I asked for advice and you advised! After a truly generous outpouring of recommendations and opinions, I began marathoning Veronica Mars! Obviously it's taking me longer than expected (April is part of the holiday season, right?), but now I'm hooked and I have you to thank.
There seems to be a current debate about whether it's okay to review a serialized TV series before we've seen its conclusion. Recently The Wire creator David Simon admonished viewers for analyzing the show before they'd seen exactly how his novelistic seasons concluded. Those who would agree with him have likened episodic coverage to passing judgment on a book after only having read three chapters. But first of all, tons of great literature was published in serialized form (Dickens knows what I'm talking about). Any installment-based storytelling, whether it's a chapter of Great Expectations or a typical episode of The Vampire Diaries, is designed to leave you with a positive judgment of what you've seen so that you'll continue to consume the story. So yeah, sorry Mr. Simon. Don't invite judgment and then claim you shouldn't be judged! Plus, this is the internet, it's built on a foundation of snap judgments.
All of this is a complicated way of saying, I am now going to review Veronica Mars episode-by-episode! Deal w/it.
Plus, in anticipation of Veronica Mars' April 15 debut on SOAPnet, I feel like it's suddenly timely again to get a conversation going about this show. If you're anything like me you somehow missed and/or slept through the entirety of Veronica Mars' original run from 2004-2007. It's not really our fault, it was on a crazy low-rated network (something called a "UPN"?) and it got low ratings even for them. But Veronica Mars ended up developing what TV professors might refer to as a "cult following" based on its whip-smart dialogue, enthralling mysteries both standalone and overarching, plus the irresistible charms of its leading lady Kristen Bell.
Veronica Mars told the saga of a teenage private investigator who regularly took on pro bono cases in her spare time while trying to solve a few essential mysteries of her own. In retrospect, the series was ahead of its time in that procedural-serial hybrids are now pretty popular with networks (see Person of Interest, Fringe, etc.). It afforded viewers the satisfaction and closure of standalone cases while keeping people invested over the long-haul. I'm not sure why the two-pronged addictive nature of Veronica Mars didn't attract a wider audience, but the premise remains a solid, accessible idea and the series definitely still holds up.
Full disclosure: I'm only eight episodes deep! But boy do I have some snap judgments and first impressions to declare.
Up until I watched the first episode, I had next to no feelings about Kristen Bell. For someone so gorgeous, something about her face was just so unmemorable to me. I feel like I'd forget about her whenever I wasn't looking directly at her. But now I know why she's so widely adored: Lady is hilarious. As a lead character around whom the show is built, Veronica Mars is clever, vulnerable, confident, sad, and all the other personality traits that make a person real and compelling. So yeah, I need no more evidence of Kristen Bell's greatness. Veronica Mars is the Patient Zero of Kristen Bell's infectious charms.
As for the other characters, they're peppered throughout the hateable-to-likeable spectrum, and they're almost all perfectly cast. For instance (and again, just going off of first impressions here), has there ever been a more loathsome character than Logan?
He's basically unbearable so far! That yellow SUV! That puka-shell necklace! Ugh, the worst.
And Veronica's ex-boyfriend Duncan is basically the textbook definition of "peaked in high school."
Weevil's definitely a character for the pantheon of unconvincing TV thugs, but the actor Francis Capra makes him pretty sympathetic.
Still not sure what the point of Wallace is. I guess he is just a good sidekick for Veronica to speak exposition to? I don't know. He's fine.
And maybe this impression will change, but am I supposed to be annoyed by Lilly Kane? I mean, Amanda Seyfried is great and she was the first of many actors I had no idea were on this show. Same with Kyle Secor from Homicide! In fact, the cast is so stocked with talented people (and future stars), I'm just gonna have to point them out on an episode-by-episode basis. But back to what I was saying, the more flashbacks we see of Lilly Kane, the more I'm convinced that she was murdered through a group effort by the entirety of Neptune. Relax, Lilly Kane!
And finally, just to get ALL of my sacrilegious beliefs out of the way up front: So far I do not care for Keith Mars. Enrico Colantoni is too young and his performance is slightly too smarmy for my tastes. And am I crazy or is the sexual tension between him and his daughter kind of off-putting? Maybe he will win me over later, but for now I am not friending, following, or subscribing to Keith Mars.
