Veronica Mars

I’m just glad that bald dude from Just Shoot Me is working again! Phew.

By Matt Springer
September 30, 2004

There will never be another Buffy.

Let’s just say it, and get it out of the way before we launch into a detailed exploration of why Veronica Mars is a damn solid show. Because, inevitably, the words “Buffy” and “Vampire” and “Slayer” get bandied about whenever little Miss Mars comes up, and it’s not helping anyone. It’s not helping delusional TV execs, who pretend they’re willing to give a show this quirky the time and support it needs to become UPN’s signature show (as Buffy once was for the WB) when we all know Veronica Mars practically premiered with a target painted on its back. It’s not helping lazy TV reviewers who need an easy touchstone to tie around the new girl’s neck, and it’s not helping curious TV fans surfing through their Tivo wondering what they should check out this fall TV season.

Buffy is dead. Long live Buffy.

Once you’ve read the above and completed the commensurate gnashing and wailing, you can finally embrace the reality we live in now, where Veronica Mars is something worth your valuable time, and not just a cheap half-echo of one of TV’s smartest and quirkiest shows ever.

The titular character is a teenager who is blonde and snarky, hence the Buffy comparisons. She works for her dad after school at Mars Investigations, where they handle all the classic low to mid-rent stuff you’d expect a small town P.I. to get wrapped up in. But that’s not all Veronica is investigating; in fact, most of her time is spent obsessing over the murder of Lily Kane, her best friends and the sister to her ex-boyfriend. See, her dad used to be sherriff, until he fingered Lily’s father as Lily’s killer, which got him run out of office and pushed him into the private investigation business. Now a bunch of tiny details are starting to add up for Veronica, including the possible whereabouts of her missing mother, and she’s thinking that maybe her dad was right after all, and that there’s an insidious conspiracy lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface of Twin Peaks…I mean, Neptune, CA.

There are definitely faint aftershocks of that seminal Lynch/Frost series in Veronica Mars, with a tangled web of murder and lust woven around the most powerful figures in town. It’s the kind of thing that’s designed to take seasons to reveal, with just enough clues sprinkled out to keep viewers coming back for more. But where Twin Peaks operated as an ensemble drama, with eccentric figures stumbling in and out of frame week after week, Mars zeroes tightly in on its titular heroine, revealing its secrets through what Veronica knows and showing us the town largely through her fractured view.

It’s a clever storytelling twist, TV in the first person, something often attempted but rarely done well. Veronica Mars does it well, because the character is smart and funny, and because the actress portraying her (Kristen Bell) is exceptionally talented.

There’s also something to be said for the allure of a compelling fictional universe, and Veronica Mars delivers on that score as well. It’s somewhat ludicrous; the omnipresent motorcycle gang strains believability (they always seem to be everyplace at every right time!), as does Veronica’s apparent freedom to investigate lowlifes and scumbags after school as though she’s just bagging groceries at Ralph’s. If you can make a few concessions to the necessary silliness a show like this requires, it’s a fun place to spend an hour a week.

I think the continued creative success on this show will depend largely on their ability to string the central mystery along in an interesting way. If it spins out of control and offers more questions than answers, it’ll be a disaster. Alternately, if the weekly action that fills out the non-Lily Kane portions of the show fails to deliver, it’ll be hard to suffer through it just for more info on the show’s overarching plotline. So far, the episode plotlines have been okay, but nothing great; the stuff relating to the characters’ backstories and Lily Kane has been far more worthwhile. They need to deliver on both cylinders and continue to offer answers alongside the questions for Veronica Mars to earn a place in the geek pantheon.

That’s not to say it’s at all a bad show, just that it has enormous potential, which is exactly what you want from a new series. Veronica Mars goes places in an entertaining way, and yet there’s plenty more places for it to go. Let’s hope it gets to keep going for a while.

If all else fails, they can always call Nicholas Brendon in for a guest spot. I hear he’s not doing much these days. Or Anthony Stewart Head…I bet he’d be on a plane in a heartbeat.

Stupid P.S. The show even has a cool website.

Yes, I read everything on it. Nerd alert! Nerd alert!