Veronica Mars

Scattered Thoughts on Veronica Mars

vmmov I watched the Veronica Mars movie last night. It's cute and fun and has some good jokes, though it's best viewed as the most expensive piece of fanfic ever made. I was a big fan of the series when it aired, but I haven't seen any of the TV episodes since the show was cancelled in 2007, so I was lost when it came to certain references or characters or in-jokes. There wasn't really an attempt to make a movie that could even halfway stand on its own, and I have to chalk that up to the fact that the project was partially bankrolled by Kickstarter backers. Director and co-writer Rob Thomas wasn't out to do anything other than create a kind of greatest-hits montage for the super fans that gave the series' characters one last curtain call.

I found myself thinking of Joss Whedon's Serenity while watching Veronica Mars. Whedon's movie was also a continuation of a cancelled TV series (Firefly), and it was also heavily dependent on viewers having seen the original show beforehand. But Serenity also attempted to function as a cohesive film and, if not stand apart from the series, at least establish its own identity. Whedon's movie opens with a nested series of adventures and flashbacks that provide context for the story, and the central narrative (one big chase) works on its own. You occasionally get the sense that things mentioned in the movie are fleshed out in the series, but it mostly hangs together. Thomas's Veronica Mars, though, is on the other end of the spectrum. It would be impossible to enjoy it without watching every episode of the show, preferably right before watching the movie. It's like a glossy and truncated version of the fourth season that Veronica Mars the TV show never got.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

That feeling of fan service and instability also made for some weird character moments. Veronica hasn't been back to her home town in almost a decade, having moved on to a new life and relationship with a guy she met in college. But once she gets back home, she realizes she still kind of has feelings for her old high school flame, and she sticks around to help him out, eventually breaking up with her boyfriend, sleeping with her old one, and solving the case of the day. This feels like something Thomas felt he had to do — reunite two characters who used to date — rather than anything that made sense in the story. Veronica's new relationship seems to be going fine: she and her boyfriend have chemistry and energy, and his parents are flying in to meet her. She experiences no remorse or conflict about breaking up with him, and she beds the old flame pretty quickly. She doesn't even look back. This is the behavior of a liar or sociopath, and in any other movie people would say "Wait, what?" But because this whole project is pitched as fan service, it's like we're not supposed to wonder how point A leads to point B. We're just supposed to cheer that these people are walking and talking again. I get the enthusiasm — like I said, I was a fan of the show, and its first two seasons are very good — but the film often feels like a cheap trick. The series itself ended on a cliffhanger, as Thomas and company fought and ultimately failed to keep the show alive. But seeing how they've updated things, I almost wish the film hadn't been made. The unanswered mystery was so much more promising.

Timing Is Nothing

I didn't start watching "Breaking Bad" until last summer. I'd heard from the beginning how good the show was, and I even watched the pilot when it aired. But as so often happens, I got distracted and didn't keep up with it. I caught up with the series' first three seasons in the weeks before the fourth season premiered, which let me watch new episodes week to week. I love the show and think it's one of the best of the many amazing series of TV's modern renaissance, but the show's quality and my feelings toward it have nothing to do with when I saw it.

Yet when people discover major ongoing series like "Breaking Bad" before they've ended their run, there's a tendency to talk about "finally" catching up. Matt Dentler tweeted about catching up with the show before its current season premiered by saying he was a "late-to-the-party bandwagon jumper." Announcements like this are laced with low-level guilt, as if not seeing the show before now was somehow a crime against art.

This is one of the many negative effects of the rise of "First!" culture: the attitude that enjoying a good TV show isn't as important as enjoying it right now, as soon as possible, with everyone else, every week, so you can talk about all the time. This doesn't happen as much with movies, even though they're just as much a communal experience that unites us by what we choose to see together. That's because movies are singular experiences, and surprise that someone hasn't seen a popular movie is limited to two hours of entertainment. An ongoing series like "Breaking Bad" means a years-long commitment to a story, and when it reaches the level of critical and viewer acclaim that "Breaking Bad" has, the show's fans can all too easily transition from preaching the series' virtues to scolding those who aren't in the know already.

