Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Box Set Blues: iZombie

It's a sad fact that after a bit of a land-grab for US shows coming over the UK a couple of years back, when you could pretty much be assured of seeing everything, we've started to "lose" shows recently, presumably as they just don't pay their way. It's a bit of a vicious circle, of course, as if you wait 6 months to screen a show that would have a small, yet devoted audience, they'll have aquired it by other means by then, reducing it's audience further.  Worse, some channels have bought shows and then handled them badly, burying them late at night before dropping, as fans of Orphan Black, Person of Interest, Once Upon a Time, and Justified have all found to their cost. The metrics for streaming services are different, of course, and so Netflix, Amazon and even Sky have picked up these shows to stick behind their paywalls, in a bid to make those paywalls more attractive. And so it is that iZombie finally reaches the UK, courtesy of Netflix. 

I've never read the comic that iZombie is (apparently loosely) based on, but I was a huge fan of Veronica Mars, the previous semi-serialised detective series that showrunner Rob Thomas was in charge of. Like the earlier show, this revolves around a central female crime solver, in this case Liv (Rose McIver), a medical student who was turned into a Zombie at a party/massacre and now works in the City Morgue as a way of sourcing her diet of Brains. Of course, these brains come with flashbacks to the lives of their former owners, which lead to her teaming up with a homicide detective to solve murders, whislt dealing with Seattles secret Zombie Underworld. 

So what we have in iZombie is a mix of procedural "case of the week" and slow-simmering long term plots. Each week Liv eats a different brain, and gets to exhibit new skills and personality traits, something that is brought into more prominance in the shows second series. Around these cases the ensemble cast weave in and out, sometimes directly relevant, sometimes less so, and one of the shows genunine triumphs is it's ability to make these two competing structures blend together seamlessly.  In fact there are a lot of things about iZombie that shouldn't work, and yet do. 

Take Major. Major is Liv's ex-fiance, who she left after being turned without explanation and yet is still in her life, and carrying a lot of unresolved baggage. Major shouldn't work - he's hunky and good-looking and understanding and we've seen this sort of character a dozen times both male and female and they so rarely become anything other than an annoyance to the main character. And then by extension the audience. But Major works. He has his own plotline, that flows back into the main narrative. He has his own relationships outside of simply being an appendage to Liv's past life. He's really likeable in writing and performance. He just works

He's not the only example, of course. The whole cast is excellent, and whilst Liv is the glue that brings them together the cast quickly form a web of relationships that make it feel more like a real circle of freinds than you get in many shows built around a central character. The way it lets iZombie unfold it's plots then feels more organic, and characters end up in the dark for more naturalistic reasons. This is, after all, a show build on secrets, but it's not only Liv that carries them around. 

It's also just an enormous amount of fun. A little bit of drama, a little bit of comedy, and a little bit of horror, and the show really fires on all cylinders, especially in it's smoother second season. It gets to carry some weight in it's subtext, too - Liv's a survivor of some serious trauma, after all - which adds some grit and texture to it, even when it's being light-hearted about secret brain-eating monsters living in our midst. It's a really cracking show, one of the best things I've seen this year, and I fully recommend it.