iZombie is officially back with its season three premiere episode “Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother.” It seems that, for zombie fans, there are two distinct options on television right now: The Walking Dead or iZombie. There are some other options, I suppose. You’ve got Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet or a plethora of shows which are now over (In The Flesh). But, for mainstream television watchers, the two options before you could not be more different.
With The Walking Dead, you’ve got your traditional violent zombie gore fest. Rick and Company fight walkers once in a while and consistently battle the even more depraved human enemies they consistently make season after season. Then, over on the ever-predictable CW network, you have a seemingly run of the mill police procedural with a quirky zombie twist. Why are these our two options? And why, seemingly, do people only really enjoy one or the other?
I think we can easily blame “genre exhaustion.” Within academic circles, genre exhaustion is essentially the idea that over saturation of a particular genre (in this case, the zombie genre) leads to an increase in narratives that overhaul or whole cloth reinvent it in order to bring back viewers who tired of the standard story lines and tropes inherent within that genre. In this case, many expressed their exhaustion with The Walking Dead’s violence and gore, which can sometimes take precedence over character or plot development—just check out Twitter after the Season 7 premiere. While The Walking Dead continues to sate many fans of the zombie genre by keeping themes long seen as old faithfuls for traditional zombie enthusiasts, many are simply tired of seeing the same gruesome events happen time and again.
Enter iZombie. Co-created by Veronica Mars alum, Rob Thomas, the series features Olivia “Liv” Moore as a surgical resident turned medical examiner (what better way to gain access to brains?). While the first two seasons of the show developed a fairly interesting zombie mythos and pitted our scrappy protagonists against two savvy, albeit evil, businessmen, Season 3 opens with this new “Scooby Gang,” à la Buffy, as they take on an amoral Blackwater-esque military industrial corporation run by an entire cohort of the undead. Liv, our plucky zombie heroine played by Rose McIver, has to now choose between continuing to live (secretly) alongside humans and help solve murders through her Warm Bodies-ish ability to experience the memories of the person whose brain she eats—thereby solving their untimely demise—or join this new group of zombie commandos bent on turning Seattle into the capital of a new zombie nation.
As you can see, in terms of content, iZombie could not be more different from Darabont’s bloody adaptation. While it does not bring in the same kinds of numbers The Walking Dead pulls in on its worst day, iZombie continues to be one of the best performing shows on The CWs network and has a noticeable presence at Comic Cons and Wonder Cons. While there are many zombie fans who eschew the thought of undead creatures who are also attractive, romantic, well-developed, crime-solving heroines, I think it is also important to wonder why a show like iZombie can exist. Without an over saturation of traditionally horrific zombie narratives, there would be little reason to reimagine the undead.
Perhaps this is only the beginning a new age of zombie reinvention? Or, perhaps, iZombie is carving out a new niche of sentient zombies (revenants?) for the less aggressively purist zombie fan base. You can catch iZombie on The CW Tuesday nights, check your local listings for specific times.