With everything going on lately, Veronica Mars appears to be the little TV show that could. I went to see the Kickstarter funded movie on Friday (you can read my review here) and I plan to go see it again in a few days. You might be a little discouraged about my review, which highlights some problems the movie has regarding its format, but I also highlight several advantages Veronica Mars the TV show has over Veronica Mars the movie.
If you haven’t watched the show, I’m going to recommend it to you right here, right now (VM reference) for the billionth time. A few months ago I wrote a blog post regarding why you should be excited for the movie, borrowing many aspects of the TV show. Well now my goal is to get you to watch the TV show and the film possibly after. So here it goes. A list of all the things Veronica Mars does right.
1. The show is a lot darker than its teen drama appeal might make it out to be.
A teenage private eye. Trust me, I know how dumb that sounds. But it’s not like a found a decoder ring at the bottom of a cereal box and thought, ‘That sounds like fun.’ I wish. That would’ve been adorable. Nope. My best friend was murdered when I was fifteen. Trying to figure out who did it was how I coped. – Veronica Mars
A show about a 17-year-old girl solving cases and moonlighting as a private investigator? Sounds stupid, right? Sounds like something you might watch on Disney. Wrong. The first season of Veronica Mars follows Veronica as she solves the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried), in addition to trying to figure out who raped her at a party the year before. Murder and rape are just a few aspects of the dark subject matter that pops up during the three seasons of the show. Show creator Rob Thomas wanted to go darker, but UPN and the CW put some restraints on the show at the time, wanting the show to be more marketed toward teens.
Even with these restraints, VM is still able to convey its dark subject matter in a well enough manner. Certain parts of the show might seem a little juvenile. Veronica’s classmates often come to her for help. Each episode involves her solving one or more cases. Some may appear a little juvenile, especially in the first few episodes where VM is still trying to find its mix of teen drama and noir, but most handle things in a mature way.
2. It’s really for all ages.
If you really can’t stand the thought of watching a TV show where the protagonist is in high school, just give Veronica Mars a shot anyway. You might roll your eyes at a few aspects of the show, but it will be worth it. Most of us, or at least a lot of us, hated high school. Why would we want to revisit it? Well, because you’ll probably find yourself relating to the teen protagonist in a lot of ways, regardless of her high school setting. A lot of us might have felt out of place, sometimes even ostracized in high school.
Well guess what? Veronica will not only bring you back to high school, but she’ll bring you back to a much more interesting, corrupt high school setting. And Veronica is the type of person you wish you could’ve been in high school. Someone who doesn’t care what people think of her. Someone who will stand up for herself and fellow classmates. Someone really people of all ages can try to relate too. There will be witty pop culture references for older generations, and a lot of noir aspects for people who are into that.
3. It’s a perfect mix of funny, witty, and dark.
No matter how dark the subject matter gets, there’s always going to be jokes and witty remarks to get a laugh out of you. You might not catch them or remember them right away, but if you plow through Veronica Mars a few times, you’re probably going to have a lot of awesome quotes from the show memorized.
If you’re looking for something that will at times have you on the edge of your seat, make you laugh, and make you cry, this is really for you. The dialogue is pretty phenomenal, in both its lightest and its darkest moments.
4. It’s one of the only shows to portray a platonic friendship incredibly well.
I’ve read a few older online posts, from when the show first aired during its first season, that discussed Veronica’s possible relationship with her friend, Wallace Fennel. If anyone were to ever mention something like that now, they’d probably be given the oddest of looks.
After Veronica’s friend, Lilly, was murdered, she’s left without any close friends, as her old friends have decided to ostracize her due to a mistake made by her father. Veronica helps Wallace with a predicament in the pilot episode, ultimately leading to their friendship over the course of three seasons and the movie. Wallace and Veronica seem to come from two different worlds, but can both relate as outsiders. And despite Veronica’s constant abuse of their friendship – often using Wallace for odd favors in order to help solve cases – the two are always there for each other. These two probably have one of my favorite relationships on the show. Never once is it hinted that there are any romantic feelings there. We get to see these two navigate through high school and college together with their ups and downs. Something like Wallace being Veronica’s shoulder to cry on as she tells him about her rape will touch your heart, while something like Veronica anonymously leaving cookies in Wallace’s locker before his basketball games will make you smile.
