Monday Morning Critic: Is ‘iZombie’ Worth Watching?
Welcome back to another installment of the Monday Morning Critic. In this space each week, I’ll be looking at the week that was in addition to the week ahead in television. The format will shift each week, as the world of TV will dictate the form and content of each piece.
In this week’s installment: reviews of iZombie and Undateable.
In the past, I’ve taken an approach towards pilots that I will occasionally deploy here in the ‘MMC’: The 5 Questions And 500 Words approach. The title pretty much serves as a descriptor: Instead of overloading both you the reader and I the critic with an avalanche of words about all major pilots about to premiere, I’ll cut to the chase as quickly as possible in order to save you time and me some sanity. It’s hopefully a win-win situation. With that in mind, here are another two such reviews.
iZombie premieres on March 17 on The CW at 9 pm EST
I’m not a huge zombie fan. Should I watch this show?
iZombie is a zombie show, but not in the way that The Walking Dead or even zombie-adjacent shows like The Returned are. Rather, this is a show that’s steeped within the genre but really operates as a witty crime procedural in which zombification is one aspect of a larger whole. The show’s protagonist, Olivia Moore (Rose McIver) is only part zombie, which means she’s more or less in control of her brain-eating urges. If that feels like a cop-out to you, this probably isn’t the show for you. But this also frees up iZombie to maintain stakes without having a constant clock ticking down towards some built-in endgame.
Rob Thomas, who also created Veronica Mars, developed this. Will I notice similarities?
Yes, which feels like a blessing and a curse early on. There’s nothing preventing Thomas from returning to one of his wheelhouses here, especially when that wheelhouse involves a wiser-than-her-years female protagonist who quips in both dialogue and voiceover. But I am curious to see how hard-core fans reaction to the similarities, which might prevent iZombie from being its own thing. I hope that’s not that case, but I can’t say it didn’t weight on my mind while watching the first four episodes.
Are there any other familiar tropes that will delight/infuriate fans of other past programming on The WB and UPN?
You mean other than David Anders playing essentially the love child of Logan Echolls and Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Nah.
Is that as freakin’ awesome as it sounds?
It really, really is. Anders plays the show’s primary antagonist, though as with both of the characters noted above, that need not be a static status for his character. He’s deeply tied into Moore’s status, and may or may not share her desire to stay as human as possible.
I’m still confused: How does this work on a week-to-week basis? Is this just a slow, snarky march to the apocalypse?
Think of the USA-ification of serialized narrative: much like shows such as Burn Notice or Suits, there’s more or less ongoing arcs happening, but on the periphery of the action. Ninety percent of these episodes are standalone cases that involve Moore’s particular tastes leading her to gain insight into the mystery of the week. How that insight happens, and the side effects of that insight, are best left up to the viewer to discover. It opens up a surprisingly wide palette for the show to explore, but ultimately might kneecap the show over the long term. But for now, it’s clear The CW has another great property on its hands, one that might not have the immediate quality of Jane The Virgin or the current potency of The 100. Still, this is a network that knows what it’s doing, and this is another solid hour-long well worth your time.
The second season of Undateable premieres on March 17 on NBC at 9 pm EST
How did a show that was seemingly a mid-season afterthought last year suddenly get a plum slot behind The Voice?
The universe is a vast and mysterious place, dear reader. But while this show was tossed off into the post-Memorial Day wasteland last summer, it did surprisingly well for NBC, as did The Night Shift (which also began a post-The Voice slot a few weeks ago). Sometimes shows earn their less-than-stellar burnoff status. Others, such as the late, lamented Bent never get the chance to really let audiences find them. I don’t know if more people will discover Undateable this season, but they should.
But what if I don’t like multi-cam sitcoms?
Then you’re dead inside? I dunno. The aversion to the genre is only understandable in that so many current multi-cam shows (ie, filmed as a stage play, usually with live audiences) are terrible. But the execution, not the form, is the true problem here. Undateable works because creator Adam Sztzkiel, working with producer Bill Lawrence, understand what works about multi-cams and don’t try and fix what ain’t broke.
So what works here that doesn’t in so many other shows of this ilk?
Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Last season worked primarily because of the individual strengths of its characters, almost all played by stand-up comedians who in real life are friends. But while that worked just fine, and produced true belly laughs in most outings, what seems clear in the season two premiere is that these comedians have figured out a way to work with the rest of the cast to forge an in-show camaraderie that works within the fiction of the show’s setting.
What’s the difference?
It’s a matter of suspension of disbelief. Last summer, I enjoyed watching Chris D’Elia give Brent Morin a hard time. In the season two premiere, I enjoyed Danny putting Justin through the paces. It’s a small, but crucial difference. Audiences want to root for characters, not actors. Yes, the artifice of multi-cams can be off-putting, but the simple staging and punchline structure also allows for a communal approach that works if we believe in the characters on that stage.
Do I have to know anything about this show before diving in?
You might laugh more at Ron Funches’ one-liners if you spent a season with his character, but really, you don’t need to know anything about anything. The season two premiere is intentionally designed as a reintroduction to the basic premise and character relationships, with new character Candace (the great, winning Bridgit Mendler) serving as audience proxy as well as Ellie Kemper-esque energy provider. Some shows excel because they break the mold. This one excels because it understands the mold and its intrinsic value. Undateable is a show that celebrates an important subgenre in television with a fun cast, an alarming number of good jokes, and a feel-good atmosphere that never feels cloying. It looks easy, but that’s just because those on- and offscreen know what they are doing.