The trailer for the “Veronica Mars” movie is out. And it looks … well, I don’t know how it looks. I’m not going to watch the trailer for fear of seeing a single spoiler. And it’s not like I need to be sold on seeing the movie. Hell, I’d pay a large sum of money just to see a five-minute resolution of the season three cliffhanger, which is where the show wrapped up in 2007.
Soon after I discovered “Veronica Mars” a few years ago — perhaps “had been converted to” is a more accurate term than “discovered” — I was raving about it at a party. A rather sardonic friend of mine asked: “What are you, a 15-year-old girl?”
That’s the kind of misinterpretation the show engendered. For the record, I’m a 47-year-old man, and I’m a big fan of hard-boiled crime fiction. (By the way, check out Alex Segura’s “Silent City” if you’re also a fan. For that matter, check out my novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.”) As I don’t really follow TV, I was vaguely aware of the show when it was on from the years 2004 to 2007, felt no desire to check it out, and didn’t give it a second thought.
Ironically, I think the ideal viewer of the show is somebody like me, who has an idea that it’s some kind of lightweight teen mystery/soap opera hybrid. Somebody with no natural inclination to watch it, who ends up seeing it anyway through some chain of circumstances. That’s precisely the type of person most in a position to be surprised at first, and then blown away by how clever, darkly funny, edgy, complex and just flat-out freakin good it is.
So if you’re that type of person — take my advice. After this paragraph, stop reading this post. The less you know, the better. Go out and get the first season now. (DO NOT start with the third season.) You can thank me later.
Still here? Oh, alright. I won’t give away any spoilers at least.
A friend of mine at my former workplace, a young woman in her 20s, told me about the show. She has excellent taste in movies – a big Hitchcock fan, which is nice to see in a 20-something — so I trusted her judgment. Although she used to talk enthusiastically about “Veronica Mars,” I still wasn’t quite sold. Then I saw that the Onion A.V. Club picked it as one of the best shows of the decade. So I figured what the heck, I’d give it a shot.
The show is about a pretty, teenaged girl whose father is a private detective. She learned some trade secrets from him, and solves mysteries in between dealing with the social pressures and romantic complications of adolescence.
Sounds hokey as hell, doesn’t it? Like thousands of other kid-detective stories. But here’s the gimmick. She’s more Sam Spade than Nancy Drew. A tough-as-nails bulldog who deals with sordid murder cases that take her into the seedy underbelly of her city, which is rife with systemic corruption, violence, crime and moral rot.
“Veronica Mars” isn’t unique. The jaw-droppingly clever 2005 movie “Brick” used a similar conceit. Check that out, too, if you haven’t. It’s great.
But the teenage-sleuth-as-hard-boiled-gumshoe gimmick, clever as it is, wouldn’t be enough to sustain a series on its own. And I doubt “Brick” could have sustained the concept much beyond its two-hour running time.
Fortunately, “Veronica Mars” is so much more. It’s also a nuanced look at class conflict (no pun intended) filtered through the high school. It features a number of vivid, relatable characters pursuing their own intersecting and conflicting agendas. And the first and second season each include an overarching mystery stretching through the entire season, in addition to the cases Veronica solves in the individual episodes. The season finale for each ended with the resolution of the big mystery. And in each case, it packed a wallop.
The show was also, for the first two seasons anyway, a slyly authentic distillation of the high school experience. Veronica had to navigate a rigid caste system, full of betrayal and shifting loyalties. Just like the underworld in classic noir mysteries, and just like … well … high school. The intensity, intentionally ramped up to an insane degree, mirrors the heightened sense of drama that characterizes adolescent life.
The show reminds me of “Breaking Bad” in the sense that the story, when you sit down and think about it, is implausible to the point of borderline absurdity. But as with “Breaking Bad,” it’s so committed to its own skewed reality that you’re willing to believe every second as you watch.
Unfortunately, the third season kinda jumped the shark. In what was probably an attempt to hook in more casual viewers, the third season broke the big, overarching mystery into several smaller ones. As a result, the mysteries weren’t as complex, and their resolution didn’t carry nearly the same impact.
The third season also moved the cast to college. In principle, I guess it’s admirable that the show’s creators were willing to let the characters move on with their lives rather than laying the groundwork for a high school populated by actors in their 30s. But the college setting just didn’t have the same sense of social claustrophobia that lent so much dramatic tension to the first two seasons. Though it’s worth watching, the third season is merely good as opposed to great.
Still not convinced? “Veronica Mars” is the first show to sneak the term “Dirty Sanchez” onto the air. That alone earns it a footnote in television history.
I won’t go into the whole story about how writer-producer Rob Thomas raised an astounding $5.7 million to fund the movie through a Kickstarter campaign, demonstrating the extent to which the show has picked up a devoted fanbase. But Google it if you’re interested. It’s quite a story.
Also, if you need to Google “Dirty Sanchez” to find out what that it … I strongly recommend that you DON’T do an image search. Like I was saying back there in the fifth paragraph, you can thank me later.