October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Starring: Rose McIver, Malcom Goodwin, and Rahul Kohli
Synopsis: Olivia Moore is an over achieving surgical resident with a bright future and handsome fiance. One night she’s invited to a party on a boat, which quickly goes downhill as some of the partygoer turn out to be zombies. She awakens in a body bag some time later, finding she’s been scratched by one of the zombies and has a craving for brains. The incident on the boat was attributed to drugs. Liv is forced to ditch her old life, break up with her fiance, Major, for his safety, and get a job at the Medical Examiner’s Office so she can have access to already-dead brains. She discovers that when she eats someone’s brains she inherits their abilities and memories, so after convincing a local detective she’s a psychic, she begins to help solve their murders. Her boss in the ME’s office, Ravi, figures out what she is and begins to look for a cure. Over the course of the season, they discover that Blaine, the zombie who scratched Liv, is running an operation turning the rich and powerful of Seattle into zombies and then extorting their money in exchange for brains (including Liv’s new zombie boyfriend, Lowell, who Blaine later murders), which he gets from street kids and processes in a fancy butcher shop. Major gets involved, as he worked as a counselor for some of those missing street kids, and keeping him from finding out the truth and keeping him safe becomes harder and harder. Complicating matters is the involvement of an energy drink company, Max Rager, whose product has been known to cause violent breaks with reality and whose CEO will do anything to keep that information away from the public. A combination of a tainted version of a street drug, Utoptium, and the energy drink turn out to be responsible for the outbreak of zombie-ism at the party. Using these, Ravi is able to engineer a cure, although he only has two doses of it. Ultimately, Major takes matters into his own hands to confront Blaine and destroy his operation, killing most of the henchmen before Blaine stabs him. Liv shoots Blaine with the cure after Blaine points out that if she kills him the vampires he’s made will be out of a food supply and then scratches Major as he lies dying. She then gives Major the last dose of the cure, even though they can’t make more without finding the original tainted drug, because she knows he would never be able to live as a zombie. The season ends with Liv finding out that her brother, who was starting work as a delivery boy for Blaine (thinking he was working for a regular butcher), was gravely injured when the butcher shop exploded and needs a blood transfusion from Liv. She says no, and the season ends.
Due to my recent sickness I’ve had a lot of down time on my hands and so had the chance to watch the entirety of the first season of iZombie in essentially one sitting. I was incredibly impressed with the first season of this show, and it’s a textbook example of why I prefer 13 episodes seasons to 22 episode (or more) ones. It didn’t have any time to mess around. It found its feet immediately, there were no filler episodes, there was no wasted time. It was a tight, well plotted, well paced season. I thought I was burnt out on both procedurals and zombies but this show breathes new life into both.
iZombie, loosely based on a comic of the same name, is cute, clever, and original, while managing to be fairly dark when it needs to be. With names like Liv Moore for a zombie protagonist and Major Lillywhite for her incredibly white fiance, you know it’s a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. But it has heart, a lot of it. And, you know…braaaaains. In some ways, it’s just a twist on your basic procedural where one investigator has a special ability that solves crimes and the other is the straight man/foil. But iZombie takes this concept and transcends it to create something infinitely weirder than usual, while easing us in via a format we’re comfortable with.
Liv’s personality changes every episode are challenging for actress Rose McIver, as she has to express a wide and unpredictable range of personalities and emotions while still trying to keep an essential Liv-ness to her performance. She’s convincing for the most part and seems to know when to play it for humor and when to use it to convey Liv’s underlying traumas, such as when Liv uses the brains of an alcoholic as a way to escape the pain of her boyfriend’s murder. And Liv’s character is intensely lovable without being too sweet or perfect. Even when she’s actually kind of unlikeable, you’re still rooting for her. She doesn’t really fall into any particular female character trope, which is refreshing, and she’s definitely the anchor of the show. She’s funny and smart and someone you’d want to be friends with.
The show also gets a good rating for its diversity. None of the three main leads are white males, and a lot of the supporting and guest roles feature men and women of color in more than throwaway roles. They haven’t established a canon LGBT main character, but the few gay minor characters encountered are treated with respect and when Liv’s zombie boyfriend eats a gay man’s brains and finds himself into men instead of Liv for awhile, it’s not treated as icky or a big deal. They just hang out. Although it does beg an interesting question – when Liv eats the brains of a straight man, does she become attracted to women? It seems not so far.
Overall, the show does a good job balancing the Case of the Week with the bigger arc of Blaine’s brain-harvesting racket and the Max Rager cover-up. Right around the point in the season when the case of the week starts to feel shoehorned in, the murders start to dovetail with the seasonal arc, so it never gets weighed down by the format. It also does a great job with character growth, particularly with Liv who goes from hopeless and depressed to really accepting who she is while still fighting for a cure. The show is also not afraid to sucker punch the audience with moments like the killing of Lowell and the season-ending cliffhanger where Liv has to refuse a blood transfusion to her brother. It doesn’t put in too many sensational moments, but it’s also not afraid to make a big change or break your heart.
Major probably goes through the biggest change over the season, from blandly mild-mannered Perfect Guy, to loose cannon who thinks he’s crazy, to vigilante justice-dispenser. Unfortunately, the show’s attempts to make him interesting just completely fail for me. I mean, I feel for him. He’s in the role that so many female characters have been placed in over the years – sidelined because the hero must protect him from her secret identity, trying to investigate on his own but failing because he doesn’t have all the facts, and desperately underwritten. While it’s nice to have the gender role-reversal for a change, it doesn’t make him any more interesting than all those female characters who fell victim to the same scenario. Of recent note, Iris on The Flash and Thea and Laurel on Arrow. Let’s hope now that he knows the truth, he’ll get more interesting, as they did.
This brings me to two issues I have with the first season. The first is the ease with which Liv is accepted by Clive and the police department as a psychic. There is very little skepticism when she shows up to help with the first case and after that, there is none at all. Maybe Clive is not a man who questions results, but you’d think word would get around and there would be comments from the rest of the department. Additionally, where’s his partner? Liv functions as his partner, but it’s unofficial. It makes little sense that he would be working without any other partner so consistently. Liv’s status as ME does allow to legitimately be more places than if she were just a random stranger, but she gets away with a lot, no questions asked.
The other problem is I have is that I’m just not convinced of Blaine’s power. Dave Anders puts in a chilling but entertaining performance (as he did in his famous villiain role in Alias), but the logistics don’t totally work for me. He’s turning the richest and most powerful people in Seattle into zombies and then getting them to pay him for food. Fine. But rich and powerful people tend to not like being violated and blackmailed and also tend to have the resources to take care of things themselves. I can see the argument of them not wanting to get their hands dirty by procuring the brains on their own, but I would think at least a couple would want revenge on the one who turned them enough to not care about that. Unless Blaine’s been promising them a cure is in the works, which of which we’ve seen no evidence. Additionally, Liv’s failure to kill Blaine on two separate occasions smacks of nothing more than a show wanting to keep a popular villain around. It doesn’t make sense, he’s killed tons of kids and her lover. Turning him human again isn’t going to make him stop.
Aside from those quibbles, however, this was a nearly perfect first season. I probably would have been compelled to binge-watch it even if I wasn’t stuck on the couch with the cold from hell. Although the episodes varied in quality, there were no truly bad ones in the bunch nearly all were above average. The characters were for the most part compelling and easy to invest in (although I hope we come back to what happened to Liv’s roommate Peyton, as her disappearance after Liv’s zombie reveal felt forced). I’m looking forward to the next season to find out what happened to Liv’s brother and to continue the search for the cure. And look, season 2 has already started in real time…