Continuing my Binge-demic posts, let me move backwards to the show I watched before Korra.
There was every reason for this show to be a forgettable one-and-done gunfight and bikini action series. It was on the USA network, it’s set in Miami, fills scene transitions with shots of beautiful young girls in swimsuits walking near water, and follows all the Action TV Show Gunfight Rules.
Some of those rules:
- Concealment = Cover, except those times when Concealment =/= Cover is cooler.
- Everyone has terrible aim, except highly trained badasses (and their pals).
- It’s pretty much impossible to shoot someone while they’re running, even with automatic weapons.
- Every gunman, no matter how angry, sadistic or psychotic, will give their enemy time to say one more thing before pulling the trigger.
Person of Interest, mentioned in the previous post, had some of this too, but even that show didn’t compare to the number of bullets and bombs unleashed on Burn Notice.
What makes Burn Notice a great show is, first of all, Jeffrey Donovan. He’s electric in the lead, and to this day I don’t understand how he didn’t immediately pivot to a starring role in something else. Maybe the dude was tired and needed a break. Maybe he found greater creative fulfillment as a character actor in supporting roles, and in a Hulu series that I’ve never had the chance to see. [Added later: he was exhausted when Burn Notice ended. He was in most of the scenes, did a lot of his own fights and stunts, and was utterly worn out by the time the series wrapped.]
The premise is straight forward: Michael Weston was a spy until the CIA burned him, freezing his bank accounts and cutting off all contact. He has lost the work that defined his whole life. The subplot of each season concerns Michael’s efforts to clear his name and get himself reinstated. For the main plot In each episode, Michael uses his skills as a spy to help some ordinary person in trouble.
That makes it a heroic con artist show with car chases.
Plus, at a time when Jack Bauer was still running around interrogating people under threat of torture, the makers of Burn Notice put a little more effort into it than that. They made it clear that these weren’t bad guys being bad for good ends. When Michael and his friends were forced to do something terrible, the show never portrayed that as heroic, and the characters always paid a price.
I love the second-person voice over, the split screen sequences, the humor, the whole deal. Gabrielle Anwar is great, once she drops the accent they asked her to do in the pilot. Sharon Gless is great as Michael’s chain-smoking mother. Bruce Campbell is great and also, on occasion, subtle (if you can believe it).
So great. Love this show.
But not as much as this show.
I have all of Veronica Mars–original series, film, revival series–on disc, (rare for me–I was never a collector of dvds) and I used to own the two terrible novels. (I donated them to the library, which is how I throw away books.) One of the benefits of watching the discs is that the pilot episode is slightly extended, starting at the no-tell motel (first line is Veronica in voice-over saying I am never getting married.) instead of the school parking lot, and for once the extra scenes don’t feel like a waste of my precious time.
And yeah, that first season is iconic. The pilot has a little too much backstory to set up, and the second episode is marred by a bit of stunt casting, but both are still great. After that, it takes off running and doesn’t look back.
It was renewed for two more (excellent) seasons, despite being near the bottom of the ratings every year. I sort of hated the way the third season ended, but this was a show that put its characters through the ringer. If the last thing it made me feel was Veronica’s regret at a harm she’d caused that could never be made right, that was perfect for the overall tone of the show.
Then came the Kickstarted movie. The show had been a critical darling and retained a dedicated fanbase, so the fundraising campaign was a rousing success. And sure, people complained that the movie that came out of it had too much fan service, but it would have made a fitting (and happier) ending to Veronica Mars’s story.
But I guess the success of the crowdfunding campaign convinced someone there was an audience to be micro-marketed to, so we got two terrible novels that did not seem to understand the appeal of Veronica Mars as a character, then a new series on Hulu featuring Veronica as an adult.
Unfortunately, by the end of the Hulu series, every aspect of the original show had been brushed aside except for Veronica’s profession and her relationship with her father. Gone was Neptune High as a place where the young rich collide with the young poor. Gone was unincorporated Neptune, the place without a middle class. Gone was Wallace, Veronica’s first healthy peer relationship on the show, who is left behind in Neptune when she drives up the coast to a new case. Gone was Logan, the OTP that obsessed the most dedicated fans of the show.
Killing off Logan seems to have squelched any hopes of a fifth season. The fans were furious, and I can’t really blame them. Thomas seemed to think that the romance elements were supposed to be a C-plot, bringing a modicum of soap opera conflict to contrast with the mystery plots. No one seemed to believe Logan could function as a support character like Keith, so out he went.
Which is a shame. The setting and network of relationships are a big part of what we love about a show. You can’t just strip away that context and expect the character to thrive. If you want a brilliant, tough female private investigator in a new context, create a new one.
But still, Veronica herself is a wildly appealing character. In those first three seasons, she’s not just brilliant and funny, she’s fearless, too. Not, I mean, physically fearless. Threats of violence still terrify her, as they should. No, she’s been socially ostracized and come through it with exactly zero fucks left to give. Even when mortifying things happen to her, she refuses to be made ashamed or to back down.
That’s a powerful thing, especially for people of high school age (and near-high school age). I remain convinced that’s the secret sauce of Veronica’s appeal.
Anyway, I recommend the show, obviously. The first three seasons are genius, and the movie makes a nice little bow tie at the end. And, if you still want more of Veronica and Keith and Logan and Leo and so on, season four is only eight episodes long and has all the brilliance and wit of the previous incarnations, even if it does fundamentally break the old show and create a new one in the last twenty minutes or so.
Up next: Strange Luck and Kipo and the Wonderbeasts
Also, in case you didn’t know it, there are fewer than ten days left to pick up ONE MAN, my dark fantasy crime thriller, as a $1.99 Kindle Monthly Deal. If you like books about desperation, magic, intrigue, expeditions to mysterious islands, giant skeletons, people living inside giant skeletons, creatures made of burning iron, vampire hobbits, and also the fear of failing the one person in the whole world who relies on you, take advantage of that deal right away.