Rob Thomas was the king of the 2014 SXSW Film Festival: The world premiere of his hotly-anticipated, Kickstarter-fueled Veronica Mars movie was a triumph. That premiere celebrated both the enthusiasm for his much-beloved blonde female detective and the new model of film financing that Thomas pioneered—appealing directly to fans for the funding of passion projects, a method since employed by everyone from Zach Braff to Spike Lee. (See Jason Cohen’s Texas Monthly feature, “How Rob Thomas Changed The Movie Business,” for more.)
That bit of prologue is useful, in that it highlights how unexpected it is that Thomas would return triumphantly to SXSW this year with an entirely new concept. This time, he’s back on television, with a series for the CW called iZombie, which held its first public screening of the pilot on Monday afternoon, with Thomas and the full cast in tow.
iZombie followed its SXSW premiere with its broadcast premiere quickly—it aired on the CW on Tuesday night, and the full episode can be seen here—and at the screening, Thomas explained that rushing back to television almost a year to the day after the Veronica Mars premiere wasn’t really on his radar a year ago, either.
But Veronica Mars’ s legacy runs deep, and the CW held the rights to iZombie, based on the Vertigo comic book series of the same name, and they had Thomas in mind. During the Q&A after the screening, Thomas explained that the network courted him repeatedly in a quest to recruit him to give the network its next great Veronica or Buffy.
To that end, iZombie isn’t really a zombie series, at least not recognizably so to fans of pure zombie television like The Walking Dead: there has been no apocalypse, there are no mindless “walkers” storming the landscape, and the FX and makeup teams are not dedicated to finding the finest ways to simulate rotting, decomposing flesh. Instead, iZombie stars Rose McIver as Liv Moore (get it?), a medical intern who, after attending a party with some very special designer drugs, finds herself among the undead. Abandoning her dream of being a surgeon, McIver instead takes a job at the morgue, where she has access to the freshest source of zombie fuel: Braaaaaaaains.
The hook of iZombie is that, after Liv eats a brain (with Sriracha, naturally), she receives some of the memories, skills, and personality traits of the person to whom the grey matter belonged. This makes her invaluable to police looking to solve the murder of the brain-donor, and offers iZombie its throughline: Thomas is largely uninterested in mysticism or the supernatural, but he knows how to deliver a sassy blonde detective with an arch sense of humor who narrates her adventures following a very sudden and very dramatic life-changing event.
Watching iZombie, the aggressive courtship of Thomas by the CW makes sense—Liv Moore isn’t Veronica Mars, but if the two ended up on a case together, they’d probably have a lot to talk about—and it makes his return to SXSW with something entirely new just a year after premiering a game-changing film at the festival a logical choice, too: Veronica Mars played to a packed crowd in Thomas’s hometown, so why wouldn’t iZombie be a hit at the festival, too?
The CW series entered the festival with less fanfare than Mars, of course, and the screening—with a Monday afternoon timeslot—was not as hot a ticket as Veronica’s world premiere. But it was less than 36 hours from iZombie belonging to the world, anyway. At SXSW, Thomas returned to give audiences an all-new detective to fall in love with, and the entertainment landscape is better for it.
(Photo by Hal Horowitz/Invision for BuzzFeed/AP Images)