As the fall 2015 television season begins to fall completely into action, the ever-growing number of horror shows (or hybrid horror shows) begins to grow, and with it, a slog of the "it-monster," the zombie. Among them, iZombie is returning for its second season tonight — and it may or may not be one of the best of them out there.
For those unfamiliar with the show, iZombie is originally based on the DC Comics series iZOMBIE, created by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred. The TV adaptation follows Olivia "Liv" Moore (named Gwen in the comics, and played by Rose McIver in the series), a medical resident in Seattle who, six months prior to the onset of the first season, was one of myriad victims of a crazed cannibalistic psycho on a seemingly bath-salt-bonkers trip. After being left for dead in a body bag, she miraculously wakes up, only to find that she isn't the same person she once was, with an entirely new sort of appetite for human brains.
Flashing forward to the present, Liv is now a county medical examiner (for easier access to an ever-ready food supply) and has dumped her fiancee Major (Robert Buckley) and alienated her best friend Peyton (Aly Michalka), for fear of them discovering her zombie status; the fact that whenever Liv feasts on a brain, she sees visions of how their owners met their untimely ends — and takes on some of their personality traits — adds yet another set of complications. However, when her coworker Ravi (Rahul Kohli) discovers her secret, they decide to use her powers to solve murders that roll in through their office. On top of this, another zombie named Blaine (the excellent David Anders) is set on becoming the zombie kingpin of Seattle, and an energy drink monopoly called Max Rager might be behind a possibly imminent zombiepocalypse.
A Rob Thomas creation, iZombie isn't just "Veronica Mars meets the undead"; despite this, it's undeniable that the shows share some on-brand similarities. Both are fronted by determined, pint-sized female protagonists, feature vague elements of more formulaic police procedurals and come equipped with semi-piquant and snarky dialogue. Most importantly, like how Veronica Mars redefined noir (and, even more so, the depiction of the American wealth gap and its impact on class and financial inequity), iZombie is also taking an entire genre and not only reinvigorating its somewhat stilted structural archetypes, but refocusing its entire thematic enterprise.
Most undead-heavy shows — AMC's The Walking Dead and its companion show Fear the Walking Dead are the two most obvious that come to mind — have a basic fictive infrastructure that can become stale in the long term, mostly due to the fact that the parochial plot focus is almost always on immediate and imminent survival. A generalized summation could be this: "the characters, who start at Point A, are presented with a difficulty or challenge that must get them to Point B; zombies ensue." While this can make for instant gratification on a visual sequence level, especially in a horror- and/or action-suited genre, it can prove difficult to sustain for over a long period of time and can create obstacles for character development or an expression of the inner life of each and every respective character in the cast (to be fair, both of these shows feature fairly large — even overly large — ensembles, which, comparatively, iZombie does not).
iZombie is another entry in a slew of shows (Once Upon a Time, Gotham and even the CW's Arrow) that are invested in testing the canonical definitions of their supernatural (or, in this case, even supernatural-bent horror) subject matter. The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead tend to follow the more traditional depictions of zombie-dom, most pointedly the cut-and-dry rules of infection (i.e., zombie bites you, you get zombified). Adversely, iZombie's characterization of what a zombie actually is aims to be a bit more sundry and heterogeneous: as long as their appetites are as sated as they possibly can be ("a zombie is always hungry" is possibly the only tenet that isn't entirely switched up), it can still reasonably entertain rationality, which means they can, like Liv, operate more-than-competently in the real world. Due to the fact that iZombie doesn't begin en media res of a spreading zombie plague, iZombie gets to play around with the rules of contraction, and (spoiler alert!) toward the end of season 1, even gets to tease viewers a bit with the possibility of a cure. All of these things are not, to say the least, your typical zombie fare.
In a way that could almost be unnerving for zombie classicists, the undead that populate iZombie are just like us. Their physically-establishing and delineating characteristics (white hair, pallid skin) can be concealed with a bit of self-tanner and hair dye. These others walk among the unassuming masses and with them, the miasmic and unassuming origins of how they got there in the first place, ultimately opening up a season-long (or possibly seasons-long, depending on how iZombie's sophomore run goes) rumination on life after death — or, as it were, the meaning of life in the first place. "Life's short, and then you die," said Liv in the pilot episode, and the episodes that ensue are in essence a roadmap of how one deals with a cataclysmic, existence-alteritng event: a life-after-death allegory that anyone can relate to.
The choice of iZombie's writers and showrunners to change up the core mythology of what a zombie is — not a reanimated, decomposing, bloodlusting automaton but a sentient, multifaceted, complex being — also variates and optimizes the number of directions that the show can go. Because the show's perspective is also fulcrumed by Liv, a zombie herself, iZombie is granted a unique perspective: instead of the general human populace trying to outlast (and ultimately eradicate) a growing undead minority, we have an undead minority trying to preserve themselves and their integrity and navigate their new identities — all while holding onto the humanity that differentiates them from their untoward, not-quite-animal instincts. It's a uniquely American allegory, and even in its delightful subversity, almost as old as the American dream itself.
Check out the second season promo for iZombie below, which returns to the CW tonight, Oct. 6., at 9 p.m. ET/PT.