With the fifth and final season currently airing on Netflix UK and The CW, iZombie is on its last course. We talk to showrunners and writers Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero about what’s next for Liv and why the zom-com-rom-dram the happiest show in the world…
Fans of The CW’s irreverent undead comedy-drama iZombie were shocked last year when the network announced that it was giving it the axe after the fifth season.
But creators and showrunners Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero weren’t saddened by the news. Instead, they were relieved: relieved that they still had one season to go, relieved that they had the opportunity to tie up any loose ends, and relieved that, for once, they actually got to finish a show off properly. For Thomas, never before had that happened. His cult noir mystery show Veronica Mars was cancelled after three seasons, The CW failed to renew 90210 after five, and Starz comedy Party Down only made it to two before it was declared dead. With iZombie, Thomas and Ruggiero had a year’s notice to make sure it goes out with a bang.
“We’ve been a show that’s been on the bubble every single season,” explains Thomas. “You pack up your office at the end of the year and you don’t know if you’re going to come back… Yeah, we probably would have liked to have done another season, but the nice thing this year is we got to plan. We didn’t have to save anything. Some big moments that have been ticking away in the backs of our minds, we get to lay those down now. It’s one of the reasons why telling you what to expect this season is so difficult, because there are big storylines, there are things we wanted to do when we knew we were at the end of the series, and we get to play those out.”
While many other creators would have been at least a bit disappointed that their show was coming to an end, Thomas and Ruggiero are actually kind of shocked that they made it this far.
“I don’t think we felt like, ‘oh shit! We’ve been cancelled!’” says Thomas. “We survived for five seasons! We get to write an ending to the show! It hasn’t been a ‘woe is us’ sort of feeling on set this year. It’s been more, ‘hey! We’ve lasted this long!’ It’s not been a downer year for us.”
With the series ending, the writers were able to let loose for the final season, especially where the show’s greatest weapon — the fact that lead zombie Liv Moore (played by Rose McIver) takes on a different personality with each new brain she eats — is concerned.
“We were very mindful that this was our last time to get in the brains that we haven’t gotten in but wanted to,” explains Ruggiero. “There was a lot of talk in the writers’ room about: what haven’t we gotten to do yet that we really want to see? We’ve been having some fun with that.”
As the show developed, the way in which Liv responds to brains has developed too. During the early stages of planning, the idea behind the brain consumption was a little different: Liv was originally going to gain one good quality and one bad quality with each brain she ate. The pilot episode was set to feature her eating the brain of a Romanian prostitute.
“In that episode, she could speak Romanian but she also became a kleptomaniac,” says Thomas. “That was the format we imagined. But somewhere in there, the big change — and I credit this much more to Diane — was, why doesn’t she get a big dose of their personality? You know, like, let’s see if Rose is game for really becoming a new character each week. The discovery of the comedic opportunities for us, how eating that brain would fundamentally change her more than we had originally opted for, that really unlocked the show for us. That made it a much funnier show.”
“I think it changed the character too, because it gave her more to contend with,” adds Ruggiero. “Not only is she a zombie eating brains and getting visions, but her personality is altered every time she eats a brain. It gave her a lot more pressure and made her a lot more unsettled in every episode, which was fun.”
From the ‘Real Housewife’ to the frat bro, every iZombie fan has a favourite brain. Thomas’ favourite is yet to air, but he teases that it’s going to be something special. “Let me preview an episode that Diane wrote that will make it to the Mount Rushmore of iZombie episodes: episode 3 this year [titled ‘Five, Six, Seven, Ate’], Diane wrote a dance episode where Liv eats the brain of a dancer, but not just a dancer… I heard the phrase ‘codependent dancer’, who’s in a dance contest. It’s a funny episode, it’s a sweet and sad episode, it’s a genius Diane Ruggiero episode. So look forward to that. Rose is a dancer, and she’s great in it. The person with whom she is codependent is of course Ravi, who is not a great dancer but gets roped into this dance contest. It is as wonderful as you might imagine.”
“I will add to that and say Rob, you are underselling the fact that you put all the drama and serious stuff in that,” enthuses Ruggiero. “It’s not all comedy! Rob grounded it with the real stuff, and that’s what makes it a good episode. We’re a good team, Rob! We should do some TV together!”
