STUDIO: Warner Home video
MSRP: $59.98
RUNNING TIME: 935 Minutes
• 20 minutes of unaired scenes
• Extended version of pilot episode with unaired opening sequence

I was pretty much convinced that after Buffy left the air I was going to be done with high school TV shows, especially ones that featured a female lead. I mean it’s not like I was ever out to watch such shows anyhow. I didn’t catch on with high school shows of different genres like Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, Popular, The O.C., One Tree Hill nor even Roswell. I do avidly watch Smallville, but come on, that’s Superman…and well-made Superman at that. So generally, high school shows aren’t normally my cup of chai. But I heard interesting things about a new show last year about a hot teenage sleuth who is trying to solve the murder of her best friend while also trying to survive being on the crap list at school. So I decided to give the show a shot and definitely wasn’t disappointed – Veronica Mars.

When Kristin Bell found my camera in her dressing room it was emabarrassing to say the least…

The Show

Veronica Mars is the name of the titular heroine (Kristen Bell), who lives in the small coastal town of Neptune, CA, and goes to the high school of the same name. Like most schools, there’s essentially two camps in Neptune High: the rich kids of power brokers, movie stars, etc., and pretty much everybody else. As the daughter of Sheriff Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), Veronica was part of the former. Her boyfriend and best friend were Duncan and Lilly (Teddy Dunn and Amanda Seyfried), the offspring of one of the elite Neptune families, the Kanes. Life was good and carefree for Veronica, until Lilly turned up murdered by her pool and her father had the audacity to suggest that it was Lilly’s father, Jake Kane (Kyle Secor), even though all evidence pointed to another man, Abel Koontz. Almost overnight Veronica’s life went into the crapper besides the death of her friend. Her father was forced out of his position and had to become a private detective to make ends meet, her mother inexplicably left them both, Duncan dumped her, she became ostracized by the entire school, and she was drugged and raped at a high school party with no memory of who her assailant was.

…although luckily she still hasn’t found the one in the shower…

Fast forward several months later and you find where the series opens up, with a much more streetwise Veronica now a junior detective-in-the-making, solving cases, working after school for her father, and still dealing with the scorn of the entire school. Her experiences toughened her up though, and she’s usually able to return any of the negativity she receives with a sly witticism or just let it roll off of her back. The one she gets the most grief from is Lilly’s former boyfriend and Duncan’s best friend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who is the spoiled and disillusioned son of action star, Aaron Echolls (Harry Hamlin). Logan is a smart ass who generally doesn’t get along with anyone outside of his clique, but he particularly hates Veronica with a passion because she sided with her father when he was the only one to believe that Lilly’s murderer wasn’t the man who confessed.

Veronica’s only ally at school is a newcomer, Wallace (Percy Daggs III), whom she rescues from the Neptune custom of public humiliation by being taped to the flagpole naked. Turns out the one who did it was Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra), a local vato who’s usually on the wrong side of the law and also the leader of a local gang. Although they start out at odds, Weevil comes to respect Veronica and they frequently find themselves helping each other out. When Veronica’s not in school, she gets help from her many connections in Neptune who are still loyal to her father. This includes some firemen who help her out in the pilot when she needs to make a switch of an incriminating tape to exculpate some of Weevil’s homies who got arrested when Wallace turned them in for shoplifting – which is why he got strung up on the flagpole in the first place. See how everything ties together so nicely?

Not sure how one of my fantasies got on the show, but that’s a remarkable recreation… although the dolphin and handcuffs are missing…

Although things are usually tough at school, Veronica’s home life hasn’t been any easier since her father lost his job and her mother left them. Veronica worships her father and he is dedicated to her, trying to make sure she has the best that he can give her with his limited means and although he’s frequently away on business. However, Veronica is under the assumption that he knows more than he’s telling her about her mother’s disappearance. This is confirmed right off the bat in the pilot when she’s tailing Jake Kane to a motel when he’s meeting someone. Although she doesn’t get photos of the person Kane is meeting, she gets the license plate of the person’s car – and it turns out to belong to her mother. Her quest to find her mother is one of the main threads that’s woven throughout the entire season. She frequently gets back to it and starts looking in earnest for her. As she unravels clue after clue, she finds out not only things she never knew about her mother, but things she never knew about her father, herself, and how it all ties into the overall mystery of Lilly Kane’s murder.

