iZombie finally goes full noir — but showrunner Rob Thomas had nothing to do it
The circumstances surrounding this week's highly stylized episode are incredibly ironic.
A sliver of daylight cuts across Liv’s (Rose McIver) face through the window pane as rain falls steadily outside. Soft, smooth jazz plays in the background as she mulls over the latest whodunnit, the scene bathed in muted blacks and whites. Is the femme fatale to blame for the murder, or is she just another victim? As Liv ponders, she pulls her trench coat tighter as a terse, dramatic voiceover narrates the scene.
In only a few moments, iZombie hits so many tropes found in the classic noir genre. While The CW’s zombie rom-com drama has always had a bit of noir baked into the DNA as Liv helps the Seattle PD solve murders by eating the brains of dead victims, this week’s episode, “Night and the Zombie City,” is the first time creator and executive producer Rob Thomas is going full noir. But here’s the ironic part: the showrunner actually had nothing to do with this week’s episode. In fact, he actively fought against doing a noir episode for years.
Thomas has previously dipped his toes into the classic genre, both with the general idea of iZombie and his hit teen detective drama Veronica Mars (returning with a new season July 26 on Hulu). But while the showrunner loves the genre full of recognizable tropes first made famous back in the early 1920s, he didn’t think it would work on iZombie.
Below, Thomas talks with EW about why he resisted doing noir on this show for so long, how it snuck past him, and what fans can expect from the upcoming series finale (airing Aug. 1).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I can’t imagine how much fun you were having making this episode. You finally got to go full noir!
ROB THOMAS: That is true and not true. [Laughs] This particular episode was right in the heart of when I was spending about 90 percent of my time on Veronica Mars because we were shooting them at the same time. Episodes 7 through 11 on iZombie became to the point where I was just kind of reading outlines and giving notes. So I know it looks like it has my fingerprints on it because it’s noir but I really had very little to do with this one.
… wow. That feels incredibly ironic.
[Laughs] It does a bit! John Enbom who I’ve been working with since season 1 of Veronica Mars, who was really the guiding force of Party Down and is a buddy of mine, he stepped in and ran the show essentially for the back half of the season until Diane [Ruggiero] and I came back and wrote the final two iZombie [episodes]. It was a Veronica Mars writer running the room at that point and he had a lot of input on it but I essentially read the outline and went, “Sounds great!” So that was my big contribution to this particular episode.
You’re such a huge fan of the noir genre, so how did iZombie end up with a noir episode when you weren’t involved?
The funny thing is … this gets even more ironic. The writer of the episode, Bob Dearden, has been pitching me this hardcore noir episode every season. And I’ve been saying, “Maybe someday.” And then the moment I leave the room, he gets it made! I don’t want to say it was over my objections, but it was one that I wasn’t sure I saw a clear path on for quite some time. The minute the cat’s away, Bob Dearden [laughs] got his noir episode! Here’s the interesting thing about when the showrunner takes his eyes off the show – [the writers] get to do all the things they’ve wanted to do that I’ve been hesitant about. They went very stylized with this episode, more than I would have, but when I saw it I was really tickled by it. If they had pitched it to me in the room, “We’re going to put Liv in a funny Sam Spade hat and overcoat,” I would have been like, “Ahhh, I don’t know … ” But because I wasn’t there to say no, they pulled it off! It’s a really fun episode. Tuan Le, the director of the episode, did a great job.
Why were you so hesitant about doing noir on iZombie when it’s such a huge part of your previous work?
One of the reasons is, we did those [iZombie] episodes with Enrico Colantoni [from Veronica Mars] in which we were playing on that bad cop, hard-boiled persona. I wasn’t sure there was enough space between the two so I was concerned about that. And then part of the hesitation was that I had done noir for so long that I was afraid that I would feel like we were recycling material I had used in another show. It was actually probably pretty smart of them – they went, as we often do on iZombie, full ham on it. They sucked the marrow out of the noir theme. [Laughs] There was no cliché, no bit they were not going to enjoy exploiting on the show. They did it to such comic effect that it did not step on the toes of Veronica Mars.
When you were away working on Veronica Mars, how did you feel about finding out this episode was happening?
[Laughs] My first reaction was, “You son of a bitch, you finally got that through!” It was never an idea that I hated. It was just an idea that got beaten out by something out because I had those reservations. Somewhere around season 3 we had this change in philosophy that was good for the show. The original philosophy was figuring out what Liv was doing in each episode and let’s find the right brain for this moment. Writers for episodes would get brains that they weren’t emotionally connected to or have insight on. Eventually, by season 3, we went, “Hey writers, what brain are you desperate to write? What do you love? What could you riff on forever?” At that point everyone got to do the brains they wanted and we made it work for Liv’s life. The brains got funnier and more specific after that. Bob Dearden, the writer of this one, loved old detective movies and so he finally got his way.
When did you finally realize that Dearden actually made noir work for this episode?
I heard rumblings that it was looking good. We shared offices so it wasn’t like iZombie was somewhere on another planet; they were literally using the office next to me [on Veronica Mars]. I would hear bits and pieces. I knew they were going forward with this when I read the outline and I had some reservations but I was too swamped to fight it. It was like, “Okay, you really want to do this? Okay … go ahead, full throttle.” I got a thumbs up from the editors, like, “It’s coming together, it’s looking good.” And finally I got to see a cut and was tremendously relieved and pleased with it.
What trope of the noir genre did you love seeing included in the episode?
The language, that really Sam Spade quintessential voiceover with the straight 1940s references. That all played funny to me.
Looking ahead, how would you describe the feeling the iZombie series finale leaves fans with by the very end?
Here’s what I’ll say about the finale of iZombie and how it is much, much different [laughs] than the original finale of Veronica Mars: with iZombie, we tie things up. Whether you’re happy about them or sad about them, the one thing you won’t say is it feels unresolved. iZombie will feel resolved. Things that we’ve been planning on that have been on our writers’ board for five seasons, we found a way to make those things happen. It was nice for the first time in my career to know that we had an endpoint and be able to write accordingly.
That must have been so much more enjoyable to actually plan for that instead of having to scramble last-minute.
Or having to write a finale that could be the end of the show or might not be — that’s a really tricky thing to write.
iZombie airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.