There's a pretty obvious drawback to the belief that you have to be watching the next big thing right as it airs: There's always something new to watch, and you can't make up for the series you missed when you were younger or just out of the loop. "Breaking Bad" is a fantastic show, and I love watching it week to week and talking about it with my friends, but if I didn't wind up catching the show until five years after it ended, it would still be amazing. My watching it now has nothing to do with how good it is. My attention, though valued by the network and the series' creators, does not make the show better. The show exists apart from me. I can do nothing but watch it and enjoy, whether that means being there from the first season or catching them in a marathon a decade after it sails into history.

I didn't see "The Wire" until it was on DVD. I still haven't seen "The Sopranos." I watched "Sports Night" and "Freaks and Geeks" live as they aired. I just got into "Twin Peaks" a month ago. I started "Friday Night Lights" on DVD after the first season. Same with "Veronica Mars." I've been with "Justified" since the first episode. The only thing that matters in all those experiences is that I've had them. It doesn't give me street cred to brag about watching a show live from the get-go, or to chide those who haven't. The only thing worth talking about is the art.

I Hear The Bells, They Are Like Emeralds

vmart1.jpgOver at Pajiba, it's my turn at bat again in our continuing survey of the best TV seasons of the past 20 years. We've bumped the roster from from 15 to 20, which should carry us through the summer and allow us to write about some favorites that we just couldn't pass up. This one, however, was always on the list. My struggle wasn't to decide whether to write about "Veronica Mars," but which season to write about. For reasons I hope I make clear, I went with the first. The piece can be found here.

I Promise To Use My Power For Niceness

I discovered this last night and got an unapologetically geeky rush (click the image for a larger view):vmgrab.png The folks over at Watch "Veronica Mars" used a blurb from my obit of the show as a pull quote at the top of their home page. Thanks to whoever did that, and you should know I'm doing a piece about the show next month over at Pajiba as part of the ongoing guide we're calling "The Best 15 Seasons of the Past 20 Years."

With A Devilish Look In Her Eye

Oh please no. No. Please, oh just and loving Creator, not like this. Not like this. Please no. This isn't Dan and Casey rallying; this is Jubal Early floating through space, lost, alone, unresolved. This is coldness. This is ambiguity. This is heartache. I will miss this show like no other, and it will always hurt like hell that things never got resolved. Do you hear me? It will never get any easier. I don't even know what to say. I've got a piece over at Pajiba that begins to work through my grief. All I can do is read back over some of my favorite exchanges from the past three years (and there are many, many more), and smile: Keith: I never want you to think that your mom is the villain in all of this. Veronica: Isn't she? Keith: No, it's not that simple.... Veronica: Yeah, it is. The hero is the one that stays ... and the villain is the one that splits. Keith: Who's your Daddy? Veronica: I hate it when you say that. Keith: This is important, you remember this, I used to be cool. Veronica: When? Keith: '77. Trans-Am, Blue Oyster Cult in the 8-track; foxy, stacked blond riding shotgun; racing for pink slips. Wait a minute, I'm thinking of a Springsteen song. Scratch everything. I was never cool. Veronica: I don't know which bothers me more, "foxy" or "stacked." Veronica: It's all fun and games till one of you gets my foot up your ass. Keith: So how was your date? Veronica: Oh, you know. Lousy conversation, but the sex was fantastic! Keith: That's not funny. Veronica: I don't know. I'm pretty sure it was. Veronica: [voiceover] Tragedy blows through your life like a tornado, uprooting everything. Creating chaos. You wait for the dust to settle and then you choose. You can live in the wreckage and pretend it's still the mansion you remember. Or you can crawl from the rubble and slowly rebuild. Veronica: Got any enemies you know about? Wallace: Well, there's the Klan. Veronica: [voiceover] J. Geils was right. Love stinks. You can dress it up in sequins and shoulder pads, but one way or another, you're just gonna end up alone at the spring dance strapped in uncomfortable underwear. Veronica: [voiceover] So this is how it is. The innocent suffer, the guilty go free, and truth and fiction are pretty much interchangeable. ...There is neither a Santa Claus, nor an Easter Bunny, and there no angels watching over us. Things just happen for no reason, and nothing makes any sense. Veronica: Mrs. C. I trust you're well. Kendall: Oh, well, if it isn't Little Miss Teen Getaway. Your dad and I were just dealing with a little trouble. Veronica: Like, trouble with a capital "T," that rhymes with "C," that stands for — Keith: Veronica! Veronica: I was gonna say "cute." Logan: As a rule, I like to start every school day with a hot blond waiting for me in the parking lot. Veronica: Me too. Logan: I'm not blond. Veronica: Or hot. Got a question for you: remember back when you were doing the deed with Dick's stepmom? Logan: Mmm, vaguely. I remember she thought I was hot. Veronica: Were you with her on the day of the crash? You two talked on the phone a few times that day. Logan: Man, you're obsessed with my sex life. Do I need to start carrying around a webcam from now on? Veronica: Logan... Logan: Day of the crash, day of the crash... uh, I'd really have to consult my feelings journal to be sure. Veronica: Kendall stood to make millions by sending Dick and Beaver over that cliff. There was an insurance policy. Logan: Kendall requires a domestic staff to make cereal. You really think she could plot a murder? Veronica: Were you with her at 7:03? Logan: Actually, she kicked me out before the sheets were dry. But considering her husband's fondness for handguns, and the fact that Dick and Beaver could come home at any moment, who could blame her? Anything else? Oh, I, uh, I got to second base with Tammy Forester in 8th grade in Duncan's closet. Last summer, I made this townie girl moan without even using my hands. Is any of this relevant? Should I make a list? Veronica: You're patronizing me? Keith: To be fair, I am your patron. And, to cap it off, one of the series' classic scenes. It would be impossible to pick a favorite moment (Veronica's tearful paternity scene in Season 1 is gut-wrenching), but this one comes awful close:

