Can The Man Behind Veronica Mars Give Zombies a New Life?

By  · Published on January 29th, 2015

The CW

Rob Thomas. Solving crimes. Petite, blonde sass factory. Who eats brains.

If it weren’t for that pesky little cerebrophagia bit at the end, you might think this was an announcement for the return of Veronica Mars to television. Or that the Veronica Mars movie ended with a crazy twist you hadn’t heard about. Which might be cool, actually.

At any rate, it’s the return of Thomas to television. This time it’s with iZombie, the story of a medical student/petite, blonde sass factory named Olivia (Rose McIver) who also solves murders by eating the brains of the victims. It’s one more in a long line of a zombie genre craze that has refused to wither away, but there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful that this show will help twist the undead into some new creative spaces.

At the very least, it looks miles away from what The Walking Dead is doing.

The funny thing is, with every element of the show mirroring something familiar, it feels a bit more like it might be a successful Frankenstein’s monster of genre goodness. Here’s what I mean by that:

  1. It’s got supernatural creatures, and focuses on a zombies, just like a dozen other current popular properties.
  2. The aforementioned Veronica Marsness of it all.
  3. It’s a procedural just like a billion other things.
  4. It’s also a procedural with comic book roots, like Gotham.
  5. Also, the comic book thing.
  6. Finally, it feels a lot like “Breathers” and Warm Bodies’ cousin from TV Land.

One last similarity comes from how Olivia (who goes by, ahem, Liv) solves the crimes. She eats the victims’ brains and has visions, which seems a bit like Lee Pace’s pie-making character from Pushing Daisies who brought the dead back to life long enough to hear their last memories. Theoretically, Liv has the upper hand here with greater access to who the victim was and why they were in danger.

Normally, that much cribbing would be problematic, but this blend looks promising because, by combining so many other elements, nothing on TV is exactly like it. On top of that, it doesn’t look like it takes itself that seriously.

Either that, or I’m blinded by the potential for Thomas to return to Veronica Mars’ world despite not having Veronica in tow. Or that something can occupy the sweet, sarcastic space that was left empty when Pushing Daisies got cancelled. Or that tongue-in-cheek mockery is usually a sign of the beginning of the end for an overcooked genre that needs to rest a while.

I don’t know a lot about McIver except that she was good as the not-dead Salmon girl in The Lovely Bones and that she looks game for the task based on the show’s trailers. The great fear is that iZombie will swing wildly into silly territory without grounding itself. “Liv Moore” as the name for a zombie is one thing; a cop who’s constantly yelling his lines and an annoyingly showy sidekick are something else entirely. The title is also heinous (pulled right from the comic book), and will either appeal to teens or annoy teens who are smart enough to recognize faux-hip pandering.

The comic book is a clever, “Scott Pilgrim”-esque jaunt into light horror, but they’ve made at least a few surface level changes for the show. In the book, the main character is Gwen, who digs graves (giving her access to the dead); in the show, it’s Liv who works as a mortician. In the book, there’s a were-terrier named Scott/Spot; in the show, he doesn’t seem to be involved. In the book, the main character is drawn like Debbie Harry from Blondie; in the show, McIver looks like the lead singer from My Bloody Valentine. The book also has a ghost best friend who doesn’t seem to have made the jump to TV. In fact, they seem to have changed a lot of the characters.

Vertigo

The alterations aside, it’s encouraging to a zombie show that probably won’t be all that focused on the zombie stuff. Liv is, at her core, a super powered character trying to right the wrongs of those who are no longer with us. She’ll have to hide who she really is from the world at-large and her family, she’ll have interpersonal drama while trying to combat evil, and she’ll do it all while suffering the typical existential issues of being a young adult. All good dramatic/comedic groundwork edged with the absurdity of someone eating Taptio-smothered brains with chopsticks.

How far and wide they go with the larger fantasy elements will determine whether the show is interested in larger world building or simply maintaining a mystery-of-the-week vibe (and will probably tell us how close they’ll hew toward Buffy territory, yet another piece of connective tonal tissue).

All this to say that Rob Thomas is great, the comic is fun, and if we’re going to get more zombies piled on the already large heap we’ve got, they might as well bring something new to the table. Or at least something that isn’t old enough to be rotting.

iZombie lands in March.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.