Veronica Mars, take two
Following on from my previous post, I ploughed through the remainder of Season 2 of Veronica Mars last night and this morning. And my opinions are largely unchanged: the same strengths and weaknesses that I outlined last night remained till the end. A more detailed explanation is in order, however.
The show is set in the (imaginary) small town of Neptune, home of dodgy millionaires and their snotty children, as well as the less well-off. The show looks at this “class divide” from the perspective of Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), a teenager who used to be in with the popular crowd until a series of unfortunate happenings resulted in her being ostracised by her so-called friends. She and her parents ended up becoming virtual social pariahs after her sheriff father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), put the blame for the murder of Veronica’s best friend, Lily (Amanda Seyfried), on her father… sorry, all these relationships are really complicated. Mrs. Mars ran off, Keith lost his job and ended up making a living as a private investigator, and Veronica, no longer on the in-crowd, helped him out.
That was Season 1. As Season 2 begins, the previous year’s various cases have been wrapped up. Lily’s killer (I’m not saying who, for those who haven’t seen Season 1) is behind bars, and Veronica has managed to regain much of her cred with the in-crowd. Tensions between the haves and the have-nots are at an all-time high, though, and Veronica finds herself stuck right in the middle. She soon has other problems to contend with, though, including a bus full of children from her school hurtling off a cliff for seemingly no reason… a bus that she should have been on. Did someone want her dead, and did it have anything to do with the events of the previous year?
I’ll give creator Rob Thomas and his writers credit for one thing: they know how to capture the audience’s interest. Whatever flaws the show might have, it has a very addictive quality. There are always unanswered questions, meaning that there’s always something to entice you to go straight to the next episode as soon as the current one finishes. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, upon which this show was clearly quite heavily modelled, it follows a conventional structure of most episodes having their own self-contained cases, with a couple of larger mysteries being played out over the course of the season’s 22 episodes. The “cases of the week” vary in terms of quality, but most of them do a commendable job of trying to do something unexpected… although not always successfully. The main case, meanwhile, has a decent line-up of potential suspects, including both new and old characters. The complex relationships between the various characters, meanwhile, provide ample scope for secrets, lies and intrigue, even if the soap opera elements to tend to become a little unbelievable in their complexity.
What doesn’t work, though, is that I really struggle to relate to the characters, understand what they see in each other, or even like the majority of them in the slightest. Veronica begins the season in the arms of the obnoxious Logan (Jason Dohring), before promptly ditching him for her previous boyfriend, Logan’s best friend Duncan (Teddy Dunn). By the end of the season, she’s back with Logan again. (See what I meant about the ridiculousness of the soap elements?) Logan is the sort of creep that you’d actually cross the street to avoid, making Veronica’s attraction to him decidedly implausible, while Veronica spends most of her waking hours being so sarcastic to everyone she comes into contact with that it’s a wonder she has any friends at all. Of all the regular characters, the most likeable is Keith Mars, with Colantoni’s performance being by far the best on the show.
There are also some rather irritating continuity issues, with character developments and plot threads being introduced in one episode, only to promptly be forgotten for extended periods. Early in the season, for example, Veronica’s friend Wallace’s (Percy Daggs) estranged father shows up, and various events lead to father and son eloping together. Wallace is out of the picture for several episodes, before promptly returning, and the business with his father, and his disappearance, never being dealt with. In Buffy, or other US shows I enjoy like Alias, you generally get the sense that everything that happens to the characters is working towards some sort of master plan, or at least that they are adding to their life experience and allowing them to develop, even if only in minute ways. With Veronica Mars, that sort of long-term planning doesn’t seem to exist, at least not to the same extent.
Broadly speaking, though, I can understand why this show has so many ardent followers, and I certainly enjoyed watching both seasons (I’ll probably pick up Season 3 when it comes out on DVD, but it doesn’t appear to air in the UK and I’m not obsessive enough to be motivated to download the episodes as they air in the US). It features the same cheery, irreverent take on film noir that Buffy did with horror, and as such, I can see it appealing to the same crowd. The second season even features appearances by Alyson Hannigan and Joss Whedon himself, while Charisma Carpenter is featured on a more extended basis.
Update, December 19, 2006 05:57 PM: Fixed dead link.