TV Reviews | May 24, 2007 | Comments ()
I’ve called you all here today to mourn the passing of “Veronica Mars,” a sharp, dark, witty, complex, beautiful TV series that holds a special place in the hearts of most Pajiba staffers and many Pajiba readers. The news came over the wires Thursday as the CW upfront presentation confirmed what many viewers had been fearing for months: The show is dead. There had been talk of a purported reboot that would accelerate the show’s chronology by 4 years, taking Veronica from her freshman year of college to her first year as an FBI agent, but that enterprise smelled of the desperation that usually precedes the falling ax. Such a radical change was a symptom of the incurable disease that was working its way through the show via the CW, and it made the series’ impending demise that much more inevitable. I loved “Veronica Mars,” and will miss it like hell, but I honestly can’t say I’m surprised. Modern-day network television is filled with darkened holes where our favorite shows used to shine: We’ve all felt the pain that comes when that show, our show, is removed from the airwaves. It’s as if a good friend suddenly moves away, and it sucks. But in a funny and awful way, the fact that we become so attached to these shows only to have them killed prematurely makes a twisted community out of the fans; titles like “Freaks and Geeks,” “Firefly,” “Arrested Development,” and others are now passwords for a subset of people whose vision of TV leans decidedly away from “24,” “CSI,” and others of their ilk that are aimed at the many at the expense of truly engaging the few. That’s the way it’s been with “Veronica Mars,” a sad, sweet little show that delivered rich emotion, narrative complexity, and fantastic payoffs for those lucky enough to catch it for the past three seasons. Were we lucky to have it that long? Of course. I have no illusions about the fact that the show “struggled” in the ratings for three years, and I’m grateful — I really am — that it was allowed to live this long. But that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the fact that the show is dead.
From the start, creator Rob Thomas’ show was darker than you’d expect a teen drama to be: The main character’s best friend, Lilly Kane, is murdered, after which the heroine suffers a fall from grace, tumbling to the lowest strata of a high school harshly delineated by economic classes. Her boyfriend dumps her, and her father is ousted as town sheriff and forced to open up a P.I. business, all while their name becomes synonymous with failure. Oh yeah, she’s also roofied and raped at a party, with no idea of who committed the crime. And this is all stuff that happens before the first episode. It’s revealed in flashback, meaning we never see firsthand Veronica’s tumble from the upper echelon of her white-bread friends, only her struggle to make it as a loner. “Veronica Mars” confronted the ugly realities of how teen life is a no-holds-barred kind of warfare for those involved, where horrific degradation and quick revenge go unnoticed by the dull eyes of the teachers. Set in the fictional Neptune, California, the series wasn’t afraid to split up the cool kids and the outsiders with the same dividing line used in the real world: Cash. The rich kids live in the 90909 zip code, and the 09ers get what they want because they want it. That simple.
But in the middle of all that class warfare was the strong, quiet relationship between Veronica and her father, Keith, and it’s one of the most beautiful father-daughter bonds in recent TV history. Thomas was never afraid to have Keith and Veronica love each other fiercely, holed up together in the office, two losers against the world who would do anything for each other. Yes, they often fought, and they even had occasion to lie to each other, but they never for a second turned their backs on each other. The first season deftly explored Veronica and Keith’s relationship as it charted a course through the major mystery arc: Who killed Lilly Kane? It was those season-long arcs that gave the show a narrative drive and thrilling complexity that blew every other teen drama out of the water for all time. This is the Odyssey of teen dramas, a multi-character soap brimming with murder and sex and lies and corruption and the kind of pure sweet heartbreak your body forgets how to produce after a certain age because it would kill you. “Veronica Mars” dealt in darkness, and that made its light shine all the brighter. The show’s second season managed to do the impossible by surpassing the first for scope and sheer spectacle: Where the major arcs had been somewhat delineated in the first year, the second year mashed them all together into a heady, hypnotic mess of who’s cheating who. The first two years of the show, following Veronica’s junior and senior years of high school, are a fantastic epic, and almost self-contained (damn that pesky cliffhanger with Kendall and her briefcase). The show wobbled in its third year as a shift to a new network, the CW, and the influence of a less than forgiving network president, Dawn Ostroff, pushed the show away from complex, heavily serialized stories and into more standalone episodes. But despite the presence of smaller, less complex mysteries, the show still managed to serve up a few moments on par with the emotional gut-wrenchers of its first two years.
And oh, those moments. I’m attracted to just about every aspect of filmmaking, and am capable of noticing and loving everything from lighting, to acting, to directing, to sound design, to the unique characters, etc. But the thing that hits me a moment before everything else is always the story itself. There’s a graceful kind of math to well-done structure, when characters are pulled apart or pushed together or sent sailing by each other in the night by the impassive hand of fate. Buoyed along by the rapid-fire patter and Veronica’s vintage noir voice-over, the series was chock full of heartbreaking exchanges as relationships constantly shifted and changed. From episode to episode, you’re never certain where people will wind up, and that mercurial quality made the show fascinating, and a lot like real life. But again, under it all, was this amazing relationship between Veronica and Keith. Kristen Bell was fantastic at every turn; there hasn’t been a strong female lead carry a show like this since, well, Sarah Michelle Gellar. And Enrico Colantoni will never again find a role that allows him to slide from goofy warmth to fatherly protection so easily.
I could go on and on, I really could. This is one of those shows that I and the others who loved will always talk about, always discuss, always look back on with fondness, and more than a little wistfully. “Veronica Mars” was an amazing show, and for a few brief years, it lit up my little corner of the world, and I know it did the same for you. If any or all of this comes across as a good deal mushier than you’d expect, well, tough. I had a soft spot for this show, and so did my friends. Television won’t be the same now, and not in a good way. All we can do is cherish what was made, and share it around. The series may be gone, but we’ll always have Neptune.
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba, and forever doomed to love shows that will be cancelled too soon. He’ll be pretty messed up about “Veronica Mars” for a few days, and will probably write about it at his blog, Slowly Going Bald. You know what they say about that Dan Carlson: He’s a marshmallow.