"Oh my god, it is like soooo blue in this flashback."
"Fer sure…"

But when she’s not preoccupied with her mother or Lilly’s murder, Veronica does take on smaller “cases of the week.” These range from helping out Weevil’s grandmother, who’s accused of credit card fraud, in Credit Where Credit’s Due to helping find a classmate’s father when all she has to go on is his name – John Smith in Meet John Smith. Other cases include The Wrath of Con, where she helps out a girl whom Percy wishes were his girlfriend when she loses money in a computer game scheme, and Ruskie Business when Veronica must help a lovelorn Russian internet mail order bride find her former fiancé. Her cases can range from the very serious, like helping the local website geek discover her birth origins in Silence of the Lamb or finding her pregnant neighbor when she disappears and evidence points to foul play in The Girl Next Door to tracking down who started a school-wide online “purity test” which ruins the reputation of one of her friends. Veronica discovers that she’s supposedly not so pure herself when her test results are discovered, along with half the school’s. There’s also just a little bit of Buffy-ness going on in Clash of the Tritons when Veronica investigates a secret on-campus society called the Tritons that meet clandestinely in robes and masks. And in Betty and Veronica, Veronica is tasked with finding the school mascot, which was parrot-napped right before a big game.

When ratings were low at first, it was a little embarrassing for Bell to have to work the Chrysler LeBaron auto shows…

While Veronica continues to unravel clues about her two main investigations, Lilly’s murder and her mother’s disappearance, she also works on discovering the identity of the guy who date raped her at the party. This is an investigation she never told anyone about, especially her father for fear that he would go insane and stop at nothing and no one to find out who defiled her. But of the three main season-long investigations, this one is dealt with the least until near the end of the season when Veronica resolves to find out what happened after she discovers some information about something that’s related to the party. She spends the entire penultimate episode, A Trip to the Dentist sifting through conflicting story after conflicting story to finally discover the truth. When she does the answer is more shocking than even she could have imagined, no more so than when she discovers that even that isolated, personal incident is tied into Lilly’s murder.

I know you’re my sister, and I know you’ve been dead for hours, and I
know it would be wrong, but could we…you know…"

It’s not only Veronica that has mysteries and issues to unravel as the season goes along. Various of the supporting cast have their own questions that they need asked. First of all, Veronica’s ex Duncan is having major issues with seeing his sister in hallucinations when he decides to go off anti-depressant medication he’s been taking since Lilly’s death. There’s also a major issue between himself and Veronica that’s simultaneously related and unrelated to their former dating situation. As for Logan, he has a major issue with his parents. First of all his movie star dad is nailing anything in a skirt, which drives his mother away and possibly to suicide. I say possibly because it appears that she abandoned her car and jumped off a bridge, but Logan has his doubts for personal reasons. But he especially has major questions about his relationship with Lilly when he discovers that she may or may not have had a thing with Weevil. And Weevil has questions about how Lilly may have felt about him and also wants to know who killed her. Except for Veronica herself, the character with the most mysteries to resolve is her father, chief among them is the Lilly murder investigation, as it cost him his job and his marriage.

Of course, the show isn’t all about questions that need to be answered and mysteries that need to be solved…there’s boning to be done. Veronica’s father begins a relationship with someone that makes Veronica’s relationship with someone else in the cast really weird. And Veronica herself hooks up with someone you’d never expect. But even when that relationship gets going, it invariably leads back to questions about Lilly’s murder. Everything is connected to everything else it seems in this show.

"I’m gonna show you what a wonderful life is really all about…"

Along with the mysteries and occasional boning, there are side issues in Veronica Mars that are dealt with, like Logan’s family issues, which include his sister. Any comparisons to Buffy are given street cred when Alyson Hanigan comes on board to guest star as Trina Echolls, Logan’s absentee sister, for three episodes. When she dates a guy who abuses her, Logan’s father reveals himself to be someone Logan had never seen before. Despite Echolls’ trying to turn over a new leaf after his wife’s disappearance and trying to reach out to Logan, Logan’s relationship with him never moves beyond frosty at best. As for the Kane clan, they occasionally employ Keith Mars for investigations, including tracking down Duncan when he runs away. Jake Kane’s wife despises the Mars, and at first it seems as if it’s just because of Keith Mars’ allegations against her husband Jake. But the real reason comes to light and it’s one of the most shocking plot twists of the year…or is it?

