TV: Veronica Mars

Over the past several weeks, Jenn and I caught up on the third and final season of Veronica Mars (2004-2007), and we finished off the final episodes during the England trip, watching the DVDs on our laptops.

Veronica Mars is one of the best shows you’ve never heard about. Set in Neptune, California, a southern California town with a profoundly noticeable and contentious class divide, the show centers around the eponymous Veronica (Kristen Bell), a sharp-tongued, quick-witted, and outrageously resourceful teenage investigator, who goes to high school by day and solves mysteries by night…er, well, actually 24-7. As the show begins, Veronica is still recovering from the trauma of losing her best friend Lily Kane (Amanda Seyfried) to a horrible murder. Veronica’s father Keith (the absolutely wonderful Enrico Colantoni) was the sheriff of Neptune at the time, but went after the wrong suspect, pissed off the wrong people, and lost his job in the process. By standing by her father, Veronica lost most of her friends, ousted from the in-crowd of rich and powerful kids from the wealthy side of town, including her ex-boyfriend, Lily’s brother Duncan (Teddy Dunn), and Lily’s boyfriend, volatile celebrity brat Logan (Jason Dohring). A woman without a caste in a highly stratified community, Veronica takes solace in helping out her father with his PI cases, and running her own side business at school, straddling the line between the haves and have-nots with her one kindred spirit, stand-up guy Wallace (Percy Daggs III).

In its first two seasons, the show managed the nifty trick of presenting in each episode a clever mystery-of-the-week for Veronica to solve, while simultaneously advancing an overarching, season-long mystery plot. While it’s hard not to feel that the first season’s larger story was more successful — indeed, I’d rank it among my favorite seasons of any show, ever — ultimately both the first and second seasons are very satisfying:  intricate, clever, funny, and addictive TV, not unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its fun, compelling story-telling.

Season three, which sees Veronica off to college, isn’t nearly as successful, partly because of network interference; evidently, changes were demanded to “help the ratings.” Unfortunately, this involved eliminating the season-long story arc, playing up the weekly “A-story,” and drawing out a particular relationship storyline ad naseum.  Sadly, nerfing Veronica Mars not only didn’t help the ratings, but it may have driven away some of the faithful.  It’s a hugely unfortunate fate for a show that deserved better.

Even so, I would hesitate to say the show jumped the shark, even if it was marched to the shark at gunpoint. The third season has its moments, and by and large it stays true to the spirit of the series so brilliantly established in its earlier hours. To the end, the show had mystery, humor, heart, and charm to burn. I suppose a show could do worse than to leave you wanting more. Farewell, Veronica!

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