With all the angst-ridden teen vampires invited into our homes, zombies were perhaps deserving of equal time among the panoply of misunderstood monsters. Yet CW’s adaptation of the Vertigo comic “iZombie” pretty quickly starts to stumble from promising toward stale, basically turning its undead heroine into a youthful crime-solver — “Veronica Mars” with an inordinately pale complexion. Although the producer of that earlier series, Rob Thomas, is also at the tiller here, the more direct comparison might be “Tru Calling.” If so, then despite CW’s thus far blessed season, and a baked-in appetite among fans, “iZombie” would be just another dead show walking.
Lest anyone (OK, almost everyone) forget, “Tru Calling” was the short-lived Fox vehicle for Eliza Dushku, who played a young woman working in a morgue, using her odd gift — reliving the previous day — to save people. Here, in “You are who you eat” fashion, Liv (Rose McIver), like any good zombie, has an appetite for brains, but consuming them implants the memories, desires and even talents of the donor, which come spewing forth in blurry visions.
The series begins on such an amusing and energetic note that as more mundane aspects set in, it all feels downhill thereafter. At 25, Liv is a bit of a stick in the mud, an on-the-rise medical resident hanging out with her devoted fiance Major (Robert Buckley), who helps talk her into attending a party with a co-worker. “What’s the worst that could happen?” he says brightly.
A frenzied zombie attack later, and she’s dead, or something like it, forced to wear cover-up to maintain the illusion of flesh tone, and becoming a source of confusion to her family, having significantly downgraded her career ambitions to take a job in the morgue.
Of course, being around corpses is the perfect place to feed her unique dietary requirements, but it’s also where Liv meets Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), who becomes her confidant, as well as the one hope for discovering some way out of her predicament. As for those seeing-through-the-eyes-of-dead-people chops, that comes in handy for a young detective (Malcolm Goodwin), who doesn’t know Liv’s secret, but is happy to get the help that comes with it.
Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright (who co-wrote the Thomas-directed premiere) do a more than adequate job of setting up the show’s complicated rules without losing sight of the characters — the fact that Liv gets stupid when she doesn’t eat (hence the mindless zombies we’ve come to know); watches “Night of the Living Dead” for pointers; and occasionally lapses into fierce zombie mode, which is convenient in a pinch.
There’s also a darker serialized thread involving the zombie (David Anders, fresh off “The Vampire Diaries” and “Once Upon a Time”) who turned Liv, although that plot proceeds slowly enough that after four episodes, while it may be mildly interesting, it’s hardly reason enough on its own to stick around.
CW already has enjoyed an inordinately strong year thanks to “The Flash” (which will be this new hour’s lead-in) and “Jane the Virgin,” but with its constant narration and not-very-suspenseful murder of the week, “iZombie” feels like just another way to do a youth-oriented copshow, even if it’s garnished with flourishes like comicbook captions.
So while the concept and source material should spark some curiosity, let’s just say Liv isn’t the only one likely to be left feeling hungry for more brains.