Veronica Mars: Season 4 (Hulu) — a review

VeronicaS4

Am I a Marshmallow?

This is what the fans of the television show Veronica Mars have been called. The character Wallace Fennell, one of Veronica’s few close friends, referred to Kristen Bell’s character as a “marshmallow” way back in the first episode of the series. This would have been in 2004, which was fifteen years ago, if you’re counting.

Fans of the series, and the series creators themselves, have embraced the name. The series itself had a cult following that continued to grow stronger after the series went off the air. Rumors of a possible feature film—ala the Firefly movie (Serenity)—persisted after the series cancellation, but the film didn’t happen until it was funded by the fans themselves after a Kickstarter campaign was launched in 2013. Without that movie, this fourth season of the show probably never would have been greenlit, especially more than a decade after the series ended. Hulu saw that there was still a demand for the product. So, here we are.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another season of Firefly that resurrects the characters killed off in the movie. Call me a Brownshirt, if you’d like.

None of this answers my original question, though, does it?

Am I a Marshmallow?

I’ve documented how I came around to watching the original three seasons of the series, years after it was off the air. The formerly-married team of Lani Diane Rich and Alistair Stephens talked about the show a lot on their Storywonk podcasts (back when they used to be friends). As a fellow lover of good storytelling, I took their recommendation and eventually listened to their podcast about the show as I watched it. I wasn’t disappointed. This was good television, and great storytelling.

But, I’ve never joined any fan groups for the show. I never wrote letters to the network. I also didn’t contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, although I did watch the movie. I’m thankful for the fanbase that made the movie—and this fourth season, in fact—-possible. But, I’m obviously not one of their number. Since I’m enjoying the spoils of their efforts, that would seem to make me Marshmallow-adjacent, at best.

From the very first episode of this limited-run, eight-episode fourth season, I knew that I was going to like this iteration of the series more than I did the movie. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the movie, which I talked about here. But, in many ways, the movie felt like exactly what it was, a reunion of the cast in feature-length format. In its shorter runtime (as compared to a season of episodes), it felt a little rushed at times as we shoehorned in all of our favorite characters from the original series. Plus, the plot of the movie must not have been very memorable, because I don’t remember it now, even though the season arcs of the series (at least the first two seasons) are permanently etched into my brain.

Veronica Mars needs the larger canvas of episodic television to paint its California noir story. I felt that broader big-picture scope as we eased into the first episode of the Hulu series. It was like coming home after a grueling forced absence.

I know, I’m waxing hyperbolic here. How can you not? Especially when talking about noir fiction?

Like Season 1, which was all about solving the murder of Lilly Kane, Season 4 has, at its heart, a central mystery. This time, it’s the bombing of the Sea Sprite motel in Neptune, California, during Spring Break. Among the bombing casualties are the motel owner, the nephew of a Mexican drug lord, the fiancée of the brother of an Arab-American congressman, and a douchebag frat boy. Patton Oswalt, as pizza guy Penn, also catches some shrapnel in his back as he’s leaving the motel office. As we expect from Veronica Mars, the plot thickens and the list of potential suspects quickly blossoms like a fractal snowflake.

As the season progresses, we begin to see more of the familiar faces from the original seasons, of course. But, with the longer-playing format it seems more natural, more organic, than in a movie with a 107-minute running time. Jason Dohring (Logan Echolls) and Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars) are ever-present, of course. But, so are Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas) and David Starzyk (Richard “Big Dick” Casablancas). Others roll through in a guest-star parade, such as Francis Capra‘s Eli “Weevil” Navarro, Max Greenfield‘s Leo D’Amato, Daran Norris‘s Cliff McCormack, Ken Marino‘s Vinnie Van Lowe, and Percy Daggs III‘s Wallace Fennel—just to name a few. The callbacks to vintage Veronica never seem obtrusive to me, and newcomers to the series would probably never notice. The returning cast members help maintain the verisimilitude of fictional Neptune, California, giving it a multi-dimensional backstory even while it forges ahead with new material.

Crucial to the forging-ahead is the introduction of new characters, potential suspects all. In addition to Oswalt, we get the terrific young actress Izabela Vidovic as Matty Ross, the daughter of the dead motel owner. She did a run of episodes in iZombie, another Rob Thomas series, and I think we’ll see a lot more from her in the future. Also of note are Clifton Collins Jr. and Frank Gallegos as a pair of Mexican enforcers, and Mido Hamada as Arab-American congressman Daniel Maloof. Oh, and the always magnetic J.K. Simmons as ex-con Clyde Pickett. Has Simmons ever had a role he didn’t crush?

I’m not going to spoil the season for you. There are the expected and unexpected twists and turns in the solving of the central mystery, as there should be in any good noir. And there may even be a couple of surprises if you’ve managed to ignore everything on-line or in social media. In any case, you didn’t read it here.

I believe this continuation of Veronica Mars’s story was an unqualified success. It benefited from the shorter season as well. All meat, very little self-indulgent filler. Plus, I think we’ll get to see at least one more season on Hulu. That’s not been confirmed—just a hunch.

Whatever happens, we got a Season 4, whether or not we own up to being Marshmallows.

Firewater’s Gimme-S’more-Mars Report Card: A

A

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