Hey everybody, meet Liv. She’s brainy.
This bleach-haired goth-looking gal is so sharp, in fact, that she helps solve violent crimes even though she’s never spent a day at the police academy.
What’s her secret? She eats the brains of various murder victims, absorbing some of their traits and seeing, through their eyes, the gory details of how they died, along with the killer’s identity.
That’s the setup of “iZombie,” the CW series based on a DC Comics property that may have just broken open an entirely new TV genre. Let’s call it dram-zom-com. There is a hint of a love story too, so it could technically be dubbed a dram-rom-zom-com, but that’s just too cumbersome. And by the way, can I trademark that label?
The new Seattle-set series comes from Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, the revered creators of “Veronica Mars,” another show with a strong female lead and an ever-present voiceover. The similarities mostly end there.
“iZombie” diverges from its creature-packed source material because the executive producers didn’t want to deal with ghosts and were-terriers and “the whole monster universe” from the comics, Thomas said at a recent TCA press gathering.
“We wanted to stay strictly zombie,” Thomas said, “so we only have zombies in the show.”
And the central dead(ish) figure, Olivia “Liv” Moore, played by Rose McIver, is our punny-named heroine. Again, a ground-breaker for television -- Thomas credits forerunners like “Warm Bodies” with letting us have real feelings for zombies -- and reason enough to check out this series. But stick around for the crime of the week, the unfolding origin story, the self-referential winks and the comic book flourishes. It’s the anti-“Walking Dead,” in every good way imaginable.
When we first see Liv in the “iZombie” pilot, she’s a dedicated and driven medical resident on her way to becoming a heart surgeon. Type triple-A and proud of it, she seemingly has a perfectly ordered life that includes a dreamy fiancé, Major (Robert Buckley).
One ill-fated night out changes everything. Liv goes to a booze cruise with a frenemy from the hospital and ends up in a body bag at the side of the Lake Washington. Only she’s not dead. She’s now undead, which really freaks out a paramedic on the scene and sets her on a completely different “life” course.
There are flashes and snippets from this party, but as viewers we don’t learn too many details about the zombie attack on the floating rager. There’s a thread dropped that may lead to an answer, though: some of the revelers were high on designer drugs. Did something called Utopian turn them into flesh-eating beasts? Time will tell?
In the five months since the melee, Liv goes from tightly wound overachiever to lethargy-plagued slacker. She dumps Major, abandons her profession and alarms her loved ones with her chalky skin, ghoulish makeup and couch potato tendencies. In truth, she says in her voice-over, she’s defeated. What’s the point of carrying on? And as for Major, she’s just afraid that zombie could be sexually transmitted, so she’s trying to be noble here.
Her mother and roommate stage a lame intervention, saying they think she’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. (But still, no one mentions her horror-flick appearance, so let’s say they’re enablers). They want her to snap out of her ennui, but really, they just need another pair of hands for the annual Halloween bash for all the kids in the neighborhood. Liv, who won’t even require a costume, is predictably noncommittal.
She’s taken a job at the city morgue, where she has access to a steady supply of fresh brains that, when ingested, keep her human(ish). Without feeding this way, she’s in danger of becoming what the series creators call “a Romero.” Her snacks, often swimming in Sriracha and sometimes mixed with ramen noodles, have unintended side effects: They give her visions. Liv takes on some characteristics of the dead and sees how they met their untimely end, which she describes as “like being on someone else’s acid trip.”
Though most of the people in her life are nagging and guilting her, Liv is blessed with a boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), who catches on quickly that she’s a zombie and wants to study and/or cure her. The relationship between the two, with its quick banter and inside jokes, is clearly another draw for this show. Ravi is her only confidant, the keeper of her zombie secret, a bitingly witty dude and a conspiracy theorist, which makes him great fun right off the bat.
Enter Det. Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), who’s just trying to catch a break in his Jane Doe homicide case and latches onto Liv’s “psychic” abilities when she proves to be amazingly accurate in her intel. The two become partners of sorts as Liv shares her visions with him and helps thwart at least a couple more murders.
The crime of the week involves a trio of Eastern European call girls, a crooked cop, a stolen wedding ring, a nosy neighbor and Liv’s first “alabaster badass” moment. Oh yeah, and she also speaks Romanian and turns kleptomaniac, both temporary qualities she picks up from the slain hooker.
But what she also gains from the experience is a renewed sense of purpose. That couldn’t come at a better time, since she may not be reuniting with Major. (She saw him playing zombie-obliterating video games with some fully alive chick. Ouch, that smarts).
Liv has spent months thinking her life was over and that she might as well throw in the towel. That changes with her first collar. Well, technically, it’s Babineaux’s arrest but Liv knows that she’s invaluable in this role, poking the detective with the faux exasperated line, “Seriously, how did you solve crime before me?”
High off her win over an evil-doer, she gets herself to that Halloween party – with a few “28 Days Later” makeup effects added for good measure – and realizes she has a new career path.
And with the next brain she eats, she finds out she’s not alone in her walking deadness. That guy she remembers from the boat massacre – slick baddie Blaine DeBeers, played by David Anders – is on the loose and probably feasting on his meals while they’re still breathing. He and Liv will meet again soon, don’t you think?