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Throwback Throwdown: Where Does 'iZombie' Fit Among The All-Time Best Zombie Films, TV Shows, And Books?

By Michael Salfino & Cara Salfino | TV | April 11, 2017 |

By Michael Salfino & Cara Salfino | TV | April 11, 2017 |

Publisher’s Note: This is a column where a father and daughter — from different generations, obviously — compare and contrast pop culture from their respective eras over email.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 10:40 AM
Subject: iZombie Season 3
To: Cara Salfino

We are in Peak Zombie. But ironically the best show in the genre is not the increasingly disappointing and boring The Walking Dead but the program you nagged me to watch for months until I finally relented.

And now iZombie is back for a third season that seemed in jeopardy given that its ratings pale in comparison to TWD, which is the highest rated show not only today but, for its run, in the history of cable television. That iZombie struggles while the now grossly inferior TWD continues to dominate is like Big Star languishing without any audience in 1974 while Terry Jacks dominates the charts.

But Season 3 finds us with a much different show. Previously, iZombie was formulaic. Sure, there were simple plot lines woven throughout each season but it was basically someone dies, Liv eats their brains, Liv becomes them and sees their past and solves the crime. Kind of a reverse Psych, with someone pretending NOT to have supernatural crime-solving powers plus a reverse Dead Zone thrown in (sees the past instead of the future). Plus brains. But now it’s episodic television. There’s a lot to remember. The plot has gotten pretty dense. I like this show, too, but worry that it’s going to collapse or just get too goofy and dumb down the characters to keep the story going — like what’s happened in The Walking Dead and especially with Rick and, ultimately, every villain. This cast is so winning, though. And Thomas and his writers have showed excellent story-telling instincts like in recently clueing in Detective Babineaux to the undead proceedings.

I also like how this is pre-apocalyptic, which of course saves a fortune in production costs. I’ll save my all-time zombie power rankings for the next pass. But, spoiler alert, iZombie will crack the Top 5.

From: Cara Salfino
Date: Mon, Apr 10, 2017 at 10:21 AM
Subject: Re: iZombie Season 3
To: Michael Salfino

I’m a long-time fan of showrunner Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars and Party Down being highlights, but I’ve admittedly devoted an alarming amount of time to 90210). iZombie is true to form for Thomas, with quick dialogue and abounding pop culture references — Season 3 picks up with the death of singer Rob Thomas after he’s eaten by zombies. The cast is what makes the show though, especially Rose McIver’s Liv, a great female lead that isn’t too derivative of Kristen Bell’s Mars but certainly can be seen having echoes of that whole “smart, witty pint-sized blonde with an occasional hero complex” vibe.

The density of the plot is a concern though. There have always been overarching Big Bads throughout the seasons — Blaine’s “gourmet butcher” enterprise in season 1, Max Rager in season 2 - but it seems like they’re getting increasingly sprawling. Now we have an entire zombie island, a military operation, possible conspiracy theories regarding the zombie cure, ON TOP of the original premise of a crime-solving zombie. The original premise is what hooked me, and I’m worried that will be too toned down amidst all of the other plot lines that are happening. Luckily the second episode of the season will see a return to the typical police procedural show format, which I’m very much looking forward to.

Overall, I think the Season 3 premiere did a great job of covering a lot of ground, and iZombie definitely remains my favorite zombie show (with Ash vs Evil Dead, In The Flesh and Dead Set coming in second through fourth, ahead of The Walking Dead, which I gave up on a few seasons ago). Although the plot is getting pretty thick, the writing remains strong and the acting is phenomenal — I’ll never get over McIver’s ability to layer the personalities within the brains that she eats onto Liv’s own strong character.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Mon, Apr 10, 2017 at 3:13 PM
Subject: Re: iZombie Season 3
To: Cara Salfino

We argue about this all the time but The Evil Dead, while undead, are NOT zombies. They are demons.

Yeah it figures that the private investigator/college student in you would like Veronica Mars. And that the porcelain-skinned you who consumes hot sauce like it’s water would identify with Liv. You 100 percent would be on the Max Rager zombie watchlist. Don’t ever dye your hair white.

I’m with you that the formulaic procedural is better. It’s like House, which always tried to pull us in with episodic plot lines that I never really cared that much about. House could have gone on forever like Law & Order with just the Sherlock Holmes, M.D. framework. But we want our showrunners to be more aspirational, I guess. I’m quite shocked — and pleased — that S3, E2 is going back to basics.

You’re right about McIver, who is just fantastic in assuming those consumed personalities. And we have to give a shout out too to David Anders as Blaine though even here they now have a layered subplot with him losing his memory that’s also causing a personality reversal. Not remembering what he was wouldn’t stop him from being the punk, smart-ass evil-doer that we love, would it?

I also think it’s interesting that eating brains keeps the zombies in this virtual-human state. The only other work in the zombie genre that makes consuming the brains itself central to zombie existence is the awesome The Return of The Living Dead.

So let’s do my Zombie Top 5, given this is where I start.

5. The Return of the Living Dead — more of a sendup about what would happen if the two biggest morons in town were at the patient zeros of an outbreak.

4. iZombie

3. I Am Legend (the book) — Richard Matheson (also a famous Twilight Zone writer) invented the post-apocalyptic genre and the undead generally in this book, which is probably the greatest horror novel ever written. It transcends the genre as it’s creating it, somehow.

2. Shaun of the Dead — Even George Romero loved it and he hates pretty much all post-Dead adaptations. Comic genius and, like An American Werewolf in London, real scares.

1. Romero’s Living Dead trilogy — I’ll put Day of the Dead in here even though it’s not seminal like Night and Dawn. As with Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Romero had bigger narrative ambitions. That’s especially true in Dawn of the Dead (mindless American consumerism). But the horror is palpable. The one time in my life when I wanted to get up and leave the theater because things were just too intense was the first 10 minutes of Dawn of the Dead.

From: Cara Salfino
Date: Tue, Apr 11, 2017 at 10:42 AM
Subject: Re: iZombie Season 3
To: Michael Salfino

Great list, although I would make a few additions:

Zombieland — Smart, funny, scary, phenomenal performances from everyone in the main cast and an unforgettable cameo from Bill Murray (Garfield aside, if Bill Murray is involved odds are it’s a winner).

World War Z (the book) — The movie bungled pretty badly the material that Max Brooks provided, but the novel is fresh and fascinating. The concept of an oral history of the zombie war plays extremely well and hyper-realistically. Fans of this style can also check out the similarly well done Zone One by Coleson Whitehead (again, half-horror fiction, half-true literature).

28 Days Later — I normally stick to Romero’s party line when it comes to fast zombies (“fast zombie suck”), 28 Days Later is chilling, well done, and gets around the technicalities of why the zombies are fast by explaining that they aren’t actually the reanimated dead, but rather the living infected with a rage virus (anticipating your lecture on zombie rules).

salfinos.pngAs far as the current offerings for zombie material go though, iZombie is the best out there. Like you, I want Bad-Boy Blaine back. And though larger scale storylines risk coming across as convoluted at times, I trust Thomas’s ability to craft a plot that sustains itself and provides the audience with some classic zombie scares while (perhaps) transitioning to more conventional horror.

Dad Michael Salfino is a sportswriter most frequently for The Wall Street Journal, for which he also occasionally writes about movies. Daughter Cara is a college senior and private investigator. Though separated by decades of times and hundreds of miles of Mid-Atlantic geography, they still carve out quality time to discuss pop culture. This is their virtual Coffee Table.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.