Despite all that stuff I said before about imagining a beautiful end of civilization and reveling in destruction, zombies still scare me. Hypocritical, perhaps, but I can’t help it. Zombies are the gut-stab of the apocalypse – a slow and painful bleeding out of the goodness of civilization into madness. Like I said previously, there are things I still like about modern living. I get migraines really bad, I don’t know what I would do without my prescriptions (die, probably). Thus, when it comes to disaster shows, zombies aren’t really my cup of brains.
Yet, for all the fear my wife and I have about zombies, Sam insists on watching shows with them – playing games about them. I assume it’s some kind of morbid fascination, even though it always ends with her having nightmares. So I was skeptical when she told me about iZombie, and a little worried. I didn’t want it to scare me, or worse, depress me as so many zombie shows do (The Walking Dead is the worst). And now here we are, having watched the entire first season twice through and ready to start the second. So what’s the deal?
As it turns out, the show is the shit. Good and great don’t quite get there for me, it’s really something you have to watch. Spoilers will inevitably follow, so if you haven’t seen it, hit pause on this blog and go watch it real quick and come back.
Did you see it?
Wasn’t that awesome?
Okay, now we can talk. For those who still didn’t watch, let me give you the pitch. Based on a graphic novel series of the same name, pre-med student, Olivia, goes to a boat party with hip new drugs that accidentally turn people into zombies. She gets scratched and wakes up in a body bag as one of the undead. However, if zombies manage to consume the brains for which they crave, they can retain their personality and temperament. Whole thing is covered up and she has to live with the secret. She cuts people out of her life and gets a job as a medical examiner so she can feed on a constant supply of brains. Her boss finds out, and they set out to find a cure for her and others infected.
Not only do the brains allow her to stay sane, they also show her the person’s memories. This gives her an edge assisting in solving murder cases, and she partners with a local detective to fight crime and unravel the mystery of the zombie infection along the way.
That’s a pretty great premise for a show, and they really take it all the way. When she eats brains, it can alter her personality closer to the person she’s eaten from, which teaches her about herself and what her life as a zombie is going to be like. It’s compelling storytelling, and it makes the show more about the characters than the plot. Twelve episodes in the first season means it’s more “murder of the week”, but I’m the kind of person who could watch ten hours of Law and Order and never get bored, so I was down for it. Threads are made and then closed appropriately, leaving just enough suspense to make you want to watch just the first ten minutes of the next episode to see the fallout. It’s a great series to binge.
Life After Life
iZombie’s binge-worthiness has everything to do with its characters. The show has some really great writing, and characters get arcs and change throughout the show. Some in good ways, others in bad, but it all makes sense in the rules of the world they’ve made. Unlike Medici or Versailles, who are really bent on expressing how important they are, iZombie doesn’t take itself so seriously. There’s levity, room to breathe. Because the show isn’t obsessed with being so serious, the characters get to play around and experiment, and it pushes the plot down interesting paths. How would Liv act if she ate the brain of a contract killer? What about a mother, or a cheerleader? What if she had a zombie boyfriend? How does her ex-fiance take it? All good stuff.
And the writing is just spot on. All of the characters have really interesting and fun dialogue. You would think the one-liners would get old, but I was still laughing all the way through the series, they really nailed down the characters there. The cast is diverse and there’s a variety of stories to tell for people in a city like Seattle. Even antagonistic characters, if they are toxic, are written in a way that makes sense and isn’t gratuitous. No one let’s bigotry or sexism slide, and it helps reinforce characters to defy that kind of thinking. Liv’s mother is the worst, perhaps worse than the villains in the show, but her character makes sense in context.
And with well-written characters, everything else falls into place. The plot is pushed by character choices, not circumstance, so what the characters decide has weight. iZombie gets real, and when it does, emotions fly. You want the characters to succeed, and when they’re brought down, it hurts in all the right places. Failure and success both have weight, which is different from a show like Versailles, where everything feels like it has so much gravity, that nothing does. I’ve spoiled a few things, but I won’t spoil what the rest is – just watch it, it will be worth your while.
Brief, but there’s only good stuff to say. After watching the show twice through from the start, there wasn’t a lot I would have changed. There were some minor things about the mentally ill, but there always is. Doesn’t make it any better, mentally ill people are just crazy and weird and a burden, but it’s one episode and doesn’t take much from the rest of the show. Seriously, watch it. It’s easy to binge, doesn’t take that long to get through. You’ll be glad you did. We might come back to talk about the second season in more detail after we watch through it, but we’ll see what happens. I give iZombie four sanity-giving brains out of five.