Boy is it nice to have Rob Thomas dialogue back on TV. If that was the best thing about his new show iZombie, it would be enough to keep me watching it, but luckily the whole premise and the casting is good enough to launch what was a very entertaining first season of a show I could easily see going on for quite a while. The 2014-15 season turned out to be quite the banner year for the CW, with the critical and commercial successes of Jane the Virgin, The Flash and now iZombie leading the way to a new, more critically lauded era for the network, which seems to finally be finding itself.
iZombie is set in Seattle, Washington (represent!), and loosely based on a DC comic book that was just begging to be made into a television show. Created by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, it was about a girl who got turned into a zombie and must survive on the brains of homicide victims, which give her visions of the victims' memories, which she then uses to solve their murders. Perfect, right? It almost could have been a weekly series in the 1960's, when weird fantasy shows were all the rage. Olivia Moore is the newly minted zombie here, played to a tee by Rose McIver, who gets scratched at an out of control boat party and wakes up in her new form, hungry for brains and desperate to get them. Luckily, when she was alive she was a doctor, and so now she uses her position to get a job at the local morgue with every day access to the brains she needs to survive.
At the morgue, each new brain gives her those crucial visions, but also the victims' personality traits, which give McIver the chance to stretch her flair for comedy as she inhabits an alcoholic, a cheerleader, a gamer (hilarious), or a military sniper, while she teams up with Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), to solve the case of the week. I said this was perfect material for a weekly procedural, and to be honest, that might be my one complaint, as seeing Liv take on the random personalities is often the best part of these cases, many of which are kind of forgettable. Veronica Mars, Thomas' last series, had many cases of the week, but the fact that they involved the 1% teenagers of Neptune and were not always murders, put a necessary spin on it that felt fresh. Here it veers pretty close to cop procedural territory.
But not to worry- the cast sells all of it, from McIver's confident pluck and wit (which remind me eerily of Kristen Bell, right down to her narration and inflection- could that be why she was cast?), to Goodwin as the bemused Clive (who thinks she gets visions because she's a psychic), and Ravi (Rahul Kohli), her boss at the morgue, who immediately figures out she's a zombie and spends his time trading quips and trying to find a cure for her condition. You wouldn't think being a zombie and dealing in murder could be so entertaining and amusing, but Rob Thomas and longtime co-writer Diane Ruggiero-Wright find the perfect tone for this world that makes every moment enjoyable, yet emotional in the character's plights. You feel for Liv, as she keeps her identity as a crime fighting zombie secret (she's kind of doing the female superhero thing), while her former friends and family think she's flipped and gone either goth or crazed (the deathly white skin and hair, plus the new cravings for hot sauce being odd tip-offs).
And even though most of this first season is the case of the week stuff, there's a serialized arc that begins to take shape, involving fellow bad zombie (and the one who turned Liv) played by David Anders (always Sark of Alias to me), perfectly cast as the devilishly villainous Blaine, who procures his brains through much more murderous means, and ends up turning other Seattle-ites into zombies for the benefit of his small brain business. Anders has a way with the dialogue too of course, that makes him an especially entertaining bad guy, one I'm glad they figured out a way to keep on for next season, even if I think they made him a little too evil too quickly. It's hard to bring someone back from killing homeless teens for their brains, even if he's played by the charismatic Anders (but hey, they did it all the time with the vampires on Buffy- monsters be monsters and all). The one other quibble I had with this season, which for the most part was a lot of fun, was Robert Buckley as Major, Liv's ex-fiance and supposed true love- he's not terrible, but he's unfortunately saddled with the role, usually reserved for the female love interest on these kinds of genre shows, of being kept in the dark about everything that's going on, and his resulting actions due to this situation make his level of stupidity a little too high to sustain itself. Thomas seems to want to figure out how to make his "decent guy" characters compelling, and he hired a better actor here than he did with Teddy Dunn's Duncan , my least favorite Veronica Mars character ever, but there's still nothing inherently interesting about Major that the show couldn't live without, to be honest.
Despite some growing pains, I loved where the season ended up and I'm looking forward to Season 2 come this fall, hopefully with the full 22-episode order. Having the humor and the fast, snappy dialogue of Thomas and Ruggiero on TV again is such a treat it makes me want to jump up and down in glee just hearing it. It's not quite as stellar as that first season of Veronica Mars (then again, few things are), but this could be its sister show in so many ways that I'm there in a heartbeat for whatever they've cooked up next. Welcome back, guys.