iZombie Is The Rightful Heir To Buffy

Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
Explaining iZombie to a complete newbie can be a challenge. First of all, there’s the title, which sounds supremely corny. Then, there’s the fact that there’s no way to quickly summarize the show and pack in all the essential information. Let’s try: It’s about a young woman, Olivia "Liv" Moore (Rose McIver), who gets turned into a zombie at a boat party. So she quits medical school to go work at the morgue to have easy access to brains. But no, she’s not like an evil Walking Dead zombie. As long as she eats brains every so often, she remains chill, except she takes on character traits of the dead people she consumes and has visions about their lives. She uses those visions to help solve crimes.

And that doesn’t even really get into the long-term plot lines, which involve a dangerous energy drink company and drug-dealer turned zombie-brain-dealer.

It’s a lot to take in, but it has become one of the most enjoyable shows on TV. Why? Well, for all of the zombie silliness, it has real emotional stakes. That makes it a worthy heir to the Buffy throne of supernatural dramedies featuring strong female leads.

The wise saw this coming. iZombie comes from the team behind Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero. Veronica Mars, which premiered in 2004 and told the story of a teenage private eye, seemed to predate all the discussions we are currently having about rape culture — all while making high school neo-noir extremely fun. iZombie didn’t always have the gravitas that Veronica Mars did from the get-go, but by the end of the first 13-episode season, the show put Liv in a morally queasy scenario that only made us more excited for the next season.

As you might suspect, iZombie has a lot of balls in the air, and it juggles them thanks to its game cast. David Anders is perhaps the most fun to watch as Blaine, the drug dealer turned zombie who had been using his skills as a hustler to keep Seattle’s zombie population satiated with brains. Rahuli Kohli is a sweetheart and heartthrob as Liv’s morgue boss Ravi, who is also working to cure her undead issue. But Rose McIver is unquestionably the standout, especially given that her character is responsible for throwing many of those aforementioned balls in the air.

As Liv, McIver must play the turmoil of a person who is keeping her true nature a secret from her friends and family while also adjusting (on a weekly basis) to the traits of the deceased whose brains she eats. The way Liv consumes brains is reason enough to watch: She turns brain-eating into a culinary experience. At times, Liv’s struggles with brain-caused personality disorder can border on the too-silly — the second season premiere, when Liv eats the brains of a crotchety racist, is a good example of that. Still, the character is strong enough that the traits never seem to bury her. Liv isn’t exactly a proactive ass-kicker like Buffy was. She’s much more introspective, someone who is contending with her circumstances, than a girl out to fight evil.

I was expecting to love watching Liv. What surprised me — and made me root for iZombie — was the show's treatment of Liv’ ex-fiancé, Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley). Lilywhite started out as a boring hunk character with his silly name and bland good looks. However, as the season went on, his story took a major (sorry) turn. When kids from the shelter where he works go missing, he starts catching onto this zombie thing. As he starts to pursue these undead, specifically Blaine and his cronies, he becomes both avenger and potential villain.

In the first season finale (spoiler alert) Lilywhite finds out the woman he’s been pining after is the thing that he hates, then she turns him into a zombie to save him from dying. Lilywhite isn’t too happy about that, so she gives him a dose of the cure Ravi made, sacrificing her hope of becoming un-zombified. (Earlier, in an act of revenge, she gave Blaine a dose.) To say the least, Lilywhite and Liv’s relationship isn’t in the best place when the second season begins. Liv also has to repair her standing with her immediate family. Her brother was caught in a blast related to Lilywhite's zombie-hunting. When asked to give blood to save him, she declines. That’s an obvious choice, since she’s a zombie, but not a particularly politic one.

The season premiere promises an ambitious story arc with multiple big bads, including Blaine and the folks at Max Rager, the energy drink. We’re so on board. We hope you will be, too.
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