A month or so back, I blogged about finally watching the first two seasons of teen-detective drama Veronica Mars and said that I’d be back once I’d seen the final season and film continuation to let you know the whole enterprise stood up.
Well, I’m a man of my word and thought this would be a nice break from the current run of self-promotion on this blog (If you like Veronica Mars, why not try my teen-girl-featuring fun-yet-grim crime books!) so here is the follow-up post. The first two seasons of Veronica Mars were excellent, the first one especially is regarded as some kind of modern classic, how can they top that in the next-one-and-movie?
Be warned, we’re going straight into plot-review territory this time, so beware spoilers.
Season Three – The College Years
This season, Veronica Mars and many of her supporting cast go to university (or college as they confusingly call it in America). Fans of Buffy The Vampire Slayer may have trepidation about this move, as the one season of Buffy where they dealt with her going to uni was… not their finest hour.
The good news is: Veronica Mars manages to engage with higher education without making half the cast feel like hangers-on or engaging in weird season-long storylines about dull robots. Unfortunately, it’s still the weakest of the three seasons.
I’m still very much a fan of the perky, smart-arsed tone of the whole show, the whole crime-beneath-every-surface aesthetic and the immensely likable central cast (especially Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni and Percy Daggs III). A lot of the standalone episode mysteries work really well – university gives them a different and wider campus to draw on, whereas by the end of season two they seemed to be slightly struggling to make the high school setting keep working. A few of their attempts to engage with adult issues feel a little hamfisted, but at least that’s in keeping with the theme of teen-to-real-world transition.
There’s also a move towards shorter story arcs instead of the longer ones they’ve previously used, and although I can see the appeal (less padding, less obvious red herrings), they lead off with a Mystery Rapist storyline which never entirely works. None of the suspects seem that well developed, the investigation never feels quite concrete, perhaps because network TV prevents them from really diving into the nitty-gritty of sexual assault.
Also, the dividing of characters into clearly defined tribes, standard fare in the high school setting, starts to feel odd and limiting as they try to venture into less clear-cut subjects. Our supporting cast for the Mystery Rapist plot include cartoonishly boorish frat boys, OTT man-hating feminists and two other people. Spoilers: none of the broadly drawn caricatures dunnit.
Also, the many scenes in which angry feminists are portrayed as a tedious, irrational obstacle to reasonable, sensible Veronica play oddly in the farflung future of 2015 where feminism is more mainstream. Also, while we’re on gender – although the show definitely has a strong, developed female lead, most other female characters are a bit one-note. Mac has her moments but is barely in it for much of the season.
The good news is, the second story arc is a straight-up murder mystery and back in this familiar territory, Veronica Mars shines like the star it was born to be. It’s not their most complex case, but it’s only five or six episodes long and is tidy, well-paced, twisty and good.
After that, the weird trail-off ending of a show that clearly didn’t get much time to prepare for its own death. There are five good if lightweight standalone episodes, including a particularly excellent Paul Rudd guest appearance, and then it just kinda stops.
Said final coda also gets Veronica together with Piz, a boring character. He’s played likably enough by Chris Lowell but lacks any remarkable motivations or backstory and seems like a minor roadblock in the ongoing Veronica/Logan saga. No objection to them trying to wring drama from Veronica’s love life but this attempt felt too half-hearted considering it was the pay-off for a whole season of set-up. God, it’s like Duncan all over again. (Or Riley, if we’re continuing the Buffy-season-4 comparisons.)
And then cancellation! And then (nearly a decade later) the movie! But first!
Season Four – The Alternate Reality FBI Years
I watched the short DVD feature trailing an averted fourth season timeline for Veronica Mars in which they fast-forwarded uni and picked her up as a rookie FBI agent. Well, that’s one way to deal with Kristen Bell increasingly looking older than nineteen.
Sadly, although Bell throws in her usual charm and there are a couple of fun scenes, it skews a bit too standard-FBI-procedural. I imagine I’d have watched if it existed, but didn’t feel like what I want from this show.
So, let’s move on to what they eventually did instead.
Veronica – The Mars-tian Picture
Back in 2013, a massive Kickstarter happened and Veronica Mars – The Movie was born. Of course, it starts with Logan coming to her and confessing something, because that’s how everything happens on this show. Has anyone counted up how many times Veronica Mars cliffhangered out on Logan starting some admission to her?
But I digress.
The movie drives Veronica into full-on noir territory, opting for the ‘She’s almost outta the game but gets pulled in for one last job!’ structure. There’s some fan-friendly touring of main and supporting cast, along with a nice little mystery and exciting resolution. It’s a sweet but not self-indulgent, exciting, funny send-off to the whole affair and makes up for the non-ending to season three.
Hell, even Piz didn’t annoy me that much, mostly because he was clearly undercut from the start, representing a boring life for Veronica to turn her back on. He was a bit flat still, but played his role just fine.
My continuity nerd aspect is annoyed we didn’t get any token lines to tie up dangling plots. Most specifically: season three ended with Keith and Vinnie running against each other in the sheriff election. Both those characters were in the movie – would it have killed them to throw in a line of dialogue saying what happened? Also, wasn’t Keith facing evidence tampering charges?
Oh well. It was a conclusive, atmospheric, slick ending, I’m glad they got to do it. There’s set-up for a possible continuation too, and if they swung a Veronica Mars revival TV mini-series similar to the X-Files, Heroes and 24 ones we’ve had lately, I’d be well up for that. But if this is the end, at least it was good and fitting.
And another show crossed off my shoulda-seen-that list! Back to slowly making my way through Battlestar Galactica!