You can’t swing a stick on TV these days without hitting a show with zombies. The plots are generally the same: don’t let the zombies eat your brains.
The latest entry in this dead genre is the CW Network series “iZombie.” This isn’t your typical series about the creepy creatures. It’s to the zombie world what “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” was to vampires.
The show tries to distance itself from the stinky, oozing herd through the main zombie, Olivia Moore (Rose McIver), an average twentysomething who has a bad party experience and wakes up one of the walking dead. As long as she keeps munching meals made from the medulla oblongata, she doesn’t turn into the creepy kind of zombie.
Olivia lands a job in the local morgue where she has a choice of meals. It becomes a smorgas-morgue to her. The only side effect is that when she eats brains, she gets some of the person’s memories and traits, which she uses to help local law enforcement solve crimes.
The series is based on the comic book of the same name created by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred that has been adapted by executive producers Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero Wright.
Thomas was the creative force behind another series with a strong female lead, “Veronica Mars.”
“We didn’t hew terribly closely to the source material. In the “iZombie” comic book, there’s a whole monster universe. There are were-terriers and ghosts. We wanted to stay strictly zombie, so we only have zombies in the show,” Thomas says. “And we really needed a story engine. We wanted to do a case of the week show. In the comic book, the main character is a gravedigger and that’s how she gets her brains. By making her an assistant medical examiner and putting her in the morgue, it gave us our case of the week that we wanted.”
The show does maintain a bit of a comic book look with drawn comic book panels that lead into scenes. The fact Olivia gets memories from the brains she eats is also a part of the source material.
In the first episode, Olivia has a meal on a woman who speaks Romanian and immediately has that ability. This opens up the possibilities of skills the young actress is going to have to do each week.
“I’ve never been more terrified receiving scripts in my life,” McIver says. “I get text messages from Diane, ‘Can you do a cartwheel?’”
The New Zealand native (who can do a cartwheel) has some experience with fantasy roles having appeared in episodes of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess,” plus as the Yellow bear RPM Ranger in “Power Rangers R.P.M.”
None of those roles meant spending hours in makeup to give her a look that is Goth gone bad. It takes two hours every day to be covered with a translucent makeup for the right dead look.
“It’s kind of the dream job in that sense where I’ve been able to try my hand at all different styles and characters and actually genres. I mean, we combine so many things in this show. I do work on comedy, sometimes I feel like I work on a drama. It really is variety,” McIver says. “I definitely feel like every day we go to work, it’s a new experience and it’s something new we’re discovering.”
One of the weird things her character gets to do is recognize that zombies are a part of pop culture. It won’t be unusual for her to watch a George A. Romero horror film or reference a popular cable show about the walking dead when dealing with her own life.
And her life will be about accepting who she is while efforts are made to cure her deadness.
One other zombie will become a suitor.
“The whole idea at the center of the show is a zombie you can fall in love with, or even one that you find attractive, a zombie you want to date. That’s the polite way of saying it. We were calling the show ZILFs at one point,” Thomas says. “It helped me a lot that ‘Warm Bodies’ had made it out into the universe.
“There was an example of a zombie who you fall in love with and it gave us the confidence to say, yeah, a zombie can be the hero of our show.”