iZombie Breathes New Life into Standard Stumbling Dead

Everybody knows what to expect from George Romero-style zombies – aimlessly doing the living dead shuffle, moaning their mindless zombie songs, failing to open a simple door, having the single purpose of feasting on live creatures. The only way to stop them permanently is to destroy their brains, which does call into question their need to feed, as starvation will not put them down.

Enter Liv Moore (note the name), played by Rose McIver. The lead character of the CW freshman show iZombie is new kind of zombie – not quite living, not quite dead – a paler, ash blonde version of her former self. She walks, she talks, she eats. The big difference is that unless her diet includes fresh human brain tissue on a regular basis, she will go “full zombie.” Instead of seeing her as “living dead,” I see her as “dead living.”

Liv made the transformation to zombie by attending the wrong party. Things got rough, and she was scratched by a zombie guest. She awoke in a body bag, much to the discomfort of the EMT gathering bodies in the party aftermath.

Liv is understandably unhappy about her new half-dead status, but she begins to make adjustments for her half-living side. She breaks her engagement with the love of her life, Major Lilywhite (yeah, really), played by Robert Buckley, for his protection.

She capitalizes on her medical background to land an examiner’s slot in the Seattle morgue, which provides convenient access to fresh brains. Her boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), apparently keeping close tabs on the morgue brain inventory, soon discovers her secret and becomes a confidant. He believes that he could possibly find a cure for her “condition.”

I was drawn to this series by a promotional trailer, and I thought it looked promising enough to try. I expected something akin to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer in its heyday – a “dramedy” loaded with lots of snappy, humorous dialogue. After watching the first episode, my finger was hovering over the delete button as I reviewed my DVR “to-do” list. Then came the second episode, and I was hooked.

The element that kept me watching was learning the rules, right along with Liv, which govern the “lives” of these neo-zombies.

  1. Munching grey matter has a side-effect: the eater acquires some of the victim’s memories and personality traits — both good and bad. (This comes in handy when Liv’s first meal provider is a murder victim, and she “sees” clues surrounding the victim’s death. She presents herself as a psychic to investigating detective Clive Babineaux [Malcolm Goodwin], who is initially skeptical. Liv’s “visions” solve the case, which doesn’t exactly hurt Clive’s career; and a partnership is born.)

  2. The side-effects wear off, but can be renewed as needed with an additional helping of brains from the victim under investigation. (Or, if the recipient happens to like a trait and wants to keep it for a bit longer.)

  3. Whenever a zombie is wounded or gets overly angry, she or he goes temporarily “full-zombie” – signaled by red, apparently glow-in-the-dark eyes. In this mode, a zombie acquires superhuman strength (Don’t make Liv angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.)

  4. Zombiehood can be experimentally induced in a rat (Behold, Zombie Rat!)

  5. Zombie brains are of no use to hungry zombies (Zombie Rat shows no interest in snacking on Liv.)

  6. Zombiehood cannot be transferred from species to species (Zombie Rat bites through Ravi’s chain-mail protective glove, yet Ravi remains Ravi.)

  7. Rats can be restored to non-zombiehood (Behold, Zombie Rat – albino no more! Does this raise hopes for Liv? Well, certainly not until the series finale, which I am projecting for the year 2050. I mean, no zombies, no show, right?)

  8. Neo-zombies can be killed by the traditional brain-destroying methods (Watch The Walking Dead for graphic details)

  9. Zombiehood can be be contracted by consuming zombie blood (just a fingertip smudge will do the trick)

I’ve probably missed some of the rules, and others are likely to surface as the series completes the final three episodes of its first season. The gradual presentation of these rules in iZombie reminds me of another series I loved – Pushing Daisies. Unfortunately, that series was put in a premature grave. Not even the magic touch of Ned, the Pie Man, could bring it back.

Beyond the more cerebral exercise of discovering the rules, iZombie has successfully delivered on my early expectations. It’s not a Buffy clone, but it has a Buffy feel. Funny and punny dialogue abounds.

Here some examples from an episode featuring a murder victim who had spent a few extra days “ripening” in front of his computer array before his body was discovered. Naturally, his brain was a little on the, shall we say, “runny” side. Liv found it necessary to ingest her sample through a straw.

Ravi to Clive: “Liv will suck it up and help in any way she can.”

Liv to herself: “Must have doughnuts. Great! I ate Homer Simpson’s brain.”

Liv to Ravi, as she booted the victim’s computer, somewhat apprehensive about what might appear on the opening screen: “Seriously, what are the chances that an agoraphobic in his twenties was not a chronic chicken-choker?”

Liv to Ravi, upon learning that the victim she is impersonating was an online Trollock: “I’m a Polish troll?”

In a later episode, Liv is discussing an apparent change in attitude from her new zombie romantic interest with Ravi: “Things were so great with us last week – like buying new underwear great.”

The concept of adding memories and traits to Liv’s mind with each brain she samples opens an infinite panorama of possibilities. The partial personalities she has consumed and assumed have included those of a passionate artist, a cold-blooded hit man, an alcoholic reporter and a hallucinating mental patient.

Both episode titles and the captioned comic panels that open each segment coming out of commercial breaks (and the CW has a LOT of them) incorporate puns and other word plays. In the episode “Maternity Liv,” the victim is a pregnant teenager. In another episode, “Flight of the Living Dead,” the victim, Holly, ends a skydiving adventure dead in a tree – the first panel after the commercials – “Boughs of Holly.”

Yeah, they’re groaners; but what pun isn’t?

OK, more than enough said. I think I’ve conveyed the fact that I love the show – already greenlighted for a second season. Yay!

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