iZombie Pilot Advance Review: More Than Just Veronica Mars of the Dead

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Much of the attention around the Vertigo adaptation iZombie has been focused on showrunners Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, who developed the Chris Roberson/Mike Allred series for TV, it should probably be on the cast instead.

The series debuts tonight after The Flash on The CW, and it's a gem. Like The Flash, it handles serious subject matter in a fun and fresh way without feeling cheesy or breaking the realism of the world it's created, which is arguably the most important element of working in a fantastical world.

Unlike The Flash, though, the series doesn't put its best foot forward and while the pilot for The Flash is one of the season's best episodes, iZombie is a slow burn that builds on a solid foundation, getting better each of the first four weeks...

...but more on that later. This is about tonight.

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There are significant differences from the comics, so even readers who think they know the character and her world will not know where it's going. It centers on Olivia ("Liv") Moore, who was attacked during a party and became a zombie -- although a somewhat different zombie than fans of The Walking Dead or even Constantine might expect.

Liv is still capable of rational thoguht and more or less carries on her life as normal -- except that in order to do so, she needs to eat human brains. To satisfy this need, she gets a job at the morgue, where she has traded in her promising medical career for a gig working with corpses, from some of whom she can borrow a little gray matter. If she doesn't, after all, she'll become a more traditional zombie.

In so doing, she becomes a crimefighter (naturally) by posing as a fake psychic (obviously) when it turns out her new diet gives her the ability to see "visions" from the brains she eats.

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It's a far cry from the comics, which had a variety of supernatural beasties and a gravedigger for its lead. But we've known that for a while now, as well as what they have kept, which is most of the high concept.

We do get interstitial images featuring Allred-inspired (or at least comics-inspired) art, and the opening titles of course are designed by Allred himself. Those are, for the time being, the only nods to the comic, though.

Besides Roberson and Allred's comic, the other clear inspiration is Veronica Mars, the cult-favorite WB/CW series from the iZombie showrunners. It will likely be fashionable for critics to derisively refer to the series as "Veronica Mars of the Dead," given the similarities in the pilot (which fade as iZombie starts to find its own identity over the first few episodes). That Veronica Mars was a good show and its lead compelling makes it more palatable that Liv spends much of the first episode in the kind of brainy, snarky, expository monologues that defined Veronica for much of her series.

There's also a lot more to iZombie than that, though. The similarities to Veronica Mars are there, as are the similarities to Psych or The Mentalist as she goes to work with the police by claiming that her visions are a manifestation of psychic power. Similarities to Pushing Daisies are hard to ignore, too, for that matter, but the series rises above all of these surface similarities.

What distinguishes it, frankly, is the cast. The writing is strong and the characters likable but without remarkable performances from most of the principal cast, the pilot would likely not succeed in the same way.

Series lead Rose McIver is arguably doing the most with the least, as she's the area where things often stray into Veronica Mars territory. Even her delivery feels very "early Kristen Bell," which may have been helpful in giving McIver something to ground herself with since she's actually from New Zealand and her accent in the show is a far cry from her voice.

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Rahul Kohli is a hell of a find. Born in London, if you've seen him it was probably on EastEnders. He comes in to play Liv's co-worker at the morgue and brings a sense of energy and comic timing that absolutely makes the character. The comedy around his character is the broadest in the show and it could easily have clashed with the tone of the rest of the show but Kohli brings it, making Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti probably the most entertaining part of a very entertaining show.

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The other big standout is Malcolm Goodwin, who plays homicide cop Clive Babineaux. A cross between Shaft, Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles and Jordan Peele (that's Goodwin talking, not me), he brings a wry humor that matches Liv's, making the dynamic between the two really enjoyable. At the risk of reinforcing a generalization, I'd say that the two feel at times like Keith and Veronica Mars, where her rat-a-tat cleverness bumps into his and maybe neither of them have exactly "met their match," but they're playing off each other for the audience's benefit.

Another thing that distinguishes iZombie from many other "police procedural"-type shows is a fairly grounded sense of right and wrong. Seattle in iZombie isn't like Neptune in Veronica Mars, where everyone was broken and hiding Twin Peaks-sized secrets. There is a broad scope of different character types and motivations that lend some weight to he mysteries and promise a number of different types of stories to come.