However I do LOVE his apartment building:
What kind of rent do they pay?!
And the last thing I need to talk about up front is... I know 2004 doesn't seem like a long time ago, but apparently it happened during the '90s? This show is SO '90s! Why didn't any of you tell me this? From Veronica's collection of chokers to the Dandy Warhols theme song to all the funky camera styles, the first few episodes of Veronica Mars are so dated they felt like Reality Bites, Jr.
Fortunately I loved the '90s, so no harm no foul! Anyway, none of these complaints are deal-breakers, I'm just recording some first impressions in order to see how they change by the time I've seen everything.
All right, let's do this:
Case of the week: The first episode of Veronica Mars set up a daunting amount of storylines. Even the "case of the week" plotline had an impact on the overall story in that it introduced important characters and relationships. Basically: Veronica arrived at her bright 'n shiny Southern California high school to find a young guy duct-taped to a flag pole. Cementing our suspicion that Veronica's a rebel who doesn't give an F about what her peers think of her, she marched right up to the kid (Wallace) and cut him down, thus earning a friend and sidekick for life. It turned out he'd been harassed by a biker gang for snitching, but by the end of the episode Veronica managed to get the bikers off Wallace's case, befriend their leader Weevil, and even get them off the hook for their alleged crimes, thus earning backup for life.
The plot thickens: As for the series plotlines, SO MUCH was set up in this episode. Before the story even began, Veronica's wealthy best friend Lilly Kane was brutally murdered (we only see Lilly Kane in candy-colored flashbacks), and Veronica's then-sheriff father Keith Mars refused to drop the investigation against Lilly's well-to-do father. So of course he lost his job and became a pariah, Veronica lost her social circle (and her boyfriend Duncan, Lilly's brother), and Veronica's mother split town out of embarrassment. Oh AND Veronica had been drugged and raped at a party. Yep, they just threw that in there also. All that happened before the episode even started! By the end of the pilot Veronica had taken to doing some freelance private investigation work (her father's current profession) and discovered a link between Lilly Kane's father and her own mother.
Stars of tomorrow: Amanda Seyfried! She only appeared in flashbacks, sure, but like Laura Palmer before her, sometimes a dead girl can loom large.
Signs it's 2004: I mean...
Episode verdict: Like with the first episodes of many great shows, this one suffered a bit from pilot-itis. The amount of information I was asked to process was sort of overwhelming. Fortunately Veronica's voiceover was snappy and informational in an engaging way. The episode was a dense 42 minutes, but pretty fun right off the bat.
Case of the week: Veronica's new biker gang friend Weevil got framed for credit card fraud, which somehow resulted in his grandmother going to jail! It didn't take long for Veronica to figure out his cousin had been the culprit and he'd done it to impress a rich blonde girl who bore a striking resemblance to Paris Hilton.
The plot thickens: The big piece of evidence Veronica discovered was a set of red-light photos that proved Lilly Kane was alive at the time of her official time of death. Whoops! Corruption was afoot. Also, Veronica found herself joining the school newspaper, sharing personal space with her ex-boyfriend Duncan, and sharing some flirtations with the new guy in school Troy.
Stars of tomorrow:
Sydney Tamiia Poitier (daughter of Sidney) was billed as a series regular but her part as the newspaper's faculty adviser has been super tiny so far. She went on to star in Quentin Tarantino's way underrated Death Proof.
Signs it's 2004:
Veronica's ho-hat. Also:
Episode verdict: Unfortunately, I definitely didn't care about Weevil's credit card fraud issues, but the episode was totally redeemed by Veronica's high school experiences. My favorite element of this show so far is the fact that Veronica had a past life as a boring, overachieving goody-goody. We only see that version of her in flashbacks, but that's clearly how most of her classmates still view her. So whenever we get glimpses of how she's reconciling the past with the present, it can be really moving. Her awkward ride home with Duncan in this episode was particularly great: Just when it seemed like maaaybe they could slip back into old habits, they got pulled over and separated by their respective parents. There's just no going back.
Case of the week: This was a pretty great case: A dorky kid conspired to spend more time with Veronica by hiring her to find his biological dad (whom he believed to be dead) and whose name was John Smith. Hoping for a prolonged, fruitless effort during which he could continue burning mix CDs for Veronica, the kid was instead informed that his father was still alive and was now a she. And she had been visiting him at his video store job in secret just to make sure he was doing okay. It was actually pretty powerful!