5. Veronica is a relatable outcast.
I think a lot of teen shows try to portray their protagonists in a way that makes them relatable. A lot of times they’re portrayed as unpopular. Veronica is an outcast. Like Buffy before her, she was once a normal teenage girl living a comfortable middle class life until forces outside of her control forced her out. After Lilly was killed, Veronica’s father, the sheriff at the time, accused Lilly’s father, a well respected man in their hometown of Neptune, California. Veronica’s father, Keith, was quickly run out of office and became the laughingstock of the town. Veronica’s friends gave her a choice. She could either stand by her father or stand by them.
After choosing to stand beside her father, they turned their backs on her. She’s the frequent butt of many of her classmates’ jokes. After being drugged and raped at one of her classmate’s parties, her reputation went further downhill from there. So your case might not be as extreme as Veronica’s, but I’d like to think we’re all sort of an outcast in some form or another.
6. You will get deeply invested in the mysteries.
Whether it’s an episodic case or a season long mystery, you’re going to get invested. You’re going to be trying to figure out who did it and why. Fans have liked to complain about certain mystery arcs being less interesting than others, but I’d like to believe they can all hold your attention. Season one has been hailed as the best, but seasons two and three are full of interesting enough plots. As you near the end of each of the first two seasons especially, you’re going to be pretty invested in the mystery. Thomas is able to drop plenty of clues and red herrings along the way. The mystery is often more complex than you originally thought it would be.
7. Class struggle is an important aspect.
Veronica’s hometown, Neptune, is a pretty corrupt place. In the pilot, she describes it as a town without a middle class. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that the poor are often treated unfairly compared to the rich, especially at Veronica’s high school. Wealthy students are often referred to as 09ers, as they live in the prestigious 90909 zip code. The first few episodes of the show even touch briefly on problems between the 09ers and local Latino biker gang, the PCHers. Physical fights often ensue between PCHer leader Eli “Weevil” Navaro and bad boy 09er Logan Echolls. Tensions rise in season two when a PCHer is killed and Logan is accused.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather watch a show accurately depicting class struggle than a show like Gossip Girl (sorry Kristen Bell) that focuses on and glamorizes a rich, privileged lifestyle. Veronica Mars is able to portray pretty accurately stereotypes and discrimination going on in not only high school, but our society in general. Something that other TV shows often ignore.
8. Family values are brought to the forefront.
Veronica and Keith’s relationship isn’t always loving. The two often distrust each other and hide things from each other. But they’re always there for each other in time of need. They have the type of relationship you’d want to have with your parents or kids. They look out for each other.
Veronica helps her father with his private investigator business, learning tricks of the trade from him. Both act as rocks for each other. Keith helps Veronica deal with tough times at school and the murder of her best friend. They both help each other deal with Keith’s separation from Veronica’s mother. In her absence comes a newfound appreciation for Keith. Things aren’t always rainbows and butterflies between these two though. There are definitely some strained points in their relationship, but there’s never anything they can’t work back from.
9. Episodic plots relate to Veronica and her overall story arc.
This one might not seem that important, but something season one of Veronica Mars does especially well is somehow tie each episodic plot back to Veronica as a character and the overall mystery. In the very beginning of the show, Veronica is still trying to figure out where her mother went after leaving town several months before. In the third episode, “Meet John Smith,” Veronica helps a classmate track down his father, who disappeared years ago. This turns out to be a gem, able to build an effective episodic mystery arc and tie back to Veronica’s own character and what she’s going through. Each case helps you dive a little deeper into Veronica as a person. And of course, each case helps you get a little further toward solving a season long mystery arc.
