Veronica Mars Surprise

May 14, 2005

Over on TeeVee, Nathan Alderman waxes philosophic on the end of Veronica Mars season one.

What is surprising is just how dark the show can get. Veronica’s high school is a vicious and unforgiving place where the line between social mortification and actual physical harm is all too thin. Any show can be “daring” by showing teens drinking or using drugs; Mars doesn’t flinch at physical abuse, rape or the specter of incest. The season finale’s nightmarish climax — a terrified Veronica trapped inside a burning refrigerator, her dad Keith setting himself on fire to rescue her — packed as much punch as any of 24’s best moments. (It also nabbed Keith Mars the Most Badass Dad on TV Award, making previous contenders Jack Bristow and Jack Bauer look like spineless wusses in comparison.)

It looks like Nathan and I ended up on the same page on this series.  After all was said and done, Veronica Mars stands out as the best new (surviving) series I watched this season.

Veronica Mars had a lot going against it to begin with—UPN, a “cancel me in 6 episodes” premise (cute highschool girl plays hardboiled detective), characters that were largely unlovable (at least on the surface), Enrico Colantoni as a tough lawman instead of a spoiled fashion photographer, and Harry Hamlin.

The show managed to overcome all of this, largely on the strength of Kristen Bell’s acting, good directing, and a really excellent storyline. 

I hadn’t even started the season out watching it.  For some reason I’d told the PVR to record it, but I spent my new series viewing time slogging through Desperate Housewives and Lost, as well as a large handful of titles that didn’t have legs to get to the end of the season. 

Finally, I had enough Mars recorded that I needed to either watch it or delete it, so I gritted my teeth and tried the first episode.  It wasn’t bad at all. 

By three episodes, I was utterly hooked.

By the end of the season, they’d managed to avoid pretty much every cliche pitfall that a series like this is prone to.  Amidst a lot of good standalone plots, they’d marched a dark season-long core story arc to a satisfying and surprising conclusion, and gave you a lot of reason to like characters that you wanted to hate at the beginning.  They not only survived, but even managed to score an early renewal for next season.

That’s a tough track-record to argue with. 

In fact, the only tentative note in my mind about Veronica Mars is where they’ll go next season.  By the end of this season, we’d wrapped up the mystery that defined and drove the main character.  Both satisfyingly and worryingly, the only cliffhanger left is whether one or two supporting cast members survived, and who our heroine’s final love interest would be. 

On the strength of season one, however, I’ll give ‘em the benefit of the doubt.

If you missed seeing Veronica Mars this season, I’d suggesting catching the summer reruns or keeping your eye out for a DVD release (or for the brave, looking for Torrents).  You’ll be glad you did.


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