The plot thickens: In another great plotline, Duncan decided to stop taking his anti-depressants and he started having feelings for Veronica again. The downside was that he began to hallucinate encounters with his dead sister (she mentioned that her secret would be revealed), so it was back on pills he went! Meanwhile Veronica reluctantly began to return Troy's advances when she realized Duncan wasn't into her anymore.
Stars of tomorrow:
Signs it's 2004:
Lotta blond tips.
And puka-shell necklaces??
Episode verdict: This one was not only packed with mystery and satisfying reveals, it approached My So-Called Life levels of teen angst. So good.
Case of the week: One of the more hilariously elaborate scams I've ever heard of: A computer criminal was hiring actors to "pretend" to scam women by telling the actors they were on a hidden camera show and to just pass along the cash, thank you. (I'm not really sure.) All that mattered was that at one point Veronica dressed up like a Japanese schoolgirl to infiltrate an arcade and then later impersonated a sexy nerd, broke into a dorm room, stole the criminal's hard drives, and held them for ransom. And all so that Wallace could impress a new lady friend. Complicated, but fun.
The plot thickens: In flashbacks we saw much more of the impact Lilly had on Veronica's previous life: Encouraging her to attend dances, wear sexier dresses, make out in limos, things like that. Meanwhile Veronica helped Logan put together a more accurate video tribute to Lilly (for a fountain dedicated to her memory) by including tons of Girls Gone Wild-type footage, to the gathered crowd's delight. Interestingly enough, Weevil looked a little too emotional at the memorial.
Signs it's 2004:
Obviously technology is the biggest offender in dating a TV show, but few things are as glaring as old Apple technology. These translucent acrylic flatscreen monitors in the journalism room were especially distracting to me. (And check out what looks to be genuine Amanda Seyfriend home video footage. Charming!)
Episode verdict: The case of the week was a lot of fun, but I definitely started feeling a bit of Lilly Kane fatigue by the end of the episode. She seemed kind of obnoxious? Still though, I love the idea that her spirit rubbed off on Veronica, turning a mousy blonde into the kickass spy she came to be. The closing shot of her running away from Troy's limo only to strip down and wade out into the ocean was a truly memorable and touching moment.
Case of the week: During a routine party weekend in Tijuana, Logan, Troy, and a friend managed to get their car stolen, including the friend's piñata full of steroids! Veronica ended up fixing things with the scary bodybuilder dude who was waiting for his shipment, but also made a heartbreaking discovery in the process: Her new boyfriend Troy was a liar and a drug dealer. Fortunately, just as he skipped town believing he'd pulled one over on Veronica, he discovered that she was a few steps ahead of him and had replaced his stolen drugs with taffy. Foiled!
The plot thickens: In going through her mother's things, Veronica discovered a key to a safe deposit box. At the bank she opened the box and discovered surveillance photos of herself! What did it mean? Later we heard a voicemail from Veronica's mom assuring her that she's alive and answers will be forthcoming... someday.
Stars of tomorrow:
Signs it's 2004:
What even IS that thing?
It's not just that Postal Service was playing, Troy and Veronica actually discussed how much they both liked Postal Service. Also, this screengrab is my best attempt at showing you the really bad green screening used during Veronica Mars' driving scenes.
Episode verdict: I definitely didn't see the Troy twist coming, and I felt really bad for Veronica. Up until this point I was rooting for him to be a good guy! Sure, he started off as an annoyingly horny-all-the-time bro, but he was pretty charming too. The fact that he was a bad guy all along just proved to me that this show might just have some tricks up its sleeves.
Case of the week: Couple of school-related cases: First, Veronica helped a misfit run for class president against the popular kids' chosen candidate, Duncan Kane. When Duncan (who was tricked into running in the first place) won under suspicious circumstances, Veronica uncovered a Logan-orchestrated election fraud. Unfortunately the outsider candidate ended up being a reprehensible snitch and Veronica accepted Duncan's victory with a sense of relief (especially after he immediately enacted some outsider-inclusive legislation). Oh, and also, we met Logan's parents, a famous movie star dad and a Real Housewife-type mom (Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna, respectively), who were not pleased when Logan got involved in a bum-fighting ring. We learned later that Logan's dad beats him up a ton.