If you’ve noticed that there are a lot of things hinted at in this review that are deliberately vague, it’s because if there’s one show that’s worth not being spoiled, it’s this one. Veronica Mars manages to mix the high school awkwardness and teen angst of Buffy with the plot twists of 24 while managing to steer clear of the inane plot devices and pitfalls that 24 frequently falls into. Veronica Mars is a slick, savvy, well written character and Kristin Bell has an effortless charm and ease in playing her. The show runners manage to peel away the mysteries of the show like an onion, one layer at a time, and still tell a good story along the way without getting the viewer to the point where he’s ready to lose it if he doesn’t find it all out. The three main mysteries: who raped Veronica, why did her mother leave, and most importantly, who killed Lilly Kane, simmer the entire season like a bowl of chili. They let you take a sip from the ladle every now and then and it tastes better every time you do.

"So as you can see here, my investigations conclude without a doubt that your hairstyle is completely impossible in the 21st Century…"

The cases of the week aren’t just filler before you get back to the mythology either. They’re fun, sometimes engrossing plots in their own right and Veronica frequently has to go undercover and rely on her wits in order to solve them. Frequently they come together nicely like the resolutions of a clever heist movie. They also employ the same unusual plot twists that are found in the mythology episodes and are often used to reveal more layers of the mythology along the way.

Bell is a sexy (it’s okay to say that, she’s 25), smart portrayer of the character and she gets great help from the supporting cast, particularly Enrico Colantoni as her father. Their relationship is the backbone of the show. Harry Hamlin is also pretty good, doing some of his better work since his L.A. Law days as a self-absorbed and rich actor. Jason Dohring has probably the biggest character shift of the show’s first season, coming off at first as an asshole, but then revealing to be more than you first thought he was. Francis Capra is also good as the wisecracking, shifty malcontent, Weevil. He also has good chemistry with Bell. This first season of Veronica Mars comes off very much like if you took the first seasons of Buffy and 24 and frapped them together. It’s well written, well acted, and very original.

9.3 out of 10

"This Andorian mood lighting is the bomb, Mr. Merchan…"

The Look

The look is good. The show runners had the foresight to shoot this show in 1.78:1 widescreen and it’s definitely the better for it. There are frequent flashbacks to Veronica’s time with Lilly before the murder as well as a few Duncan hallucinations to the same time period and they have a nice surreal and eerie feeling to them.

8.6 out of 10

The Noise

There’s the occasional teen angst theme song provided by the hot band of the moment, most of which I wouldn’t recognize. Other than that, the show is presented in Dolby Digital and sounds fine.

7.9 out of 10

The Goodies

There’s two special features in this box set, an extended version of the pilot with an unaired opening sequence, which is just fine. But then there’s an offering of 22 minutes of deleted scenes from the entire season on the last disc. I personally can’t stand it when they present deleted scenes this way because they’re completely out of context with the episodes that they’re from – on other discs no less – that you then have to go back and see how they would have fit in. Considering the fact that they’re all presented together, they just seem to bleed into each other.

"What did that agent say his name was that last night? Helix or Shaolin…?"

Other than those two features, there are no other offerings: no commentaries, which is virtually a must-have for a show this highly serialized, and no behind-the-scenes nor interviews nor gag reel. There’s a rich mythology in this show that was completely neglected by the show runners in the goodies section. I especially wanted to hear show creator Rob Thomas and Bell or Colantoni give some insight to the two last episodes, which wrap up everything for the entire season. Major disappointment here.

3.6 out of 10

The Artwork

This was just the network one-sheet that they used during the season on promos, but it’s simple enough and gets the message across that you’re dealing with a savvy young thing in Veronica Mars. But is it me or are all the guys looking at her cans?

6.8 out of 10

Overall: 8.2 out of 10