Rob Thomas became a fan favorite in 2004 with the launch of “Veronica Mars,” a quirky CW drama about a young blonde solving crimes while also trying to sort out a larger mystery. Last night, the CW launched his newest show, which is also about a young blonde solving crimes while trying to sort out a larger mystery. This time, though, the blonde has graduated college, lives in Seattle… Oh, and she’s a zombie.
“iZombie,” based on the DC comics, stars Rose McIver as an undead medical examiner whose hunger for brains gives her the ability to help bring murderers to justice. (It’s actually pretty fun, especially when she picks up other characteristics of the victims, like kleptomania or the ability to speak Romanian.) Right after the show’s SXSW premiere in Austin, Thomas told Indiewire why “iZombie” features both fast and slow zombies, why he likes trauma as a jumping-off point and how the show has changed his approach to crafting mystery.
One thing we see right away with “iZombie” is playing with a lot of genre conventions. What was important for you in doing not just what you could call a cop procedural but one that plays with what it means to be a cop procedural?
It’s funny, no one’s asked me about the cop element. When we were trying to figure out what the show was, there was so much debate about what the show would be like, because in the comic book she’s a grave digger who gets her brains that way. So all the people aren’t homicide victims, they have different kinds of problems, and the thought of, well, do we just want to give her a random people problem? How do you solve that? You’re solving the problems of a dead person — where’s the win? With a murder of the week, we catch the bad guy. That’s the win.
I can tell you that there’s been an evolution even in the course of the season in what plays best or in what we have more fun doing. I would say that the show has shifted by 20 percent. Because Diane [Ruggiero-Wright] and I did “Veronica Mars” and we’re used to breaking mystery cases, we were comfortable in that arena. And we would devote a lot of page space and time to it, make sure that we planted a couple of quality red herrings. “Veronica Mars” was almost like a play-at-home game. We would try to put the clues on screen, so that the careful viewer could solve it themselves, because it’s all there if you’re paying attention.
With “iZombie,” what we learned is that so much of the fun of the show is in the zombie stuff, the fun of her playing the brain-of-the-week [and] how that changes her character. I think steadily over the season we started chopping pages out of the police procedural beats and started devoting them to some of the more fun stuff. I think by the end of the season it’s like there’s the person who did it, and there’s the person in the shadows who could have done it, and because Liv has these visions that solve the case, there’s less of that cop procedural, gumshoe, collect the clues to figure it out [approach] and more building on the fun beats. So it becomes less legitimate procedural. The cop cases are almost a vehicle for fun. I mean fun being relative. I don’t always mean fun in a fun, comedic way, but occasionally it’s fun when she is being a sociopath. The case is as much a vehicle for getting to see her do that and use that to solve the case as the beats of the detective case itself. So it’s fun seeing that as a vehicle for her to use to solve the case.
Approaching the horror genre, how important was it to ground it in a plausible way, so that zombie-ism could feel like it exists in the real world?
I really like zombie stuff and yet the zombie stuff that I like— this is a really dumb quality about myself… I guess I should say quality… It’s an issue, that I like zombies that are virus or zombie-spawned. I don’t like the curse of the mummy bringing them up from the grave. I like one kind of zombie and others I’m less interested in. And so we went the science route rather than the supernatural route. It’s all fake but it’s just fake under the fake science, as opposed to supernatural.
Have you and the writers had intense fights about fast zombies vs. slow zombies?
We’ve had fights about every type of zombie quality. We’ll spend hours in a room talking about how do you pass on zombie, does kissing give you zombie, what level of the make out scale does zombie come in. We have these lengthy, lengthy discussions about that. And yes, fast zombies vs. slow zombies. The way we’re playing it in our show is that they start out as fast-moving, fast-thinking kind of normal zombies and then without eating they become what we refer to on the show as “Romeros.” You’ll see examples in the show of when zombies have gone full Romero and they’ve gotten slow, and again we have certain rules, but we’re giving ourselves both things.
You guys have created the rules and the universe for the show, but if I asked you, right now, if kissing gives you zombie, you probably won’t tell me. Is that a mystery for the show?
Yes, that is a mystery for the show.
Finally, “Veronica Mars” and this show both use trauma as a jumping off point. Is there something specific about that emotional state for you?
That’s funny because I hadn’t thought about that until I got a couple reporters’ questions about it. I had thought about the “Veronica”/”iZombie” connection of petite blonde solving crimes speaking in first person voice over… I would argue that probably any pilot I’ve written, whether male-centered or female-centered, probably features some sort of trauma, like a new dramatic chapter. It may not always be zombie or rape, but it’s something that’s dropped in, to kind of spur your pilot into motion.
What is it that makes it a compelling element for a TV show?
I think that it means dropping into a place where your life is changing rather than static. If it’s just static it feels less interesting, there’s less self reflection, like this is my daily grind and I’m just dropping into it. I think you could do that in comedy, because so many comedies are about the grind or about their day and it’s funny in this office or this space or this room. In terms of drama I think you are cutting into their story at a place that is evolutionary, where things have kicked in. I think that’s what appeals to me about that.
“iZombie” airs Tuesdays at 9pm on The CW.