The plot thickens: Veronica's sleuthing in the Lilly Kane case primarily related to the shaky confession by the strange man who'd admitted to killing Lilly. The main point of weakness in his confession was the fact that some of Lilly's shoes were found at the man's residence when crime scene photos proved they were in Lilly's bedroom at the time of the investigation. Conspiracy!
Stars of tomorrow:
Jane Lynch played a surprisingly serious (and unpleasant) administrator in this episode, a far cry from the strict-yet-hilarious Sue Sylvester in Glee. Also, like Ryan Hansen, Lynch would go on to re-team with showrunner Rob Thomas for Party Down.
Signs it's 2004:
I'd forgotten that videotaped "bum fights" were a thing once! Of course Logan was into them.
Episode verdict: The twist that heroic outsider Wanda was not what she seemed was yet another turn I didn't see coming. Plus, I liked the idea that Duncan seems like a good guy who's at the mercy of his father's and his friends' wishes. Another fun and solid episode.
Case of the week: When a pregnant girl in the building went missing, Veronica suspected the artist boyfriend might've offed her. Unfortunately we learned the girl merely ran away in order to deal with the fact that her stepdad had raped her. Good times! Meanwhile Logan and Weevil spent some quality time together in detention. At one point they teamed up to prank the teacher and it was touching how they looked out for each other. But then Logan took issue with Weevil's "Lilly" tattoo and their burgeoning friendship evaporated.
The plot thickens: Veronica helped an alumnus dig up old photos of the Class of '79 and discovered that her mother dated Jake Kane back in the day. Also we learned that Duncan had broken up with Veronica well before Lilly Kane's death (I'd assumed they broken up due to grief and/or Veronica's dad pressing the Kanes too hard). I wonder why??
Stars of tomorrow:
Future Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain! 2011 was a huge year for her with Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help all opening within weeks of each other, but apparently up until then she was just another struggling young actress appearing on UPN procedurals! Who knew?
Signs it's 2004:
More technology giveaways. But seriously, remember when phones didn't have full-color displays? Ugh, if time travel were a thing I would never go back in time. Now I can't help but think how much easier Veronica's investigations would've been if she'd had an iPhone.
Episode verdict: I gotta admit, I found the main plot more interesting than the case of the week. Not my favorite episode, but still totally watchable.
Case of the week: The whole school was thrown into a tizzy when everyone's results from an online purity test were sold for $10 a pop. Veronica agreed to get to the bottom of things when both she and a popular girl named Meg were slandered with fake results that made them seem sluttier than they were. The culprit ended up being another jealous girl (big surprise!) with an assist from the studly French IT guy. Meanwhile Keith Mars helped Wallace's mom evict a no-good, deadbeat tenant.
The plot thickens: Veronica confronted the man who claimed to have murdered Lilly Kane and it was scary!
Not only did he see through Veronica's ruse (she'd arrived in disguise), he gloated over the murder and also claimed out loud what the show had hinted at: Jake Kane might be Veronica's biological father!
Stars of tomorrow:
Maybe Tina Majorino was already famous from her child actor days and also Napoleon Dynamite. Still, nice to see such a familiar face, even though her character wasn't exactly the most convincing cyberpunk to appear on network TV.
Signs it's 2004:
An entire plotline based around an online purity test? Again, I remember taking that thing in the '90s!
Episode verdict: Great episode. The high school scandals were fun and surprising, while the Lilly Kane investigation took a turn for the serious. And to think I'd been so proud of myself for suspecting the Jake Kane paternity thing (so that's why Duncan dumped her without explanation! He discovered he'd been dating his own sister!), but now that this episode explicitly confirmed it, I'm pretty sure it's a red herring. It can't be that easy, right? I'm starting to suspect this show is pretty tricky.
Regardless of its central puzzle, the most memorable element was Veronica's emotional breakdown in her car after hearing that revelation. It was the first time we'd seen such a raw display of emotion from our intrepid heroine, so it was as unsettling as it was heartbreaking. Poor Veronica!
So eight episodes down, tons more to go! I know I've only scratched the surface of this series, but I'm really into it so far. You guys were right, Veronica Mars is terrific!
... Which episode got you officially hooked on this show?
... How great is Kristen Bell?
... Who was your favorite Season 1 guest star?