Nothing's Going Right Today

"Veronica Mars" has been canceled.It wasn't mentioned on the CW's fall grid at the upfronts, but that's no surprise. And sure, there's a tiny, tiny glimmer of a chance the show could be saved in the next month. A part of me would like to believe that will happen, because at the end of the day I'm a gullible softie. But not even my own weaknesses can distract me from the bad news. I'll have more on it later, probably next week after the finale, but for now, all I can do is sigh and feel bad and at least try to be thankful the show lasted three years. "Veronica Mars" has been canceled. That's all I got.

"Veronica Mars": Breaking Your Heart With Beams Of Light

vm0511-3.jpg• I sure don't know what's gotten into me recently, considering I posted all of once during the first two seasons of "Veronica Mars" and have suddenly begun spouting off at length about it. Believe me, I'm more than aware that gallons of digital ink are being spilled daily about every show on TV, and that sometimes it feels like the whole blogging community is, in the words of Agent Bedhead, a case of "too many people writing, and virtually no one reading." But I am unable to stay quiet about the movies and music and TV shows that move me, to shut that fire up in my bones, if you will. What's more, I know that these are dark times for "Veronica Mars," with the show's renewal for next year looking slightly better than before but with the possibility that the show will be rebooted drastically, forever altering the show's universe. So maybe that's why I keep writing about it: I want to spend as much time with it as possible while I have it. And I can live with that. • That said, this week's episode, "Debasement Tapes," was one of the most visually captivating in a long time, a solid hour of beautiful compositions, dependable camera work and gorgeous lighting that helped smooth over the bumpier moments of the plot. There was almost no non-diegetic sound: I could be wrong, but I don't remember a single voice-over from Veronica, and there were also fewer emotional music cues than usual. The voice-over is a key ingredient to the show, and to noirish P.I. material in general, and without it the series slides a little from being told through Veronica's eyes to simply being about a girl named Veronica. It's a minor but essential difference, and I think the show hurts without it. Still, the cinematography was as stunning as ever: Look at the interplay of the blue and yellow signs behind Veronica's head, the golden light on her jaw. The shots here aren't just functional; each one is composed with regard to the series' unique sense of color and style. The same goes for the reverses on Veronica and Wallace while they talk about Piz and relationships: vm0511-1.jpg vm0511-2.jpg The scenes are deceptively simple, but wonderfully balanced and artfully executed, with the blue and green fighting for attention with the splash of red from Wallace's shirt. The world of Neptune has always been candy-colored but never extreme; the blasts of color are meant to recall neon signs reflecting in puddles on streets that this girl should be avoiding. • The mystery of the week centered on the disappearance of backing tapes belonging to Desmond Fellows, an aging pop-rocker played by Paul Rudd in low-key braggart mode. It's something like 19 times more entertaining than the mystery last week, wherein Veronica attempted to broker peace in the Middle East, because this one focuses on good music and heartbreak, two staples of dependable storytelling. When Desmond took the stage at the end to sing some "solo stuff" he'd been writing since the band's demise, he sang Cotton Mather's "My Before and After," a pop single from a dysfunctional band whose rocky history was surely a blueprint for that of My Pretty Pony, Desmond's fictional group. Cotton Mather also appeared on the "Veronica Mars" soundtrack, in an awesome branding tie-in and a sure sign that somebody on set, maybe writer John Enbom, is a big fan of the pop group from Austin. • But even better than the serviceable plot was the way it looked playing out onscreen: vm0511-5.jpg Come on, that's just nice to look at. It doesn't matter that it makes absolutely no sense for a desk lamp in a police station to have a blue bulb, and that's the whole point. "Veronica Mars" has always played around with these joyous pastels, crashing pink and purple and green against each other in the most unlikely of places, like the stained-glass window in the lobby of Keith's P.I. office (which I'm starting to really miss, but that's another headache). Look at the way these shots balance the blues and oranges so well. To me, it's more than just aesthetically beautiful: It's pleasing on an emotional level I can barely understand, much less express. Something about the balance of contrasting colors, the light, the framing that serves as its very own character. It's just gorgeous: vm0511-6.jpg I can't get over the way the blue light glances off her hair, and how it plays against that shock of orange light behind her. Man: vm0511-7.jpg • The scene at the nightclub was amazing, too, in that it united the episode's emotional arc — Veronica realizing she might like-like Piz, you know, like a boyfriend — with its commitment to reflecting those emotions with the light around the characters. Things are dark in this scene because of its location, with red and yellow spilling across the stage, but the smaller lanterns hanging nearby lend it a necessary intimacy. Veronica looks at Piz and says, "Piznarski, you're a good guy." This is a crucial moment in their developing whatever it is: Piz knows he's a good guy, which is why he's not with Veronica. (Desmond earlier in the episode looks at Piz and says, "You're single and you're very nice. There's a correlation." Piz has just been handed the Bible and the Tao of Steve rolled into one.) So when Veronica says that to him, he just looks back at the stage with the kind of detached confidence no 19-year-old should possess. And that's when Veronica takes his hand. vm0511-8.jpg • Sure, I gasped a little, but not out of shock that Veronica has developed the warm fuzzies for yet another guy whose heart she will eventually shred like Kleenex (I assume Duncan and his baby are still fine in Australia, but at least she could mention him once in a while). No, it was just the skill of the moment, the combination of earnest acoustic pop and good editing and the fact that I'd been pulled deeper into a trance for 45 minutes by the show's consistent visual beauty. "Veronica Mars" is special for that consistency. Many other great dramas, if not all, take time to find their footing when it comes to lighting and camera work, either starting out rockily before discovering what works or slowly evolving (or devolving) into a look that's often directly at odds with the show's roots. For instance, "Buffy" got a little brighter and sharper over the years, to its betterment, while "The West Wing" went from soft lighting, stationary cameras, and formal compositions to murky non-illuminations, self-consciously jittery photography and film-student trick shots. But "Veronica Mars" has always known aesthically where it wants to go, and that confidence in part fuels its storytelling. I know that Veronica and Piz will never last; Chris Lowell, who plays Piz, is set to recur on the "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff. And even if he wasn't, the show thrives on pain and breakups, as I've written many times before and will inevitably mention again. But still, for one moment, as the camera pulled away and they stood there, hands gently clasped and bathed in sweet incandescence, I believed anything was possible. vm0511-9.jpg

