two episodes, I am completely sold, though to be honest, I was halfway sold before the first episode even started. Rob Thomas is the creator of Veronica Mars and Party Down, which means that he is responsible for some of my favorite television ever, and iZombie feels like a Rob Thomas show through and through. iZombie absolutely shares the wry, fresh, pop-pulp voice that fans of his previous series already admire, and the Vertigo property feels perfect for that voice.

As is its lead, Rose McIver as Olivia "Liv" Moore (changed from Gwendolyn in the comic). Liv begins the series as an ambitious Seattle intern physician with a loving fiancé (Robert Buckley as Major) and close family and friends. She uncharacteristically attends a coworker's boat party that goes seriously haywire due to a designer drug and at least one zombie (David Anders), who scratches her arm just before she drowns in a fiery blaze along with the rest of her shipmates. She tears her way through her body bag, and we cut to five months later, where Liv has quit her job and is now working in a morgue, she's dumped Major because she doesn't want to "give him zombie," and oh yeah, she's a zombie. The only one, she's pretty sure. Her mortician boss, Ravi (Rahul Kohli), knows the truth about her and is happy to keep her secret and keep feeding her brains (which she eats in tacos and pizza rolls drowned in hot sauce in order to make them more palatable), but no one else in her life has any idea what's going on with her, other than that she's pale and morbid and awfully grumpy. 

The pilot feels somewhat like Veronica Mars' pilot in this respect, especially in regards to McIver's dry, snarky voice-over, and as we follow Liv from promising and popular student to hiply dressed social outcast, it feels a bit like watching Veronica move from the 09ers' circle to the loner table in the cafeteria. But here's where Pushing Daisies comes in: after Liv eats the brains of a fresh corpse, she absorbs that person's inclinations, habits, skills - and, in partial flashes, memories. When this corpse happens to be a murder victim leaving no clue as to the killer, Liv realizes that she can assist in the murder investigation headed by Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), who thinks the pale pariah is just psychic instead of undead. They solve the case and decide to keep working together, and with a newfound purpose, "a way to contribute," Liv learns to live again, even if her internal organs haven't quite gotten the memo. 

It's a lot of information for a pilot - and there are details I'm skimming in the interest of time - but iZombie's first episode never feels like an exposition dump. It moves with a quick and sure ease, and without many of the pitfalls that plague most pilots. This feels like an established universe, and we learn just enough to want to know more. It's very stylish, with scenes transitioning from a comic page to live action, and with a completely kickass title sequence featuring Deadboy And The Elephantmen's great "Stop, I'm Already Dead."

By comparing the show to Veronica Mars (and by the way, the always terrific Daran Norris drops by the pilot) and Pushing Daisies, I am loath to give the impression that it's in any way derivative. iZombie definitely has an energy and style all its own. Liv is something of a superhero, not only unkillable but impressively varied in her interests and talents thanks to her absorption of the personalities of those who once possessed the brains she's munching. It's a cool angle, and McIver pulls off the motley aspects of Liv's identity with a fun and loose surety. The entire cast is great, convincingly inhabiting this weird, unlikely universe, and the best part of iZombie is how very, very funny it is. I mean, this is Rob Thomas working with his usual crew (Dan Etheridge, Diane Ruggiero, Danielle Stokdyk), and no one writes jokes better than these guys. But iZombie also doesn't seem afraid to embrace the gore inherent in its conceit, and though we only got a glimpse of that in the first couple of episodes, I look forward to seeing exactly how gross this show is willing to go.

The CW used to get a bad rap, but with The FlashArrow and The 100, it's starting to be in vogue to be an adult who watches a network that was once considered solely for teens. You may think you're too cool for iZombie, but I assure you that you're not. This series is smart and hilarious, incisively written, wildly charming and, most importantly, fun, and I hope you'll give it a chance.

Comments