iZombie a Lively Hybrid; One Big Happy Is Deadly

Cate Cameron/The CW

Makes sense that of all spooky creatures, the undead would have especially acute existential misgivings. “Zombies—I’ve heard we’re finito. Is that true? Has oversaturation buried us?” muses Blaine (David Anders), a pasty-faced, bad-boy ghoul who knows better. After all, he’s the one responsible for turning type-A med student Liv Moore (an impressive Rose McIver), the intrepid heroine of the delightfully quirky iZombie, into a brain-craving member of “Team Z.”

Thanks to The Walking Dead, zombies have never been a hotter, or cooler, commodity. But there’s never been a zombie show quite like iZombie, with its quick and literally deadpan wit. Like a cross between Veronica Mars (whose producers adapted this from a comic book series) and Pushing Daisies, this is the delightfully droll account of how Liv adjusts to a not-quite-dead life of “post-traumatic ennui,” with a chalky complexion, an adorably puzzled ex-fiancé (Robert Buckley), and a hunger for brains. She satisfies the latter by taking a job in the morgue, where her fascinated boss (the amusing Rahul Kohli) indulges her appetite by giving her full access to the daily delivery of cadavers. (It’s never as gross as it sounds.) In a twist reminiscent of the whimsically macabre (and still lamented) Pushing Daisies, Liv discovers that she is ingesting memories along with the gray matter, and observing crimes from the victims’ posthumor POV gives her the ability to help a struggling detective (Malcolm Goodwin) solve crimes by pretending to be a psychic.

In a disturbing side effect to her newfound vocation, Liv becomes what she eats, taking on personality traits of the deceased, which becomes especially disturbing in a future episode when she realizes, to her chagrin, “Son of a bitch, I ate the brains of a sociopath!” As if being a zombie weren’t enough of an identity crisis already. But Liv’s innate humanity and wry Buffy-style humor shine through, as she tries to make the best of a bizarre situation. Or, as she puts it: “What’s that old zombie saying: Today is the first day of the rest of your half-dead life.” This genre-bending, beguiling hoot is one of the most lively, and alive, shows of the mid-season.

That’s especially the case when contrasted to the soul-numbing mediocrity of One Big Happy, a strident sitcom that fancies itself in the groundbreaking (and hilarious) tradition of Will & Grace, while presenting a graceless and insipid gender-reversal of gay-straight friendship.

Eric McCandless/NBC

The deafening pilot introduces us to straight-man Luke (Nick Zano) and his BFF/housemate Lizzie (Elisha Cuthbert), who’s a lesbian, a fact she tends to announce in just about every other sentence. One especially shameless sample: “I should have known I was gay when I named my cat Ellen.” (Shameless because Ellen DeGeneres, in a rare lapse of judgment, is one of the show’s executive producers.) Just as Luke and Lizzie decide it’s finally time to start a family together—cue the masturbation humor—their friendship is tested when Luke falls for brash British bombshell Prudence (Kelly Brook), and they impulsively wed just as Lizzie’s pregnancy test comes up positive.

You may be tempted to think Three’s Company, but why spoil the memory of a better, classic broad comedy? One Big Happy is not remotely in that league, not just because of the lousy writing (with an emphasis on vagina and urine jokes, and one especially unfunny bit in which a naked Prudence prances around the house to set up a “big cups” gag), but because the leads generate only a tepid chemistry at best. Zano at least projects a certain doofus charm, but Cuthbert (arguably the least funny spoke of the Happy Endings ensemble) and Brook appear locked in a contest to see who can be more annoying, shrill, and obvious at any given moment.

The last time NBC tried to redefine the family comedy, with Ryan Murphy’s underrated The New Normal, there was a genuine sense of affection amid the stylized campiness. One Big Happy is just one big blob of phoniness. Progress this ain’t.

iZombie premieres Tuesday, March 17, 9/8c, on The CW

One Big Happy premieres Tuesday, March 17, 9:30/8:30c, on NBC