Q&A: Rob Thomas on the Weekly Cases of iZombie

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Based on the Vertigo comic books, the CW’s iZombie takes the idea of a heroic ghoul and runs with it their own way. Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas is launching the new show, in which a zombie will solve a mystery every week. Rose McIver stars as Liv, a promising young medical student bitten during an outbreak. In order to stay coherent she has to eat brains from her new job at the coroner’s office. Each brain she eats gives her visions from the dead person, however, and she uses such to solve the mysteries of the city. We spoke with Thomas after his iZombie panel at the Television Critics Association… 

Shock Till You Drop: The comic book was not a procedural. Was that the only way to do a television adaptation? Was serialized an option?

Rob Thomas: Well, I wanted to have a case of the week. The other way would be zombie soap opera. I was just more attracted to it as a case of the week. In the comic book, the big thing we took from that is she eats the brains of dead people and then gets their memories. In that, she did sort of solve problems or answer questions of the dead. We needed something a bit more result-driven, something where we had a victory at the end. So by putting her in the morgue, it gave us those closed-ended cases. Pushing Daisies was often a reference point for us with this show. Solving the murder case might not be the thing that fans care about most, but it drives us through it. Giving her the motivation, I think people are going to enjoy seeing her eat the brains of different types of people and see how that plays out. But I like having that case of the week to drive story.

Shock: Does that come from Veronica Mars also?

Thomas: Yeah, I think a certain comfort level. My first job was Dawson’s Creek, which was pure soap opera. I guess in this particular case, I wanted the case of the week.

Shock: Do you talk about the oversoul and undersoul in the series?

Thomas: No. I’ll tell you, I am a fan of zombie stuff. I like the ones that are infections, that are viruses,that are somehow “medical” as opposed to the more supernatural; “a haunted mummy curse.” I like the fake science more than the fake supernatural and I can’t explain why that’s what I’m drawn to, but it is.

Shock: Does every episode have chapters with comic book titles?

Thomas: Yes.

Shock: Do any of them come from the comics or are you making them all up?

Thomas: We have some references to the comics. In one of the episodes, they have to go online and play one of those World of Warcraft type games. They meet online and Ravi (Rahul Kohli) is a were-terrier in a nod to the comic book series.

Shock: Did you choose the name Liv ironically?

Thomas: Well, we chose it for the pun if that’s what you mean.

Shock: Are you trying to recreate Eugene, OR in Vancouver?

Thomas: No. There was something about the Pacific Northwest we liked. I live in Austin. I am desperate to get a show in Austin because I want to travel less. I want to be home more. Yet there’s something about zombies in the wet and cold that feels better than zombies in Texas. When you do a show for The CW, you are generally going to be shooting in places that have better union deals. So we knew we probably weren’t shooting in Los Angeles, and at that point Pacific Northwest felt good to us. And I grew up in Washington State and know Seattle a little bit, so there was a tiny bit of working knowledge from my youth.

Shock: Are there mysteries you can only do with zombies and dead brain memories?

Thomas: What those dead brain memories helps us do is spend less time on the case. Like on Veronica Mars, we were always struggling with having really clever clues and you do 66 episodes and suddenly you’re struggling on the 15th different way you’ve extracted information off someone’s cell phone. Because it was a detective show, it felt like we had to pay heavy duty service to the clues. It was about her being a detective. In this, where she can have visions, I think the joy of the show is more in the zombie mythology. We get to shortcut the mystery by dropping in a vision when maybe we’re stuck. I think what people are going to respond to, and it’s one of the few times I’ve shot a whole season of a show without knowing how fans are reacting to it, but my best guess is that people are going to respond to the zombie mythology and they’ll be okay with us shortcutting the mystery to get to the dessert, if that makes sense.

Shock: What is the developing zombie mythology on the series?

Thomas: Well, Major (Robert Buckley)’s a social worker and he works at a home for runaway teens. Kids start going missing off the streets of Seattle, kids from the fringes of society, people who might not otherwise be missed. Major starts pursuing this and what he comes to believe is that zombies are taking them off the streets of Seattle. Getting to the bottom of Blaine’s brain operation is the central mystery of season one.

Shock: When you have zombies that are pretty far gone, like the zombie in the well, do Hollywood makeup artists just know how to do that?

Thomas: Yeah, yeah, and it’s very expensive. What I don’t understand, having done it now, is how a show like Walking Dead manages to do the number that they do. It’s really expensive. If we want to make, like, the zombie in the well, that’s $10-20,000 financial hit to make a really good looking, you can show a closeup on camera, zombie. So those shows where they’re having to put 20 in an episode, they must figure out ways. Like if you’re six feet away from camera, you don’t need that level of detail, but when we’re getting closeups, we needed a really good zombie prosthetic.

Shock: Is there going to be another Veronica Mars movie?

Thomas: I don’t know. I hope so. The first one did well. It made money and I would like to see that. I’d love to do a Veronica Mars True Detective, six episodes. That is really appealing to me. That would be great.

Shock: Would the next one need to be Kickstarted again?

Thomas: I don’t think so, no.

Shock: You set up in the movie that she’s back in the game. Is that where you’d pick up?

Thomas: It is. The second novel is out and I’ve said to the Veronica Mars fans that those novels are part of the mythology. They don’t exist separately, so whatever we do next would pick up at the end of novel two.

Shock: So you had a plan for continuing the story no matter what.

Thomas: Yeah. I was prepared, if we never saw Veronica Mars after the final scene in the movie, I was happy with where she landed. If the books hadn’t happened or if nothing else ever does, that image of her sitting at her dad’s desk made me happy.