I would probably like iZombie even if it were only a pale imitation of Veronica Mars because I love Veronica Mars very much, and even pale imitations are better than no imitations at all. While iZombie, which hails from the same creative team as VM, is indeed similar to the teen noir in a lot of ways, it’s its own successful endeavor, too.
The show, premiering tonight on the CW, is loosely based on the comic-book series of the same name. Liv (Rose McIver) was supposed to be a high-achieving medical resident, but she got turned into a zombie during a booze cruise gone bad. Now she’s working in the coroner’s office (so she can have access to the human brains she so desperately craves) and trying to disguise the fact that she’s undead. It’s working … okay. For now Liv’s in a state of panic, dread, self-doubt, and heartache. Her family thinks she’s going through a PTSD-type thing following the boat-party fiasco, which is why they think she’s so pale and death-obsessed now.
On top of all this, Liv’s work in the coroner’s office means she also winds up helping solve crimes. When she eats someone’s brain, she gets flashes of their memories and skills and sometimes adopts aspects of their personalities — stuff that comes in handy while trying to solve murders. Under the guise of being a psychic, she finds herself teaming up with a rookie cop looking to make a name for himself. This is the part of the show that’s the most reminiscent of Veronica Mars, and the part that makes it the most clear that Liv is no Veronica: She’s not quite as funny (who is?), but she’s also not quite as involved. Veronica spent the first season solving her best friend’s murder and her own rape; it’s hard to get more significant than that, even in a zombie world.
Still, Liv is somewhere under that Veronica/Buffy umbrella — older than a teenager, sure, but still with that “I’m gonna fight evil with my spunky witticisms, my interesting companions, and my secrets!” vibe. It’s Wonderfalls, but dark. She’s got the tough-girl hoodies and voice-overs, too, plus some anti-parent rebellion and friends from her pre-zombie life she feels compelled to leave behind, lest they discover her condition. It’s not a teen show per se, but it plays like a teen show given how fraught every decision seems to be. That’s not a bad thing: Stories need stakes, and if I want to watch an impersonal zombie show, I can watch Fashion Police. And iZombie is still a coming-of-age story in a lot of ways — how do I tell people I’m not who they thought I was? How do I accept myself for who I really am, not who I was planning to be? Who should I be now that everything has changed? Maybe those aren’t coming-of-age questions so much as just aging questions, questions we’ll ask ourselves forever, with differing and, one hopes, increasingly satisfying answers.
iZombie pulls off a pretty tricky balancing act: It has some comic-book elements — occasionally, shots turn into comic panels to transition in or out of scenes. There’s a wink-wink style, plus it’s crime procedural, plus it’s still a zombie show, plus Liv is figuring her own personal shit out, plus she’s keeping a secret and trying to prevent other zombies from infecting more people. There’s a lot crammed in here, and yet the show feels poppy and nimble. Every second is in use somehow, giving iZombie a sense of urgency, the kind of pacing that’s very go-go-go — so you know when a scene slows down, it’s time for a Big Emotional Moment.
Now all iZombie needs to do is define itself a little bit more, carve out an identity that seems less like a little sister. A lot of the strong moments on the show resonated because of how much they reminded me of stronger moments on stronger shows: Oh, he’s like the Weevil here, or Well, Willow would probably do that better, or that might as well be a talking wax lion. Defining itself in three episodes is not something I really expected iZombie — or any show — to do; I’m just impatient for it to do so. Let me love you better, iZombie.