"Veronica Mars": When Mysteries Aren't That Mysterious

vm0502-3.jpg• I can begin nowhere else but by once again reflecting upon how much my life is tied to this show, for reasons passing human understanding and perhaps discernible only to God. There's some throwaway dialogue between Wallace and Piz at the beginning of one scene, and Piz is telling Wallace about a certain theatrical experience, telling him it'll "change your life" while describing how people throw plastic spoons at the screen. Piz was talking about The Room. The very same cult movie I saw for the first time just the other night, and that I wrote about on Monday. What are the odds? I haven't felt this connected to "Veronica Mars" since Max the "Battlestar" fanboy fell in love with a hooker and bought her freedom. Not that I've ever done that, but I think it could be fun. Seriously, though: Rob Thomas is watching me. • It's moments like that one, as well as the relationship-fueled drama, that I'll take away from last night's episode, "Un-American Graffiti," since the mystery of the week was pathetically uninteresting. It's not that this show (or TV series in general) should refrain from making some kind of political point, though the heated rhetoric about freedom and what it means to be an American felt a little out of place for the gritty Neptune I've come to know and love. The problem is that by transitioning, albeit hopefully only temporarily, from its traditional format of multi-episode story arcs to stand-alone installments here at the end of the third season whose only through-line will be the characters' ongoing relationships (in short, the same stuff that happens on every other drama). But that's bad. • The show's season-long arcs weren't just distractions from the personal dramas in the individual characters' lives, but a direct influence on them. The first year, Veronica sought to find out who killed Lilly Kane, and each successive mystery of the week was often tied to the Kane case, which in turn pushed Veronica, Duncan, et al. down the grueling but rewarding paths they would walk as they changed, grew, fell in and out of love, and coped with the unmitigated hell that is growing up. The second season's main arc, dealing with the school bus crash, managed to top the first year for scope, which was no easy feat. What's more, the second season amplified the symbiotic nature of the mysteries and the characters: The investigation defined Veronica even as she sought to solve it. One of the many fine examples of this was last year's episode "I Am God," which saw Veronica almost lose herself in the story of the crash. The mysteries sharpened the characters because they were so closely related to their lives. • Which is why stand-alone episodes just won't work within the larger framework of "Veronica Mars." This week's story dealt (pretty heavy-handedly) with a local Arab family being tormented by a bigoted little patriot, but the connection to Veronica was tenuous at best: The daughter in the family had apparently been a classmate of Veronica's, which is a pretty lazy way for a show that prides itself on internal references to establish a character connection. But the story had nothing to do with Veronica. Nothing. It wasn't even tenuously related to her through the kind of cheap metaphor a lesser show would use (e.g., the Arab man's tolerance of the bigot's actions would parallel Veronica's growing acceptance of Logan's new relationship with Parker, or whatever). The mysteries only matter when they involve the main characters and give them a chance to change, react, grow, etc. The first two seasons were dazzling in how the central characters' relationships were never really stable, never cemented, much like actual high school (and college, and young adulthood, and, one assumes, the rest of your life). But without a chance to let the characters' relationships change because of the mystery, well, the mystery just kind of hangs there. • That said, though, the relational angst was still pretty stout this week; the MOW wrapped around 45 minutes in just to let the final act play out at Parker's party. The show finally came through on the hint that Piz would go after Veronica instead of just gazing at her and pining and playing with his bangs, and it was good to see him do it. Sure, Logan and Parker just seem to be together because they're killing time, but Veronica/"Veronica" doesn't do happiness nearly as well as pain, which means Veronica and Logan won't be getting back together soon, or easily. • The rest of the party scene was pretty strong, too, from the space elevator reference to last season's alterna-prom to Max's worried inquiry of Mac, "Seriously, did my friends hire you?" But the best was how, once again, the heartbreak played out in front of the elevator, as Logan found Veronica and Piz doing what had been inevitable since they met. But it's a sign of the show's wobblier third season that the moment didn't hold a candle to the morning-after scene in last year's "Look Who's Stalking." As the elevator doors closed on Veronica, I thought: That was good, but haven't I been here before?

I Can See By The Way That She Danced For Me That If I Give Her Ten Dollars I Could Get Anything That I Want: Heartbreak And Destiny In "Veronica Mars"