10. The romance feels real.
By the end of even season one of Veronica Mars, Veronica will have had her fair share of boyfriends, but it never really feels forced. Veronica is a character who can stand strong on her own, but the writers aren’t afraid to let her be at least a little dependent on others in her life: particularly her love interests. For the most part, we get to see sides of each of her love interests that are both heartwarming and not-so-heartwarming. We get to see Veronica grow as a person with each relationship she takes on. Even though fans lean toward one man in particular, she never exactly gets hung up over one particular guy. Like stated above, she’s able to stand as a strong character on her own. Even if a certain spontaneous kiss will have you ooh-ing and ahh-ing, and wanting to rewind your DVD to watch it over and over again.
11. The acting is brilliant.
I think with every show, there’s got to be a certain level of believability with each actor’s performance. There’s definitely some parts of VM that might make you cringe a little, especially in earlier episodes. It’s tough bringing a show together. However, I believe by season two, the show really comes into its own. The acting gets pretty superb. If anything, Kristen Bell doesn’t just play Veronica. She becomes her. She’s made it pretty clear in interviews that Veronica now comes pretty easy to her. She’s able to convey her well. I find it hard to believe anyone wouldn’t be drawn in by Kristen Bell’s performance as Veronica. I’ve even read movie reviews from people who’ve never watched the series that have specifically said they loved her portrayal. That aside, the supporting cast does a pretty phenomenal job as well. A lot of actors got their start on Veronica Mars too.
12. There’s a great deal of suspense.
You’re going to find yourself satisfied in putting pieces together and solving mysteries. You’re going to find yourself on the edge of your seat simply because of that. When Veronica comes close to solving her rape and Lilly’s murder at the end of season one? Yeah, you’re going to want to keep plowing through episodes until you get some answers. But there are definitely episodes like “Leave it to Beaver,” “Not Pictured,” and “Spit & Eggs” that will have you on the edge of your seat fearing for Veronica’s and others’ lives. Get ready for a lot of suspense and a bit of emotional trauma.
13. Rape is handled really well.
Rape given as a character’s backstory is a lot of times annoying. And a lot of times, it’s not really handled well. Fortunately, there’s so much more to Veronica than her rape. Several other characters who were molested or raped on the show are far more complex than this one incident. Particularly in season one (and for parts of season two) we see the effects rape can have on a person, and how said person might be treated. After being drugged and raped at a party, Veronica goes to the new sheriff to report the crime, but is basically laughed at because Veronica has no evidence. Then she’s given a worse reputation at school because of it. Barely anyone takes her seriously, except for close friends and family, when she brings up the matter. This reflects “rape culture” in our society. The victim is often viewed as the person to blame, and rape is often treated as a joke.
14. The characters are complex.
There are almost no flat characters in the show. Thomas has a backstory for each and every one of them. Even the most shallow, self-centered people have something hidden in their closet. Audiences are able to see different sides of not just Veronica, but everyone. As you dive deeper into season one, you’ll get to know each character on a different emotional level you never would have guessed you’d see while watching the pilot. Certain characters leave. Certain background characters make their way into the foreground. And even the characters you should hate the most – the ones who do horrible things – have believable backstories and reasons for their actions.
15. Veronica is a superhero without a superpower – or a buttload of money, or a lot of physical strength.
Buffy before her was praised for being a strong female lead. Buffy was an actual superhero with super strength and reflexes. Veronica is a superhero in her own right, but she doesn’t have super strength, or any physical super power for that matter. I’ve recently read some articles comparing her to Batman: someone who protects the streets of Neptune – similar to Gotham. However, unlike Batman, Veronica doesn’t have a ton of money to spend on gadgets. She doesn’t have a large amount of physical strength.
