Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pilot Talk 2015: iZombie

Every TV season, networks bring out a new crop of shows, in hopes that they'll be the next big hit.  Pilot Talk is devoted to figuring out whether these shows are worth your time based on the first episode.

Tuesdays at 9:00 PM on The CW

It's very rare that I get so excited about an upcoming show that I pay attention to every new announcement, casting choice, and trailer release before its premiere.  For some reason iZombie, Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero's loose adaptation of Chris Roberson and Mike Allred's comic book of the same name, was that kind of show for me.  I loved Thomas and Ruggiero's mid-2000s classic, Veronica Mars, and I always admired the comic's artwork, so the show had some built-in goodwill going for it.  Plus, there's something amusing about a disaffected, hipster zombie who solves crimes.  My greatest hope was that iZombie would turn out to be the lovechild of Veronica Mars and Buffy.

Does it live up to that promise?  Well, it's certainly got a large amount of Veronica Mars in its DNA.  Though Veronica never had to deal with an attack that left her an alabaster-skinned, brain-hankering zombie like Liv (Rose McIver), the two of their stories both kick off with a traumatic event of some sort.  And though iZombie's banter isn't quite operating at peak levels yet, you could close your eyes and almost picture Kristen Bell delivering the lines Liv is given.

Thomas and Ruggiero don't just find themselves within their comfort zone in terms of style and plot, they also incorporate a crime-solving element too.  Here's the thing about Liv's condition: whenever she eats brains, she can see the last few memories of the dead person to which said brain belongs.  This ability, plus her job as a coroner's assistant, allows her to investigate various deaths in town and figure out who was responsible.  It's pretty easy to see the format the show will take on -- case of the week hijinx, while also pushing the overarching narrative forward.  Think of it like a less serialized Veronica Mars.

As far as the Buffy comparisons go, those aren't as apparent.  One of Buffy's strengths, even early on, was the excellence of its ensemble, and right now there isn't much interesting going on in iZombie outside of Liv.  That's fine in the pilot, since Rose McIver is so delightful in her leading role (there's a particular bit where she's imitating a cowboy near the end of the episode that's absolutely hilarious and adorable), but the show needs to deepen its bench if it ever wants to become truly great.  Right now there's just Liv's best friend and roommate (Aly Michalka), who doesn't get much to do; Liv's bland ex-fiance (Robert Buckley); and a detective (Malcolm Goodwin), whose role will probably involve being suspicious of Liv, but not quite sharp enough to catch on to the fact that she's not the psychic she tells him she is to avoid telling the truth about how she's able to solve these crimes.  By far the best side character is Ravi (Rahul Kohli), fellow medical examiner and Liv's boss.  It's a fun idea for him to be so unfazed by his coworker's undead state that he didn't even mention to her that he found out her secret weeks ago.  Not only will his character be crucial as the sole person who Liv doesn't have to pretend in front of, but he's got a fun sidekick vibe that's necessary for this type of show.

The pilot hints at some larger mysteries that could be explored regarding the specifics of Liv's condition near the end, and teases a character (David Anders) who may serve as an antagonist in the future, but it's mostly content with being a fun, fluffy version of a zombie story.  Time will tell whether it will transition into slightly heavier material, but I'm pretty content with iZombie being a fun, fluffy zombie story too.

Grade: B+

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