[Permanent disclosure, again, for those who need the help: Spoilers follow.]• I almost didn't think it was possible, but Tuesday's episode of "Veronica Mars," titled "Poughkeepsie, Tramps & Thieves,"1 explored even new realms of disillusionment, angst, and general all-out pain for the show. It was also the confluence of several of the show's developing storylines and in-jokes, as well as a continuation of things written here very recently, so much so that for one brief moment the universe unlocked and I was at its center. • Specifically, only a few days after I wrote about the subject, the series dealt with its own brand of love going to the highest bidder. The episode revolved around Max (Adam Rose), who enlists Veronica to track down a girl he met at Comic-Con. He says they fell in love talking about "Battlestar Galactica" and Chuck Klosterman, and aside from being just one giant screaming wish-fulfillment of a plot setup, it also introduces a guaranteed pain into the episode. As I wrote before — and as this episode bears out — it never, ever works out to fall in love with a girl who makes a living selling herself. Never. Ever. Max is going to learn this the hard way, and his heartbreak is so predestined that you know he'll be broken by the time the credits roll. It's a given. • Speaking of the "Battlestar" thing: It's a weird running in-joke on "Veronica Mars," going all the way back to Veronica's R.A.-turned-rapist, who liked a little "BSG" with his abduction. Soon enough, Veronica was saying "Frak," and now there's an entire episode built around the fact that these two characters met while talking about "Battlestar" at that holiest of geek meccas, Comic-Con. This isn't the first geek crossover for "Veronica," either: Joss Whedon, Alyson Hannigan and Charisma Carpenter2 have all been on the show, ranging from guest spots to major story arcs. So what is it about the show that makes it so appealing for geek references? I don't know. All I know is that there are people out there way more devoted3 to the crossovers than you'd think. • Anyway: Veronica eventually tracks down the girl, who turns out to be a hooker hired by Max's dickish buddies to help him lose his virginity. But when Max finds out she's a hooker, he refuses to believe his time with her was an act. He's textbook romantic martyr: He believes that yeah, she's pretended to enjoy being with men before, but she meant it with him. What's more, he even arranges with her madam to buy her out of prostitution. It's pretty much exactly the plot of the "Battlestar" episode where Lee falls in love with Shevon.4 • And oh, the pain comes on big time when Max finally gets the girl. At first it appears rosy and sun-flecked and full of all the happy things a relationship with a former call girl should never be, but then the crap inevitably gets funnelled through the fan and splattered all over Max's mopey existence. His roommates try and hire his new girlfriend to strip at a bachelor party; Max can't get past what she used to do for a living; etc.; etc. He finally confronts her about the night they met, when she claimed to have a left a card with all her info on it back at the hotel, which was subsequently removed by housekeeping. Max asks her if it's true, and the look on her face as she slowly shakes her head is just devastating. "Veronica Mars" is no stranger to pain, but this is one of the most uncomfortable scenes simply because the destruction was so inevitable. Not inevitable in the typical way of most TV narratives, e.g., let's break up the leads again and keep stringing out the main story. No, this was inevitable because it was bound to fail from the start; there was, literally, no other option. And that's a whole other kind of pain than watching Veronica and Logan go round after round (which is good, though somehow always disconcerting considering how much she pined for Duncan the first year or so), because that relationship has something Max and Random Whore will never have: hope. • So she leaves him, and winds up slowly paying him back in installments for buying her out in the first place. The first payment is a sweaty wad of singles she earned stripping. Ah, fate. • Seriously, though, the "Battlestar" and Klosterman references are enough to make me very, very uneasy. Someone else might be flattered or pleased that their favorite show managed to reference their other favorite show and one of their favorite authors; I prefer to sink into a morass of self-doubt. It's like the show knows way too well who it's aiming for. That might not be bad, but it's definitely eerie. 1. Come on, you laughed. A little. 2. If I have to explain those names, you might be at the wrong blog. 3. I still watched it half a dozen times. 4. Only Max doesn't shoot anyone in the gut, though that would've been an interesting wrinkle.