She has a taser, her trusty dog Backup, a camera, her loving father, reliable friends, and her wit. I’m not going to downplay actual superheroes, but to the people who keep insisting Batman is kick-ass because he doesn’t have an actual superpower, doesn’t it make Veronica even more kick-ass that she doesn’t have a Bat Cave, a bunch of cool gadgets, a secret identity, or a ton of physical strength?
16. It doesn’t dumb itself down for the audience’s benefit.
Veronica Mars is a rare breed. It puts faith in its audience to not just understand witty one-liners and pop culture references, but it doesn’t dumb down its plot, or its main character, for the sake of the audience. A smart, clever, and snarky female lead will turn a lot of people off. To be honest, it shouldn’t. Sure, there’s added drama here and there, but VM far surpasses the teen drama genre. Compared to shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C., it won’t insult your intelligence. It’s not necessarily hard to understand, but I feel like this makes it less likely for people to get in on it.
17. It was ahead of its time.
Saying “It’s ahead of its time” usually means something good. Something triumphant. Saying “It was ahead of its time” is usually looking back on something sadly. Veronica Mars was ahead of its time. It’s gained so much more popularity since its cancellation seven years ago. I’d like to think that in today’s social media dominated world, VM would have faired much better. It’s already appeared to have a much stronger following in recent years. Enough to make a movie.
At the time, Kristen Bell wasn’t very well known at all. Since then, she’s gained a lot of popularity, and yet she’s rallied for her little UPN show all these years because she knew it was special. Being “ahead of its time” isn’t necessarily always a good thing, but in a lot of cases, it means that it’s quality. VM helped prove that television can be in several cases far superior to cinema. In our “golden age of television,” Veronica Mars helped pave the way – even if it’s not always given the credit it deserves.
18. The topics dealt with on the show are very real.
So Veronica is a superhero. She doesn’t fight off superpowered mutants, or demons, or anything like that. She fights corruption, discrimination, and lies. All very real things. She’s on a constant mission to find the truth. Of course she picks up some ugly facts along the way.
But not only does VM deal with rape and murder, it deals with the harmful effects said things can impose on a person. Like stated above, nothing in the show is really black and white. Characters are complex, each dealing with their own issues. Both protagonists and antagonists deal with their own issues. Aside from rape and murder, things like abuse, bullying, suicide, neglect, and unfaithfulness pop up throughout the show.
19. It has a close relationship with its fans.
You’re probably thinking “Of course! How the hell else was this movie made?” You would be correct. Veronica Mars would not only have to have hardcore fans to survive, but the cast and crew would have to have a close relationship with them. Show creator Rob Thomas has mentioned several times that he, along with the cast, has looked online during the show’s airing to see what people were saying. Fans have a tendency to notice very specific details, according to Thomas. He also took into account what they had to say about the show and tried his best to work with it. The new movie was not only paid for by the fans, but it was essentially made for the fans. I think Thomas made a lot of decisions regarding the show during its original run based on what fans thought – even if it wasn’t always the direction he wanted to go with. There are obviously some good and bad things about this, but I think it’s obvious that it’s a great thing when people like Thomas, Bell, and the rest of the VM crew are able to put this much consideration into the fans and their thoughts.
20. Veronica is written incredibly well.
Veronica doesn’t have a superpower. She has her cleverness, wit, and resourcefulness to get by. She’s a great role model in the sense that she stands up for herself and her friends. She searches for the truth and isn’t the type of person to let things go. But she’s also impulsive and makes mistakes. She’s stubborn, distrustful, angry, vengeful, and a lot of other things. She screws up. She lets people down. She trusts the wrong people and doesn’t trust the right people. She pushes friends and love interests away. She scares people off. But she’s written in a realistic way. She’s flawed. Even at times in the show where the plot might be lacking, Veronica will always be a redeeming quality. She’s the type of character anyone would be proud to have written. If you pop in the season one DVDs and decide you just can’t be drawn in by the plot, you’ll at least probably have to admit that Veronica as a character is pretty great.