To inaugurate our new weekly column — all about things that we really really like, OK love — I thought that I would choose something obvious, something that I’ve been raving about for well over a year: the best show on (broadcast) TV, Veronica Mars.
Best show? Yes. And, despite that, it’s probably going away. Even though it’s pretty much garnered nothing but critical raves from the moment it debuted, the ratings have been abysmal. For example, for the week of April 3-9, it was ranked 122nd, which means that only 2.85 million viewers watched Logan accidentally execute Weevil’s revenge against Thumper. Ka-boom!
And if you don’t know what the hell that meant, I’ve got some reasons why you really should.
First, here’s why you didn’t. It’s a show about a high school girl detective. On fracking UPN. I know how lame that sounds. Even more lame than that show about the high school girl who killed vampires. But at least there were, you know, vampires. And demons. And while they were still grand metaphors for how much high school sucked, these metaphors could kill you and eat you, not necessarily in that order. Veronica Mars isn’t really about metaphors; it’s about a high school girl who solves mysteries.
It just turned out that the high school is full of the most interesting (and real-feeling) high school kids since Freaks and Geeks or My So-Called Life, and the mysteries — especially the big ones — are gripping and full of surprises.
So ignore the fact that’s its on the UPN; and ignore the fact that UPN forced stuntcasting like Paris Hilton and America’s Next Top Model contestants, and have forced creator Rob Thomas to operate on a hairline budget and dig into some of the reasons 2,850,000 of us watch this show. Almost as many reasons as there are viewers, it turns out.
Probably you shouldn’t start now; probably you should buy or Netflix the DVD, because here at the end of the second season, you’re just going to get confused. Which is a problem for the ratings, but why the fans love it: it’s multidimensional, full of twists and turns and herrings of every single color. Some of those herrings are rats. Some of the rats get blown up.
Each season of Veronica Mars has been defined by an main mystery: last year, Veronica needed to figure out who killed her best friend, Lily Kane, an event that turned her entire life to shit. It didn’t do much for Lily, either, who was a life-loving party girl we came to know in an ongoing (and sometimes heartbreaking) series of flashbacks. As Veronica began to solve little mysteries for her friends and worked on the larger mysteries, we slowly learned about the characters in her fictional So. Cal coastal uncorporated area of Neptune, home of intense class and racial divisions that continually fueled conflicts large and small.
As seemingly the only middle-class person in the entire town, Veronica started the season as the outcast daughter of the disgraced former Sheriff — who couldn’t solve the murder of the aforementioned best friend, whose father is a shadily rich software mogul — and having been heathered her out of the rich White kids clique (the 09ers), started making friends with the poor, Latino kids (the PCHers).
As the season progressed, the smaller mysteries started tying into the larger “Who Killed Lily Kane?” mystery and we were treated to a resolution that was believable, scary, and left room for a cliffhanger to boot.
While this year’s twin mysteries of the bus crash and whether or not 09er Logan killed one of the PCHers don’t quite resonate as much, it doesn’t matter, because now that we know the characters, we get to see their interactions and machinations. I think that it’s funnier this year (“Gone on a puzzling errand”) for that reason — the kind of plot and character-driven humor that the South Park guys seem to appreciate so much.
Which works out well with a huge cast of characters like this. Yes, Neptune is a small trying to-be-a-town but it’s neither charmingly quirky like Stars Hollow or Cicely nor flat-ass scary like Twin Peaks or Sunnydale. It’s just a place that has a lot of interesting, three-dimensional people, brought to life by some great actors.
So, sure, it’s a cliche to say that Kristen Bell should be nominated for a Emmy as Veronica, and even more of a cliche to point out that every time she and Jason Dohring (Logan) have a scene together we have to wipe our TV down, but it’s still true. But more than that, it’s Enrico Colantoni playing her dad Keith with just the right amount of exasperated pride. It’s Francis Capra IV playing the biker whose bark seems worse than his bite: until that moment he bites. It’s Percy Daggs III as her best friend, Wallace, the basketball star who continually takes risks for her.
And most shows wish they had such well-drawn tertiary characters like Michael Muhney’s Sheriff Lamb, who could have been just one-dimensional as Keith’s nemesis or Daran Norris’s awesome lawyer, Cliff McCormack, who provides a nice combination of comic relief and shrewd legal advice.
It’s fun to watch Veronica weave in and out of all of these men, all of whom have — at the very least — a great amount of admiration for her and her abilities. Even, or especially, as she continually pisses each and every one of them off as she outsmarts them pursuing her own agenda.
As Rox would say: did I mention how much I love this show? Here are just a couple more reasons:
- The Dandy Warhols theme song in the opening credits.
- The speedy-up then slowy down artsy camera tricks.
- Veronica as unreliable narrator, even as they have fewer and fewer voiceovers.
- The turns by Harry Hamlin, Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter and (yes, even) Steve Guttenberg
- How “High-School Noir” has already trickled into the movies.
- Oh, and Veronica’s whaaaa? face they love to use just prior to the opening credits.
While they are already setting us up for the third season in college — Veronica’s been accepted to Stanford, but probably won’t be able to pay, so I’m sure she’ll stay close by (also: no show without Keith) — I somehow doubt that the CW will pick Veronica up. There is a school of thought that it might be be a good match with the now evergreen Gilmore Girls, but I’m not so sure: nothing bad ever really happens in Stars Hollow and bad things happen all of the time in Neptune, so while there is some crossover, I’m not sure how that would work.
And I’m not even sure if I want it to come back: assuming that they wrap up this season as well as they wrapped up last season, maybe two great years is all we can ask for from a show that for a brief moment, anyways, lit up an otherwise soon-to-be forgotten, totally sucky network.
Maybe that’s all we can ask for.