Although iZombie has never been as big as some of The CW’s other shows (we’re looking at you, Arrowverse), it has gained quite the cult following over the last five years, made up of both fans of Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s original graphic novels and viewers who have come just for the TV series. iZombie might not have had the media attention it perhaps deserves, but it has clearly earned its fans’ enthusiasm and dedication.
“The time when we really see fans has been Comic-Con, and it has been phenomenal,” says Thomas. “It’s been an interesting ride with iZombie in that, I guess I can just speak for me, it’s been the happiest I have ever been doing a show. There are shows that I’ve worked on that have been regarded as “more important” than iZombie — and you’ll have to trust that I’m making air quotes — but I’ve never had a better time doing a show. I’m incredibly proud of the show, and it’s been five years of being happy coming to work because the cast are all wonderful people and we have this phenomenal crew and the writers’ room is a happy place to be and editing is great. It’s just been five years of happy. With Veronica Mars there was all this buzz and heat about this show, and we haven’t experienced that white-hot spotlight, but when we go out to Comic-Con there are huge crowds, and people dressed like Liv carrying brains around, and the face to face reaction has been fantastic, but [as far as the press is concerned] we haven’t had quite that level of feverish attention on the show.”
“When we were making Liv, we were very conscious of the fact that we wanted her to be a Halloween costume too,” says Ruggiero. “We wanted there to be someone dressing up as her and that was a big moment for both of us, our first Comic-Con, when we sae there were already people dressing up like Liv. Like, there were people cosplaying this character, and then by the next season there were people coming as Ravi and Babineaux, and that was really exciting as fans ourselves to see people doing that and being so committed. That was a real treat.”
Following the show’s small success, it’s easy to get lost in the emotion when it’s finally time to bring it to a close. “In some ways, the thing we’re really proud of is we’re getting to go out on our own terms,” says Thomas. “Everyone is good friends, the cast all love each other, we remain proud of the show five years later, that we get to for once bring a show in for a landing. I’ve never got to do that before. Going up to a series wrap party and have everyone be teary-eyed and say, ‘We’ll never have this again,’ and knowing that that is probably right…
“I mean, working in entertainment for as long as I have, you’ve had wretched experiences and you’ve had okay experiences, and you’ve had some good experiences, but iZombie was five years of feeling happy. It’s sort of scary to go back out into the world… It’s hard to have all those elements come together and be as good as they were. I supposed in a perfect world, we would have had all that and had the ratings of The Flash. That’s the only thing that could have made this a better ride. Instead of five years of wondering if we’d be back next year, it would have been nice to get to unpack in Season 1. But the truth is, even though we’ve been on that bubble, our studio and network have both been proud of this show every year. You feel that when you’re doing the job. If they weren’t proud of the show we wouldn’t have got these five years, that’s for sure.”
“I’m a little misty!” says Ruggiero. “Now we’re out in the great wide open, what’s going to happen? Yeah, I’m incredibly proud of the show also, and I’m proud that it’s been such a happy experience. Rob is the best show runner in the business and I will say that always. It’s one of the reasons that the trains run on time and everyone loves the quality of the work, and it makes people excited to go to work, and that doesn’t happen all the time. And also, I’m just proud of the work we actually did. It’s exactly what we set out to do. When we were first conceiving it, we had a hope of what the show would be and I think we’ve work up to that. That doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes there’s a lot of interference from the powers that be that don’t let you do the show that you want. So I’m pretty proud that we got to do the show that we wanted to do and that we got to see it through to the end.”
The team behind the show should also be immensely proud of the fact that they’ve managed to make something not just entertaining but coherent out of such an unusual blend of subject matter. It’s a zombie thriller, a romantic comedy, a slapstick comedy, a horror story, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi and a good, old fashioned police procedural all rolled into one.
“The thing that I think we landed is that it’s such an odd tone, which we have dubbed for five years as a zom com rom dram,” laughs Thomas. “The specificity of tone, trying to land this thing that can occasionally be scary and occasionally be emotional and be funny a lot of the time, that’s a tricky plane to land and I think we did bring it in. We landed on a very small landing strip, is what I’m trying to say.”
A new episode of iZombie Season 5 is released every Friday on Netflix UK.