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Review: Veronica Mars, season 1


Susan and Karen used to talk about how great Veronica Mars was, so a few months back, I borrowed Susan's copy of the season 1 DVDs. Watched the first episode or two with Kam, then put it on hold for a couple months. Finally watched the rest of the season starting a couple weeks back--two or three episodes a night for a week or so, then the last six in a row last Saturday.

Here are some things I liked about season 1:

I loved Kristen Bell as Veronica. (Don't like her nearly as much on Heroes.) Hot, smart, sarcastic, funny, and vulnerable. I'm allowed to say "hot" because, in the fine tradition of teen-oriented movies and TV, the actress was in her mid-twenties, playing a character half a dozen years younger.

And I loved the sharp, witty, snappy dialogue, especially the banter between Veronica and her father (and, really, Veronica and anyone).

I also liked the season-long storyline.

And the depth of the characters; in particular, many of the apparently bad guys turn out to have reasonable and/or sympathetic motives, and/or to be acting on human flaws rather than being Pure Evil.

And I loved the occasional emotional interactions between characters, especially with Veronica--some really lovely moments when she lets the wiseass mask slip and show vulnerability, and other lovely moments when I wanted her to let the mask slip but she didn't (and that made me feel even more sympathetic toward her).

I also especially liked the ways that some of the individual-episode mysteries echoed or reflected issues in the arc story, sometimes in ways that weren't obvious until later.

I kept being surprised by all the '80s pop cultural references. I loved them, but I can't help but think it seemed unlikely that someone born in 1988 or so would be so up on the minutiae of '80s pop culture. I'm guessing that at least some of the show's writers were in their 30s.

My favorite episodes (in broadcast order): "Meet John Smith"; "Silence of the Lamb"; "Weapons of Class Destruction"; "Leave It to Beaver." After making that list, I looked at the writers, and discovered that most of the episodes I liked best were most of the ones written by Jed Seidel. . . . But I loved the dialogue in all the episodes, and there were other episodes that I liked pretty well overall, such as "Return of the Kane," "An Echolls Family Christmas," and "A Trip to the Dentist."

Here are some things I didn't like so much:

The high school mystery in each episode generally didn't do so much for me, and I got a little tired of the predictability of the twist endings--I was doing a reasonably good job of guessing who was guilty by about halfway through most episodes. (Though there were big twists that I didn't even remotely see coming.)

The gang leader with a heart of gold. I liked the character, and as noted above I do like it when bad guys turn out to have a sympathetic side; I just didn't get much sense of him being edgy or dark, and I had a hard time taking him seriously as a biker leader. Most of the time he had not just a heart of gold, but an exterior of gold as well.

The handling of Wallace (the only really prominent black character in most of the season), who spends way too much time just being a sidekick, develops a major crush on an uninteresting girl who's then never seen again, and then suddenly becomes a basketball star. (I could be wrong, but I don't remember seeing any indication that he even played basketball before he was suddenly a big star.) Partly this annoys me because I wanted the character to have more depth and be more interesting; partly because I'd like to see other positive roles for black characters on TV besides the traditional ones of sidekick and basketball star. (To be fair, there was another black character who was a rap star. Um, I mean, there were other black characters now and then who they did a good job with.)

Veronica's constant asking people for favors, and people constantly doing her favors even after (in some cases) she's treated them pretty shabbily.

The episode titles--especially the roughly half of them that are dumb/weak puns.

Okay, enough stuff I didn't like. Before I go on with this entry, I want to mention a neat Veronica Mars website: Mars Investigations. The particular thing that I especially like about it is that on each page of the site, you can specify what the last episode you've seen was, and it tailors what shows up on that page to avoid spoilers for later episodes. Nifty! I've always wanted something like that (for various things, not Veronica Mars in particular), but figured it would be too difficult to implement. Their implementation isn't perfect, but it's still mighty cool.

Okay, onward. Here are some further notes, but these contain (mostly relatively minor) spoilers, so if you haven't seen season 1 but intend to, you may want to skip the rest of this entry.

I liked Troy an awful lot (and I thought he was the most attractive of Veronica's love interests), so I was very disappointed both to see him go and to see the manner of his going.

I never really understood why Veronica's mom left in the first place, nor why she came back. There are a couple of deleted scenes that make her departure make a little more sense, but this was one of the core mysteries of the season, and I was disappointed and annoyed that they didn't resolve it more clearly. Especially when there are lines like "everything will make sense when the time is right" to keep us thinking they're going to explain it.

Lilly kind of had to be the character she was in order for the plot to work, but by the time we found out what kind of person she was, I began to wonder why she and Veronica had liked each other or even met; they seemed to me to have very different attitudes toward life, in ways I would've thought would be fairly incompatible. I think in the end I was more or less convinced that their friendship worked, but I was dubious at times.

I didn't really notice the lack of gay characters (though Abel Koontz's lisping-flamer thing kind of put me off, even though I suspect he was meant to be straight), until the episode where we finally saw the one and only gay guy at Neptune. It was nice that he was so well-adjusted, but annoying that he seemed to exist solely in order to threaten someone else with false exposure for being gay.

On the other hand, I really liked the handling of the trans character.

I loved the argument between Mac and whatsisname over Ubuntu vs. Mac OS X (and I quite liked that whole episode, even though the blow-up-the-school plot didn't do much for me).

The episode about Mac's family was nicely sad.

There was a lot of interesting stuff about family in this show. It seems like a lot of the modern-setting TV shows that I see have weird family stuff going on--missing parents, dead parents, parents keeping secrets from kids, kids keeping secrets from parents, scarily competent and overprotective fathers (Alias and Heroes, I'm looking at you), etc. At first I thought this was an odd coincidence about the shows I tend to watch, but it eventually occurred to me that most people have fairly strong connections to and fairly strong feelings about their families, so by messing with family stuff, a show gets lots of extra drama and angst for free.

. . . After discussing most of the above with Karen, I've decided, somewhat sadly, not to watch the second and third seasons of the series; she says that there's more of the kind of stuff I don't like in the later seasons. But overall I did rather enjoy the first season; good stuff.


I think you're right to skip watching the second and third seasons. The first, however, succeeds in spite of the flaws you mention. Logan and the father are particularly brilliant characters, I think. But the show goes downhill. Slowly, but surely. Kristen Bell hasn't hit that level of greatness in anything else. Even in Deadwood, I found her iffy. If they ever Make a movie of Lockpick, I think Logan Echolls would be so perfect! He's in that terrible show Moonlight.

True, the second and third season have big flaws, and are disappointing overall, but I'm glad I watched them, for the occasional flashes of wonderfulness that still appeared.

Thanks for the comments!

Joey: I disliked Logan pretty strongly from the start, but I was surprised to find that I began to find him more physically attractive as he became a more sympathetic character. Yeah, I can definitely see him in Lockpick.

Tim: In the end, it was partly just a time tradeoff for me--I knew it would take about 17 hours to watch season 2, and even though I figured there would probably be a minute or two of wonderfulness per episode (on average), it still felt like a lot of time. But your comment did make me interested enough to go looking for detailed summaries, which led me to the transcripts, and though that took a lot of time too (probably about 10 hours), I felt it was a good compromise.

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