Comic books continue to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration for television. It seems we can’t go a week without running into a new comic-based series. (Last week, in this very space, we were talking about Sony PlayStation Network’s “Powers.”) The CW, already home to “Arrow” and “The Flash,” at least goes in a different direction with its newest page-to-screen adaptation “iZombie.”
The series is loosely based on Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s book of the same name, published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. And as you can probably guess from the title, it’s not so interested in the adventures of cape-wearing superheroes. Developed and produced by Rob Thomas (“Veronica Mars”), “iZombie” introduces us to Olivia Moore (New Zealand actress Rose McIver from The Lovely Bones). Liv, as she is known to friends, works as a medical intern. But a tragic encounter aboard a zombie-filled party boat has left her among the living dead. Now pale-skinned and craving brains, Liv decides a job in the Seattle morgue is more suited to her new temperament. The job gives her easy access to a never-ending supply of brains, but it comes with an unintended side effect. Turns out that when Liv eats the brains of the recently deceased, she gets flashes of their memories. This makes her a handy little crime-solver. (Which she accomplishes under the guise of being “psychic-ish.”)
Right off the bat, most viewers will recognize “iZombie” as a simple mash-up of “Veronica Mars” and “Pushing Daisies.” So far it’s not as distinctive as either of those cult favorites, but it’s a likable enough start. The overall tone of the show is cute and flippant. The show’s writers don’t waste a lot of time explaining things. Liv’s transformation into a zombie detective is basically completed before the opening credits of the pilot are over with. There are hints of a slightly deeper story. Liv is hiding her undead condition from her family. They think she’s just battling depression—what with the sudden “goth” look and radical career change. A bit more digging into this emotional territory and the show could be more than just a snarky, supernatural “CSI.”
There are a few dated elements that the show might want to shed sooner than later. Producers rely on cheesy, animated transition scenes in which the show pops in and out of comic book-like freeze frames. Yes, the show started out life as a comic. But “iZombie” contains very few “comic book”-like trappings. Borrowing campy, Creepshow-style graphics makes the show look like it’s mocking its roots. Which it shouldn’t be. Also giving off a dated, distinctly ’90s vibe is the show’s insistent, first-person voice-over. McIver is perfectly appealing in her role as main character/narrator. But the show is simple enough—we don’t need the narrative hand-holding.
“iZombie” isn’t trying to break any new ground. It’s a lot like every other “quirky” crime solver series on TV right now. It’s “The Mentalist” staffed with zombies and directed by Tim Burton. But it’s fun. With some honest emotions and some slightly more believable mysteries, this lighthearted detective series could land itself a loyal audience hungry for more.