My wife has been a fan of the tv show Veronica Mars for years, and although I’d seen an episode here and there I never quite felt the impetus to dive in and watch the entire series* until now. This is probably because recently I began re-watching Twin Peaks from the beginning with a friend who had never seen it and I suddenly recalled VM creator Rob Thomas talking about Twin Peaks and how it alienated him after its first season. Obviously I’ve never fallen into that category of the alienated with Mark Frost and David Lynch’s baby, however this time as I watched Twin Peaks start to finish for the umpteenth time concurrent with Veronica Mars ssn 1 – which also has a “who-killed-the-popular-girl-who-is-really-a-dangerous-slut-because-of-a-shitty-home-life plot in its first season, it was interesting to draw comparisons and see how the former obviously influenced the latter, even if it was simply as a cautionary tale of what not to do for its creator.
At first I suspected Veronica Mars was simply another UPN/WB-tweeny/twenties garbage-scow preying on slopping up the post-Buffy crowd. And I still believe that to some degree VM was created for the post-Buffy crowd, however now I suspect it was not done so in a disingenuous way. Veronica Mars may have been kicking around Rob Thomas’ mind for a while, but it was assuredly green lit by the network after Buffy‘s end in an effort to pick up the crowd. That aside, what I’ve found now that I’ve finished the first season is I was wrong to dismiss the show out of hand – the writing is excellent, the story nicely paced and the characters GRAND. I began the first season hating certain characters and, exactly as my wife warned me, loving them by the end. Also, HOT DAMN is Harry Hamlin fantastic as Aaron Echolls, an actor with a lot of money, little integrity and some strange peccadilloes. And, um, normally I am not a fan of Hamlin, so I was surprised there for sure.
The thing I find most fascinating about the show is the tone, which is a strange, Southern California noir. Now, I know noir is typically thought of in modern nomenclature as a combination 1920’s setting, hard-boiled gumshoes and steam-obscured alleyways, but that is not always the case. So that we’re all on the same page, Merriam-Webster online defines noir as:
Noir: Crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy setting.
This definition is somewhat appropriate to the show, however there are some interesting reversals that occur. The term noir often goes hand-in-hand with the “Private Dick” or “Gumshoe” being the prominent hard-boiled character. This isn’t the case in VM. Although both Veronica and her father (the BRILIANT Enrico Colantoni) both hula around their better judgment at times in the name of solving a case (usually only when it means really helping someone else out of a serious jam), for the most part the two sleuths are the most good-natured and earnest of all the characters on the show. Also, although there are some sleazy settings, the noirish tone comes more from the portrayal of expensive, high-profile and often ritzy locations like mansions and their in-ground swimming pools, ocean-side make-out points and an average American high school complete with study hall and bleacher seats and the sleazy actions of the characters, most also rich and high-profile, that dwell and move within them. This along with some of my favorite lighting EVER on a TV show make a very consistent, alluring context within which the viewer can follow the ups and downs of Neptune, CA’s high schoolers – be they wealthy or working class** – and adults, most of whom actually act more like vulgar, irresponsible teenagers than their kids do.
I mentioned the pacing earlier – the formula of one small mystery every episode amidst the slow unraveling of a season-long uber plot works wonders for developing the characters in twisty-turny, first-you-hate-em-now-you-root-for-em-now-maybe-you-hate-em-again ways that endear them to you and keeping you invested. If it were a novel the show would be a literal page-turner – not a james patterson or dan brown hackneyed snooze fest but a Raymond Chandler update that snakes and snarks its way into the reader’s heart with just the right amount of intrigue, investigation, emotion and, as always, Danger with a capital D.
Of course I’m trying not to read too much about the show as I’ve only just started the second season, but I have seen mention (albeit in older interviews and articles) of the possibility of a Veronica Mars movie. Without knowing how the show ends I can only assume that is a bad idea, but in lieu of that I can recommend any broken-hearted Mars fans that haven’t already seen Rian Johnson’s epic film Brick with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Luke Haas should go out and do so immediately. Brick takes the Chandler thing A LOT further than Veronica does, but they still feel like Southern-Cal noir companion pieces to me.
“Private eyes – they’re watching you- Watching your ev-ry move…”
Sing Hall (and Oats).
* When she gets into a show my lovely and talented wife will give me a ground-floor chance to get in on it and then, if I dawdle, she will usually dive in and watch it in a matter of days – thus was the case with Buffy, Angel, The West Wing (all of which also took me several years and partial viewings to build up the interest to follow in her footsteps with) and now Veronica Mars, too.
** And this rich vs. not rich is another great, great element to the overall psychology of the show.