Netflix Hidden Gems: iZombie
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN-Kenm_CSs iZombie is based on the comic book of the same name by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, who provides the gorgeous opening credit art, but apart from the primary conceit about how zombies work — that they absorb the personalities and memories of the previous owners of the brains that they eat, and if they don't eat brains, they lose all intelligence and humanity — they couldn't be more different.
The original comic was chock-full of other sorts of monsters — vampires, werewolves, and ghosts — and was a meditation on Emerson's concept of an over-soul. iZombie, the show, is a police procedural about a zombie medical examiner with the punny name of Liv Moore who uses her brain-connections to solve murders. It sounds goofy, when you describe it like that, but trust me, the concept works. Mind you, I'm not sure if this show is totally "hidden," but since I know so few other people watching it, I'm calling it.
In the pattern typical for showrunner Rob Thomas (no, not that Rob Thomas — though the Season Two finale makes great use of the connection), who previously helmed Veronica Mars and Party Down, iZombie seems to be critically acclaimed and enjoys a rabidly loyal but very small fan base.
As someone who hopes to see it last long enough to get a satisfying conclusion, here are five reasons you should be watching this show.
1. A believable woman protagonist
Okay, so yes, Liv is a zombie who solves mysteries, which sounds about as far from "believable" as you can possibly get. But as portrayed by Rose McIver, Liv is also a fully-realized human being. Prior to the boat party where she becomes infected with the zombie virus, Liv is an overachieving medical student, engaged to the man she loves, and is on top of the world. Being infected at first ruins everything she's worked for, but Liv's will to, well, live is strong.
She has a job in the morgue that at first is a step down from her original dream of being a surgeon, but which she grows to love. She can be petty and anxious about how her relationships with people have changed now that she's a zombie, but she's also still kind and supportive to her friends. She has a deep need to prove that she still has worth, and she's given many opportunities to do so. She still enjoys good food, even though she now needs about 8 bottles of hot sauce to taste anything, and all of her meals are brain-based. For a light horror-comedy, iZombie provides a shockingly realistic portrayal of someone redefining herself after a trauma.
2. Men of color who are more than sidekicks
While it's been an issue for most of human history, 2016 has felt in many ways like the year in which we all finally started talking about representation in a way that more people could hear. But representation goes beyond just seeing people of different colors, genders, orientations, and ability on-screen; it matters how those folks are portrayed. Too frequently diversity on TV feels like tokenism, ticking check boxes instead of providing real characters.
What struck me about both Clive and Ravi on iZombie is that even though Liv is the driving force of the show, both men get to be real people, too. They're given room to have backstories and to be seen as desirable without being exotic. Ravi, in particular, impresses me, because while he provides a certain amount of comic relief, it isn't at the expense of his personhood. The character makes jokes; he isn't the butt of them.
3. Killer shots of food
Like Hannibal before it, iZombie takes food that would be incredibly repugnant to most — literal human brains — and makes it look like a million bucks. Liv is clearly an accomplished cook, which fits in with her Type-A, overachiever personality. It's a pleasure to learn what she's decided to do with each meal — will it be thinly sliced brain sashimi, or savory brain meatballs? Predictably, you can find copycat recipes if you look hard enough.
4. Two of the best villains on TV
My husband and I were recently discussing what makes a really standout villain in a show — they need to be remorseless about their villainy, and they need to be effective at it. iZombie has not one but two characters who fit the bill.
The first is the totally over the top megalomaniac — the sort of villain you love to hate. Vaughn DuClark, played by Steven Weber with what appears to be utter joy, is one such villain. The founder of Max Rager, a Red Bull-style energy drink that is partially responsible for the creation of the zombie virus, Vaughn's number one priority is to promote himself and his brand — and to protect it at all costs, including wiping out a disturbing number of scientists. It's a pleasure to watch Weber revel in the utter self-absorbed nastiness of the character, and his complete smarminess and arrogance make you root for his comeuppance.
Blaine, on the other hand, is no less arrogant, smug, self-centered or evil, but somehow, you find yourself rooting for him, period. He is not a nice guy, nor is he particularly complicated (sure, he had rough childhood, but who didn't?) We're talking about a guy to whom the other half of the zombie-virus cocktail can be traced directly, and who rather than despair about that or repent, decides to run with it, creating more zombies out of the richest folks in the city simply so he can sell them brains. He should not be appealing. It's just that David Anders makes him so charismatic and fun that you want him to get away with everything.
5. Great music
Try not to get the opening theme, "Stop, I'm Already Dead," by Deadboy and the Elephantmen, stuck in your head. If you manage it, you're a stronger person than I am. Throughout the series, a masterful use of music emerges, combining songs you recognize with some you can't believe you've never heard before. Check out the full track list.
So that's my argument for watching the show. If you're already with me, tell me what you like in the comments! If you haven't watched it, have I convinced you to give it a shot?