"Veronica Mars": The Upside Of Doing A Big Thing Badly

If ever I needed proof of Veronica Mars' enduring humanity — i.e., her proclivity for stupid decisions — I had it Tuesday night as she fell for the thousandth time into Logan's arms as the music swelled.Far from being a superhero with an overdeveloped sense of justice and the nature of right and wrong, Veronica at times has an almost fetishtic way of singlemindedly pursuing a goal. Granted, she's matured as the series has grown; when she was hired to discover the identity of the campus rapist in the first major story arc of Season 3, she didn't set out to crucify the frats like the rape victims wanted her to, but instead tried to find the truth of the situation. But she also has the habit of relentlessly pursuing a chosen goal and letting that lead her, however ungracefully, to the truth. For instance, in Tuesday's episode, she suspected a campus anti-fur crusader group in the recent vandalization of a research lab and the freeing of the lab's experimental monkey and 20 or so rats. So Veronica went to one of the group's meetings and started broadcasting in huge, violent, incandescent letters that she would be willing to go all the way with the group's "more active" protests. It was a pretty stupid way to blend in when she was on a case, but more importantly, it underscored her tendency to simply attack the first line of reasoning until it plays out, instead of more carefully weighing the alternatives. She still solved the case, of course, and did it with compassion, but that's not the point. That stuff came later; in the beginning was the wrath. So I'm not completely surprised that Veronica went in essence crawling back to Logan, who'd ended their relationship in the previous episode. It's likely that the showrunners decided that they'd been apart long enough; after all, the story's chronology was roughly made to match its recent broadcast hiatus (the previous episode aired Nov. 28, 2006, and I've been waiting for the show's return like no other). But this was only briefly established when Keith referred to the death of Dean O'Dell "six weeks ago." As far as the viewers are concerned, it's only been one episode, a lousy 45 minutes, since Veronica and Logan called it quits (again), and to have them recouple so soon is an oversight in narrative structure. There's a difference between taking a break for repeats and actually extending the show's timeline; sure, it may feel like a long time since "Veronica Mars" has aired new episodes, but that doesn't mean that the writers should behave as if the residents of Neptune, Calif., have actually been up to their old tricks for six invisible weeks while the viewers waited. No major story arcs happened during that time; nothing did. This will become even clearer when the show is eventually released on DVD, effectively eliminating the emotional break caused by the hiatus and leaving only the erratic story that has Veronica and Logan bouncing from off again to on again in a matter of minutes. But even worse, it's a betrayal of the kind of strength Veronica is purported to possess. Her character is one giant ball of trust issues and emotional unavailabilty, and creator Rob Thomas has gone to great lengths to show that while Veronica is capable of love and devotion, she doesn't come by such sentiments easily. She's been burned by a mom that left and then returned only to wreak more havoc, not to mention a string of complicated relationships that tend to end, well, badly. Veronica's loyalty has had to be earned by the other major characters, but she's got a blind spot for Logan. And while that sucks, I also think it's a good thing, in it's way. Her weakness in that area is a reminder of her fundamentally flawed nature. Everyone has that blind spot, too; for some its gambling, or alcohol, or whatever, and for Veronica it's intelligent assholes with a little too much hair product. I was surprised, and more than a little annoyed, when Veronica went running back to Logan so soon (or "soon"), but I also know that it's one more thing that gives the character dimension and reality, and a reminder of just how good this show can be.

Going Away To College: Or, Why We Should All Cut Riley Finn Some Slack

