iZombie Review: 'Pilot'

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 - 10:12AM
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Wednesday, 18 March 2015 - 10:12AM
iZombie Review: 'Pilot'
While promoting his new show, iZombie, Rob Thomas essentially promised us a new Veronica Mars, but with zombies. For the most part, the pilot episode doesn't disappoint, as it features all of Thomas's signature elements: an endearing protagonist, an even more endearing lead actress, a lighthearted self-awareness, and a black-hearted quick wit. There were flaws in the pilot, to be sure, but they were all perfectly forgivable considering that the show as a whole seems to have enormous potential.

Rose McIver's Liv was turned into a zombie after a disastrous boat party, but has hidden it from her friends and family for months. As long as she keeps a steady diet of brains, she can function mostly like a normal (if pale) human. Unfortunately, this means she had to give up her prestigious medical residency in favor of a more convenient job at the police morgue. When she discovers that she can see flashes of memories from the brains she eats, she uses her newfound ability to help the police solve murders- by pretending to be a psychic.

If the premise sounds somewhat ridiculous, that's because it is. But luckily, iZombie is very much in on the joke. The tone is always fairly light, but never syrupy sweet, as Liv is a satisfyingly snarky protagonist and the dialogue has a sharply cynical edge. But most importantly, the show simply has energy, which makes all the difference. Between the charming cast and the engaging, fast-paced writing, the pilot does everything it needs to do. It sets the stage without shoving exposition down our throats, it immediately lays foundation for a case-of-the-week format while also teasing a larger mystery, and it makes us feel like we know the characters. If one episode isn't quite enough to feel attached to them, we at least feel as though we could be in the very near future.

The case-of-the-week was arguably the weakest part of the pilot, as it wasn't particularly well-developed and Liv's involvement was often too on-the-nose. While most of the decisions for establishing her character were relatively subtle, at least for a youth-oriented show, her quick turnaround following her vision of a girl's death was more than a little contrived (her "It's personal now" was the only cringe-worthy line of the episode). And although networks are utterly convinced that procedural is always a winning formula, it might not be the right choice for this show. Veronica Mars was always at its best when it dealt with its larger, serialized mysteries, and fell to pieces in the third season when it focused only on individualized cases. So let's hope that Rob Thomas makes good on his promise to nix the case-of-the-week format a little bit as the series goes on.

The other flaws were mostly small quibbles; for example, it was a little cheesy that Ravi was immediately on board with Liv being a zombie, although his explanation of his research on pandemics helped a tiny bit. But Babineaux's easy acceptance of Liv's psychic abilities was nearly impossible to swallow, and no explanation was offered other than his desperation to close a case. That would be reason enough to accept her help, but not nearly reason enough to believe that she's psychic right off the bat. That being said, too much skepticism often gets annoying in supernatural television shows, because the audience already knows that magic exists in the television universe and is simply waiting for the characters to get with the program. So that's a perfect example of a forgivable flaw, but hopefully they won't make a habit of those kinds of shortcuts.


My only other major trepidation involves the conceit in which Liv actually takes on some of the characteristics of the brains she eats. Although the writing is funny and engaging, it's relatively fluffy, so like Veronica Mars, it will likely live and die on the audience's attachment to Liv/McIver. I'm sure McIver can pull off playing a different role every week, but the show will likely be more successful if it's built around Liv's spunkiness and charm. We don't need a protagonist that changes every week while we're still getting to know her, especially when the original character is this likable.


Afterthoughts

-As long as we're comparing this show to Veronica Mars, Liv's ex-fiancee has Duncan written all over him, and he could easily end up being dead weight if he doesn't find out about her predicament soon. 

-But, to the writers' credit, they've already managed to make him much more interesting and likable than Duncan ever was (it's a low bar to clear, but they cleared it). Not to mention they gave him a name that is so ludicrous it's amazing: Major Lilywhite. He might as well be on Gossip Girl.

-The act transitions in which the show briefly looked like a comic was visually interesting, but didn't seem to have a purpose aside from winking to the comic fans, which will probably not be the core fanbase. Enough significant changes have been made from the comic that more viewers of this show will be Buffy/Veronica Mars fans than DC Comics fans.

-The next episode, "Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?", airs next Tuesday at 9pm on the CW. Watch the promo for the episode here:

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