Recently, I was reading up on the proper way to write reviews of television shows. It seems that this has become an interest of mine, both watching and reviewing, and I thought that I might make the attempt to do it correctly, as the professionals might.
One of the rules that stuck out to me was that I should leave the word “I” out of my reviews. The review is not about me, and referring to myself at all is tantamount to authorial intrusion. It makes the review seem biased rather than objective and academic.
Apparently, I’m neither proper, nor good at rule-following, nor unbiased. Any review written by me is, in part, about me (he said, un-narcissisticly) because the views, and review, are mine. I am the lens through which the show is viewed, until the reader watches the show for themselves and forms their own opinions.
Okay, now that the disclaimer portion of this review is out of the way, I want to give my heartfelt apology to Rob Thomas, the creator of the television show Veronica Mars (not the Matchbox 20 singer—E
gads!). I am one of the reasons the show was canceled after three seasons for poor ratings, because I never watched a single episode until recently. In my defense, this has been my modus operandi until only recent years because I never seemed to have time to be a regular TV viewer. Netflix, DVD sets and now other streaming services have allowed me to catch up on a lot of what I initially missed. Now, that includes Veronica Mars.
I finished watching the first season yesterday.
How did I find out about the show? Well, I guess I was always aware of it as a thing. It premiered in 2004, the same year I helped to open a brand new Target store here in central Arkansas and was working more hours than I care to count now that I am free of the clutches of retailing management. It was on what was then the UPN and soon to be the CW. Even back in 2004, I knew that I was much older than the show’s targeted demographic, and, frankly, I had no interest in it.
You would think that I’d learn that this is the wrong mindset after doing the same thing with other shows that I later loved like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville. But, I’m still guilty of this today. When I see commercials for shows such as Teen Wolf or Pretty Little Liars (to name just two I’ve never watched), I just know that they’re not meant for me. Time will tell.
What led me to watching Veronica was the power of suggestion, via podcasts. For a while, I listened to the Smodco podcast Nooner, which was co-hosted by Dan Etheridge, who had been a producer on Veronica as well as, I think, another Rob Thomas-created show called Party Down. Etheridge talked about the show a lot, as I recall, as did others on the podcast. I filed it away as something I might want to watch later.
It was later, after I became a fan of the StoryWonk podcast Dusted, about Buffy and Angel, that I discovered the same team had produced a podcast for the Veronica Mars show. Alistair Stephens and Lani Diane Rich had also made comments comparing Veronica favorably to Buffy, so I made up my mind to both watch the show and listen to their podcast about it.
Which brings me to here, at the end of the first season.
The show is now 13 years old, but I’m giving you a SPOILER WARNING anyway. I’m probably going to reveal plot points that I shouldn’t. So, go watch the 22-episode first season and then get back to me.
You’re back? Good.
I’ve heard it said that the Buffy show was started by Joss Whedon as an extended “high school as Hell” metaphor. Veronica Mars is similar, only with the “high school as noir” slant.
The first season is constructed around a central mystery, the murder of Veronica’s best friend Lily Kane, a free-spirited rich wild child played in flashback by Amanda Seyfried. Each episode touches on some portion of the central mystery, even if only tangentially, but the murder and its aftermath are always on your mind, even if the story-of-the-day is about a stolen dog.
Simply put, Lily’s murder changed Veronica’s life. Prior to the crime, her father had been town sheriff, but when his investigation into Lily’s death led him to the conclusion that somehow her family was involved, he was unceremoniously drummed out of office, forced to become a private investigator to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Veronica was ostracized by all of her old friends, the rich kids of the fictitious 90909 zipcode—the 0-Niners—and her alcoholic mother abandoned her and her dad. Prior to Lily’s death, Veronica had been dumped by her boyfriend, Lily’s brother Duncan Kane, for unknown reasons (another mystery). As the series opens, this is all backstory and is revealed in the first episode, along with another mystery which involves Veronica losing her virginity after being roofied and raped at an 0-Niner party.
I admit that I’m a sucker for a good mystery, which is what Veronica Mars is at heart. Dumping all of these mysteries on a viewer like me is a great way to pique my interest and keep me watching. I looked forward to each show of this first season.
Like any good noir story, this one is largely about setting. Fictional Neptune, California, is a coastal town, somewhere near San Diego and Tijuana, populated by the super-rich and those who work for them. As sheriff’s daughter (later p.i.’s daughter), Veronica is definitely in the latter category, though her former circle of friends was made up of the wealthy aforementioned 0-Niners. Much of the show’s dramatic tension is built around this dichotomy.
During the first episode, Veronica makes a new friend, Wallace Fennell (Percy Daggs III), and we are introduced to Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra), the leader of the Latino biker gang, the PCHers, who will also become a Veronica ally and a central figure in the Lily Kane mystery. Already, Veronica is building her own Scooby Gang, ala Buffy. Later, the gang will be joined by Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie (Tina Majorino) who is the quirky computer genius of the group; in other words, the Willow.
At a cursory glance, it would be easy to mistake the interplay between Veronica and Wallace as something from a Disney series at first. Ironically, Kristen Bell voiced Princess Anna in Disney’s Frozen and its sequels. But, make no mistake about it, this is not a Disney series. In my new opinion, it’s not even meant for the ages its central characters are playing, although that may just be me being curmudgeonly. The themes are adult ones throughout.
Other characters of note include Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn), Veronica’s ex-boyfriend and Lily’s brother, who has the distinction of being probably the least interesting character in the cast; Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), the bad-boy son of A-list actor Aaron Echolls (Harry Hamlin) and arguably the most charismatic of the 0-Niners; Sheriff Don Lamb (Michael Muhney) who replaced Keith Mars after he was run out of office, and who is both inept and crooked; Jake and Celeste Kane (Kyle Secor and Lisa Thornhill), Lily and Duncan’s parents and central conspirators in the mystery; and Abel Koontz (Christian Clemenson) who falsely confessed to Lily’s murder.
There are many others who could be mentioned, including Lisa Rinna, Harry Hamlin’s real-life wife who plays his wife in the show, or Alyson Hannigan (Willow!) in her recurring role as Logan’s sister Trina.
I’m giving Enrico Colantoni his own paragraph for his role as Keith Mars, Veronica’s dad. He is, in most ways, as central to the plot of the first season as Veronica herself, the good man of noir convention who has to fight against the evils of corruption that surround him. Colantoni dominates most of the scenes in which he appears and is an innately likeable actor. I was familiar with him from his later work, mainly as the character Elias on Person of Interest, but also from his pre-Veronica role in that sitcom Just Shoot Me, even though I had to be reminded of the fact through an Internet search. I enjoy every scene that includes Keith Mars.
But, no bones about it, the star of the show is the eponymous Veronica Mars. She is as much a private investigator as her father is, and, regardless of the precarious situations in which she finds herself, she is never the damsel-in-distress. She is strong, smart and resourceful throughout the series, a character both admired and often feared by others, and for good reason.
The murder of Lily Kane is solved at the end of the first season. By Veronica, of course. And the killer is—
Okay, I’m not going to spoil that. I’ll just say that the writers of the show played fair and gave us all the clues (although not all at once), and the answers to the central mysteries, which grow to include the question of Veronica’s paternity, are all revealed satisfactorily.
I liked the first season of Veronica Mars. A lot. I’m just curious as to where it will go from here.