While my internet fast continues…
Massive spoilers behind the cut, but let me summarize things quickly up front in a spoiler-free fashion: Season one is even better than I remember, with a few small missteps. The arc-long mysteries (Who killed Lilly Kane? Who raped Veronica on the night she was drugged?) are complex enough for the TV format but not as in-depth as you’d find in a novel. They’re also handled with more sensitivity than I would have expected from TV. It works. The short, episode-long mysteries are well-handled, varied enough to stay interesting, and humane.
But the real strengths of the show are the performances, especially Bell’s and Colantoni’s, and the way the relationships between the characters are handled. If you haven’t watched the show yet, you really should. The discs are on Netflix and WB is hosting the episodes online (provided you live in the “correct” parts of the world”. The pilot is a little heavy on the flashbacks, but the complex setup is necessary. Stick with it.
Let’s do spoilers:
Some time ago I thought up a quick test to tell whether a book aspired to be straight genre or to be considered literary, as long as the book had a fist fight. The test: did the protagonist win the fight? If so, it’s going for genre protocols. If not, it has literary aspirations.
See: any Jack Reacher novel vs. The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
Anyway, VERONICA MARS is a genre show, in that the lead character is both competent and potent. She does the things that need doing and she does them well. There are no punches thrown, obviously, but she outthinks, outwits and outplans everyone around her and it is SO satisfying.
If that were the end of it, it would be an average show in the usual genre, but there are a number of things that make it stand out from the rest.
First is Bell’s performance in the lead. She’s fantastic from first to last, portrays a wide range of emotional states and does so with nuance. She’s not just good-looking and funny, she’s charismatic and complex.
To match with her is Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars, her father. Like Veronica, he’s competent and potent but in an offbeat affecting way. What’s more, his relationship with his daughter is the heart of the show. I’m not sure there’s ever been a more appealing dad on TV. The two of them are great together.
Also, the show treats the characters humanely and with respect. Every private investigator story is about revealing people’s most closely held secrets, and it’s trivially easy to find examples where those secrets reveal the characters as hypocrites, creeps, or generally awful people. On VERONICA MARS, you still meet bad people (there are quite a few outright villains) but no one is mocked because they are different. Instead of being an invitation to judgement, the investigations on the show reveal complexity in a sympathetic way.
Let me tell you when I had signed on for real. In an early episode, a nerdy kid at Veronica’s school asks her to help him find his father. In fact, his father is dead, but he doesn’t mention that; he just wants an excuse to talk to a beautiful girl at school. When Veronica finds out he’s been playing her, she’s furious… at which point they get a ping back on their investigation. The nerd’s father, long thought to be dead, is actually alive.
The final scene of that episode (I know I warned about spoilers but you’ll just have to watch it) sold me on the show. I missed the pilot when it first aired, but that ep did it for me.
How can you tell a villain in the show? They’re the ones who dehumanize others or treat them as though they don’t deserve respect. The main recurring villain in the show is Sheriff Don Lamb, an insensitive prick and entirely mediocre cop who spends every scene he’s in vying for status and showing his contempt. He’s the one shitheel who lasts the whole season and remains unredeemed.
And then there’s Logan Echols.
He starts off in the pilot as a truly vicious asshole: he’s racist, obnoxious, and determined to spread as much misery as possible. Really, he’s a shitty human being and a regular foil for Veronica. The two of them had been friends once, but since the murder he’s treated her like shit.
Then, the show spends the rest of the season delving into his life, showing him in a sympathetic light here and there. We see his pain over Lilly’s murder, meet his horrendously fucked up family, and slowly, slowly see him as a more complex character who might seem to have it all but who really has nothing.
And then he and Veronica end up together.
This is one of the questionable choices for the first season, the others being the stunt-casting of Paris Hilton in episode 2 and the Keith/Felicia relationship which makes zero sense considering the first half of the season. Knowing how Veronica and Logan end up in the final episodes makes the first few especially painful. He’s such an abusive asshole it’s painful to see them together.
To it’s credit the show gets this, too. Veronica is rightfully wary with him and with his whole troubled bad-boy persona. Still… still, it gives me the creeps.
Anyway, there’s a lot of things this show gets right, from the viciousness of teenagers to the way slut-shaming works to the creepy school politics. Also, the solution to the murder was great.
So! Wonderful acting, humane choices, interesting season-long mystery, terrific episode-long ones, great writing. It’s really not a show you want to miss.
And I didn’t even talk about Wallace. Wallace is so important; there’s no show without him.