After a long, weird, and winding search for TV’s next Veronica Mars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the CW graced us on Tuesday with iZombie, a new supernatural detective show starring Rose McIver as undead crime-fighter Liv Moore. With a shock of white hair, gothic makeup, and an insatiable craving for brains, Liv is the network’s long-awaited heir to the kickass heroine throne.
Based on Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s Vertigo comic book series, iZombie follows the exploits of Liv, a bright, overachieving medical student who succumbs to a zombie-induced wound at a bad boat party. When she’s resurrected, her picture-perfect life unravels: She ditches her hot, lovelorn fiancé out of fear for his safety and trades in a prestigious hospital residency for a job at a police morgue, where there’s easier access to the brains she needs. If she didn’t eat them, she’d “go all George Romero” and devolve into a mindless walker forever—an especially harsh fate since zombies can barely taste anything. Liv, like so many monsters in life, drowns everything in Sriracha.
Soon, Liv finds herself inheriting the brains’ memories, a semi-superpower she uses to help hunt down the victims’ killers. She goes zombie-Hulk-smash and gains superhuman-like strength when provoked. She even gets her own Scooby Gang with two sidekicks: police detective Clive (Malcolm Goodwin) and her boss/confidante Ravi (Rahul Kohli).
Of course, there are unexpected twists to this zombie tale. Liv starts absorbing more than just memories—she begins taking on the abilities, desires, and personalities of the people she eats, urging McIver into impressive feats of versatility: She swings from dead-eyed sociopath to preppy Valley girl to kung fu-kicking warrior in the span of only a few episodes. (McIver’s TV resume is just as magically random, ranging from a stint as the Yellow Ranger in Power Rangers R.P.M. to a bitchy Tinker Bell in Once Upon a Time to the Scullys’ daughter in Masters of Sex.)
On top of it all, Liv has her own identity issues to deal with: Was her human life wasted on earning straight-A report cards and a stellar resume? When does eating brains count as crime-fighting, and when is it just another way to avoid her own problems? With so much going on, a lesser show might have sunk under the weight of its own ambition. But in the expert hands of Veronica Mars team Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, iZombie stays quick, colorful, and fun.
Thomas landed on the iZombie project after Warner Bros. head of development Susan Rovner brought him Roberson and Allred’s comic, pitching Liv (or Gwen, as she’s named in the comics) as “the CW’s next great female lead.” Thomas, already busy developing two pilots and directing the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie, turned her down, but Rovner persisted for months until he agreed to give it a shot.
You can’t blame the guy for hesitating though; after all, zombies once broke his heart.
“Seven years ago I sat in my office with my producing partner and developed a pitch for a big zombie apocalypse show that was gonna be called Death Valley. We had all these big ideas,” Thomas told The Daily Beast over the phone. “And just as we were about to take that pitch out, the cover of the [trade magazines] said [The Walking Dead creator] ‘Frank Darabont Sells to AMC’—and it just killed my zombie aspirations in the crib.”
“In a way it hurts me to watch The Walking Dead because I had that idea at the time and I was literally three weeks late,” he adds mournfully. “So every time I see it, it’s like picking at a scab for me.”
With iZombie, Thomas finally got the chance to create his own zombie universe—but that’s no easy task in a TV landscape already crawling with monsters. Ideas from the writers’ room were often struck down with four simple words: “Walking Dead did it.” And when it came to the ghosts, vampires, and were-terriers (like a werewolf, but a terrier—keep up) of the iZombie comic series, “True Blood [had] really cornered the market on the mopey monster universe,” Thomas says, explaining why they were cut from the show.
It was the right move. Liv’s world is vivid, original, and funny, and it operates by largely untested rules, as far as zombies go. Our heroine can take bullets to the chest and punch her fist through car windshields—but she cannot, for example, have sex.
“There will be days in the writers’ room where we’ll spend the whole afternoon just talking about the level of sex that you can get zombie from,” Thomas laughs. “Like, can you get it from kissing? French-kissing? How exactly does that work?” French-kissing is safe, FYI, while intercourse is a no-no—then there are “destinations in between those two that we might not have worked out yet,” Thomas says.
As for how the consumption of microwaved, Sriracha-drenched brains works (and the absorption of the personalities and memories within), Thomas compares the process to eating pot brownies. “You never know quite how long it’s gonna take or how hard it’s going to hit,” he says.
There are, of course, a few similarities between Liv and Veronica: They're both dry-witted, “petite, crime-solving blondes who tend to speak in voiceover narration”—but, Thomas says, “Liv’s natural disposition is sunnier than Veronica’s.”
“In the writers’ room in Veronica Mars, I always said, ‘Write her like she’s a porcupine. That’s her spirit animal,’” he says of Kristen Bell’s breakout role. “I would never say that with Liv. Liv was the ultimate good girl. She was a clear-eyed sorority girl making great grades on her way to a successful career. We often talk about her as the non-evil Tracy Flick [Reese Witherspoon’s character in Election.] So I think at their core, they’re different people—I’m not even sure how well they would get along.”
As for how the show will evolve from here, Thomas says writers are focusing on building up a zombie mythology, rather than relying on the “murder of the week” story engine that’s sunk other procedurals into dull repetitiveness. There’s a charming villain—who’s a dead ringer for Spike from Buffy—and a potential zombie cure to investigate. There’s a lot to explore, so here’s hoping for lots more brains for Liv to eat.