VMgroup2.jpgIn case it's escaped the notice of even the dullest reader out there, I've got a pretty special place in the black rock I call my heart for "Veronica Mars." Now cruising gamely along in its third season, despite low ratings and a network dumb enough to pair it with "Gilmore Girls" (a show about absolutely, positively nothing at all), "Veronica Mars" is still one of the best shows on TV. But after two full years of exploring high school life, Veronica up and graduated, and is now attending Hearst College. Her matriculation mirrors not just the show's transfer from the defunct UPN to the new CW, but also the fact that the show itself is at a crossroads, namely, the elimination of its premise — high-school private eye — and a gradual change in its mission statement. This is bound to be a polarizing time for the show's hardcore fans, and it's reminiscent of the similar struggle faced by what some have called the show's ancestor, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Granted, I think that comparing any two shows beyond a certain point is unwise, and most people are just linking "Buffy" and "Veronica Mars" out of a well-meaning laziness: Both shows were centered around a strong, flawed, complex female character in high school; both shows placed a premium on witty dialogue and interpersonal relationships; both shows are on low-rated pseudo-networks; etc. But the shows do have their similarites, primarily their ability to explore the hell of growing up through the archetypal lens of high school, the one experience that unites us all in common misery. After its third season, "Buffy" went through the same growing pains now working their way through "Veronica Mars," as Buffy went off to college and the show struggled to find its larger purpose even as its core dynamic was forever altered. More than just having key characters removed and assigned to a spin-off, the "Buffy" universe had to deal with its very own existential crisis: What happens when the teenage superhero starts to grow up? The show dealt with the inevitable problems the only way it knew how: By pushing through them. The first episode of the fourth season features another pack of vampires led by one of the lamest ringleaders the show ever came up with, but the villain of the week did one thing right: She broke Buffy's umbrella, a symbol of the good work she'd done in high school. It was a crushing, visceral way for the show to proclaim that the times were changing in a big way. The fourth season, though certainly not a favorite of some fans, nevertheless turned out some great episodes — the experimental "Hush," the crossover "Pangs," the enjoyable one-off "Superstar," the excellent "Fear, Itself" — and, much more importantly, broadened its worldview. College is a world of gray tones next to the starkly defined areas of high school, and Buffy interacted with a greater variety of people with more darkly human (as opposed to demonic) traits, including Parker, who slept with Buffy and never called her again. He wasn't supernaturally evil, just a tool. It was in important step for the show, and one that paved the way for more complex relationships in the characters' collective futures. The fourth season was radically different from the first three because it had to be. That's the problem, and possible solution, facing "Veronica Mars." The show's first two seasons delved into the dark sides of class warfare between the haves and have-nots of the small town of Neptune, smartly recognizing that cash is the biggest dividing line between the lunch tables in the cafeteria. But university life is rarely that stratified, and the only people who cling to such dated notions of how to define themselves are the jerks who seem to think college is basically Grade 13. "Veronica Mars" is going to have to figure out how to let go of the rich-poor struggle that so often defines the stories. Veronica used to be a high-school snoop, and but she's going to have to transform into a bigger, more nuanced character to get the show over the tough bumps coming out of two solid years of stories. The show should set about trying to define Veronica in grander terms, like what kind of person does she want to be, in order to work. The central group of characters has been altered — Duncan's gone, Beaver's dead — and the remaining ones aren't what they used to be, none more than Weevil, who's gone from ruthless gang leader to the equivalent of wacky sitcom neighbor in only a few months (seriously, making Weevil the janitor at Hearst was a low blow, especially after offering up the tantaloizing possibility that he might work with Keith). But "Veronica Mars" can and will succeed if it pushes the characters to grow, and if it becomes comfortable with somewhat redefining itself. You don't go back; you go on to the next place, whatever that is.

