Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"Veronica Mars" Year One

Spoilers for the first season of "Veronica Mars."

I wonder how much of the Lily Kane murder story was plotted out from the beginning. I can certainly see parts of it being very carefully set up from the start, particularly all the misdirection having to do with Lianne Mars and the Kane family. However, who the actual killer turned out to be worked particularly well, because it was the culmination of what looked like just another side story at the start of the season. I wouldn't be surprised if the powers that be noticed that Jason Dohring was acting circles around Teddy Dunn, and beefed up his role in the show to give him more screentime. And after bringing Harry Hamlin in as Logan's dad, and watching him at work, they picked their killer.

I knew the Veronica-Logan-Duncan love triangle was coming. That was pretty much all I knew about "Veronica Mars" from the outset. To the show's credit, they handled it a lot better than I've seen other shows handle romantic relationships involving teenagers. Logan never stopped having a huge chip on his shoulder and a always having lot to apologize for. The sexual content was consistently been handled maturely, with a remarkable lack of handwringing. However, as Logan and Veronica got cuddlier, it felt like I was watching a different, soapier show. Thank goodness the writers figured out how to tie the state of the romantic relationships to the rape and murder cases, and the big climax re-emphasized that the most important guy in Veronica's life is her father.

And what a finale! This is one of the best season enders that I've ever seen. All three of Veronica's big ongoing mysteries appear to be fully resolved, though there's clearly still a lot of fallout to be sorted through. The one development that caught me off guard was Veronica kicking her mother out in order to preserve Keith's happiness, a nice flip of Keith's decision to give up his relationship with the school counselor earlier in the season. And the show went all out on the action scenes, with Veronica being targeted by a psycho Aaron Echolls, a car crash, a lengthy and bloody brawl between Keith and Aaron, and finally Keith getting himself set on fire to rescue Veronica. I'm so glad the murderer wasn't Jake Kane, because Kyle Secor freaking out at the end there was an unintentionally funny moment in a great hour. "Veronica Mars" could have ended with this finale and I'd have been happy.

But I don't just want to talk about the ending of the season. "Veronica Mars" kept up a great level of quality throughout the year. Okay, some of the cases were a little more iffy than others, and Veronica's moral compass often seemed severely off-kilter, but the writers were very self-aware about it. Veronica always learned the truth, but didn't always get justice for the wronged, and Neptune remains controlled by the elites and rife with corruption. And some of Veronica's less savory tactics, like planting bugs in sensitive places, backfired on her. When she grew too reliant on Wallace's access to student files and other favors, he called her out on it. And I loved that the status quo kept changing throughout the season - Veronica still has a bad reputation, but she became the go-to girl for solving mysteries, and even Principal Clemmons (Duane Daniels) went to her for help eventually.

My hopes for more good female regulars didn't really pan out, though we got some good recurring ones. There was Meg (Alona Tal), the good girl from the purity test episode who becomes Duncan's girlfriend, and Mac (Tina Majorino), the computer geek with an interesting family history. Sydney Poitier disappeared from the opening credits pretty quickly though. The show is not doing too well with the minority characters, but they're certainly trying. You can tell that the writers were having a hard time keeping Wallace and Weevil in the picture, which is probably why Weevil ended up on the suspects list for the Lily Kane murder, and Wallace's mother Alicia (Erica Gimpel) got paired up with Keith. And the attempt to shoehorn a black girlfriend into Veronica and Lily's past for all of one episode, who is never mentioned again, was pretty painful.

Still, I'm really enjoying the show. I think what I appreciate about it ultimately is its smarts and its humor. I like that there are minor characters named Dick and Beaver. I like that the pop culture references skew a little bit older - "Grease," "Single White Female," and even "National Velvet." I like that it not only acknowledges the divide between the haves and the have-nots, but has made it a central feature of the "Veronica Mars" universe. I like that Veronica has no qualms about using gossip, blackmail, and the darker forces of the internet, because Neptune is not a nice place, and playing by the rules won't get you very far. This isn't exactly Rian Johnson's "Brick," but as high school film noir, it gets refreshingly dark and cynical when it needs to.

And most of all, I like Veronica Mars, the kind of know-it-all, non-conformist, cute-as-a-button badass who won't take things lying down, and maybe still has a chance with a cute guy in the end. I like Kristen Bell as Veronica, and how she carries the show so easily. I like how she can be smug, vindictive, selfish, self-righteous, and completely wrong, and we still want to root for her.

Onward to Year Two.

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