At a glance, iZombie looks like just another superhero-esque show targeted at young adults. Its promos have cringe-worthy puns. Its name tries too hard to be cool (iZombie? Like iPod?). Its main character wears a wig that looks like it was scalped off a grandmother. Then you watch an episode and find yourself craving more. That’s because iZombie handles plot twists, characters, and humor completely differently from all those other shows. Here’s how.
In a given season, there’s not just one “Big Bad”
Like Buffy and The Flash, iZombie follows a “Case/Monster of the Week” format. Unlike them, iZombie has multiple Big Bads – season 2 features Blaine DeBeers, Vaughn du Clark, and Stacey Boss. And they’re more complicated than Buffy’s and Flash’s; while Buffy fights Glory (a god from a hell dimension), and Barry fights Zoom (who captures and kills people for funsies), Liv fights villains that are not just evil for evil’s sake. Blaine wants money and has daddy issues, du Clark wants to further the Max Rager agenda, and Boss wants to corner the Utopium market. Now, instead of a classic good vs. evil battle, we have all kinds of wonderful complications: how will their agendas interact? Will they all work against Liv, or will she have to reluctantly ally with some (like she has with Blaine)? We’ll just have to continue watching!
The characters break stereotypes
Rahul Kohli – who plays our favorite pathologist sporting a beard to die for – said of his role: “You’re playing a doctor who’s a geek, who’s a nerd, who’s Indian … you’re like, ‘OK, he’s going to be this asexual nerd.’ And he wasn’t.” And Major, who could easily have been shoehorned into the role of preppy-goody-two-shoes-pining-ex, took a major (!!) turn away from that when he shot up Meat Cute in season 1 (and now kidnaps zombies for Max Rager). Similarly, criminal mastermind Stacey Boss doesn’t fit the classic “ominous, dark villain” stereotype: he’s short and squeaky-voiced.
Plot twists go on for several episodes
In some shows, plot twists and cliffhangers are resolved within a few episodes. For example, in season 3 of CW’s Arrow, Oliver Queen is thrown off an icy mountain and presumed dead; in the very next episode, we see he’s alive. iZombie doesn’t indulge in this instant gratification. The audience believes Major is killing his zombies, rather than just freezing them, for six nail-biting episodes. We found out Ravi’s zombie cure was successful in 1×13, was only temporary in 2×09, and causes death in 2×13. And only now has Major found out Rita is Liv’s roommate, even though that’s been floating around all season. (Now, in all fairness, some plot twists have been rushed – like Liv and Clive’s make-up in 2×10 — but it’s the exception, not the rule.)
iZombie juxtaposes jokes with grave topics – and it’s surprisingly effective
I never thought watching a man run through the forest after being brutally murdered would make me laugh. But I did, as a half-naked, dirt-covered Blaine stumbled through a picnic of screaming children. And let’s not forget Ravi’s first words onscreen – he says the bruise on the dead body he’s examining “looks exactly like the Virgin Mary holding a Les Paul. …It would be wrong of me to Instagram that.” Mixing up jokes with death and violence is risky business, but iZombie does it brilliantly.
Liv’s ability changes the entire nature of the show
Television today is bursting at the seams with characters that are “special” in some way – superpowers, vampirism, magic, etc. Usually, that specialness translates into superficial changes onscreen: improved combat, bloodlust, or cool CGI. In iZombie, Liv’s ability translates into personality changes, which affect the show on a fundamental level. If you take away Buffy’s slayer abilities, or Arrow’s… well, arrows, the scripts for each episode are still roughly the same (scratch out some roundhouse kicks and archery, and you’re good). If you take away Liv’s zombieness? You have to rewrite almost all of her dialogue.
And that, everyone, is the recipe for an amazing TV show – innovation, humor, and just a bit of brains.