Be Cool, Soda Pop

I sit here, basking in what could only be described as the post-coital glow of a long-desired reunion with one of the greatest shows on TV, feeling somehow more complete than I did when I got up Tuesday morning. In the interests of sparing you seven loyal readers from slogging through some kind of half-assed essay, my regurgitations will be limited to bullet points. You're welcome.• The season premiere of "Veronica Mars" was pretty much everything I'd hoped it would be. I didn't have quite the emotional baggage tied up in it as I did with the "Studio 60" premiere; my early, earnest, teenage love for Sorkin's "Sports Night" pretty much ruined me on that count. Likewise, I'm curious about "Lost" this year but am wary of the show after the gradual decline of its second season. But "Veronica Mars" is still engaging, honest, and confident of the road it wants to walk. Creator Rob Thomas' script did a solid job at handling some necessarily clunky exposition: Having all the high schoolers wind up at the same college; having Keith address Fitzpatrick by name while driving him to meet Kendall; having Logan and Dick mention Beaver's suicide; etc. He introduced new characters, hinted at possible relationship conflicts, and ended the episode on dual cliffhangers. Brilliant. • For instance: The light. The show has always confounded a realistic expectation of lighting design, casting its characters in stark rays of pink or blue or green in the midst of such mundane settings as classrooms and low-rent apartments. Keith's office is still bathed in an orgy of neon coming from nowhere, and Veronica's criminolgy classroom has stained glass windows for no other reason than that the show is constantly injecting flourishes of color into every situation. • Veronica's criminology professor? Jeremiah f***ing Lasky. What a weird bit of typecasting. • The only bad note: Thanks a pantload to the CW for foisting the godawful Aerie Girls on the viewers. It's just a group of stupid women who sit around and pointlessly discuss the show during the commercial break. That's bad enough, but infinitely worse is that it's sponsored by a women's clothing line. Look, I've already got enough to deal with loving a show that's been paired with "Gilmore Girls" by the clueless network, not to mention the fact that most of the shows I love seem to revolve around a strong female lead. I'm already doing my best to fake my way through life, okay? The last thing I need is to see a gaggle of dim giggling women speculating about Veronica and Logan or Lorelai and Luke (which come on, you know she's not gonna wind up with Christopher). • The show is still committed to unraveling a weekly mystery and progressing a larger story arc, as evidenced by Keith's trip to the desert with a Fitzpatrick, as well as sidelong confirmation of what was in Kendall's briefcase in last season's finale (apparently a mountain of cash). But there was no major introduction to a season-long puzzle, as in the murder of Lilly Kane or the school bus crash. That's not to say that this season's planned multiple-mystery set-up won't be satisfying. It's just a little sad to see the show's original conceit go. • Is Duncan still hanging out in Australia with his dead ex's baby? Is he okay with Veronica sleeping with Logan? Didn't they part with all kinds of professions of eternal whatever? I'm just saying, she could call the guy. • Seriously, the whole Aerie thing made me deeply self-conscious.