Monday, May 14, 2012

Veronica Mars: Nancy Drew For the 21st Century

The first season of Veronica Mars aired in 2004 but I only discovered it in 2005 when I was desperately seeking some quality entertainment in the wasteland of summer TV. I devoured the 22 episodes over the course of a week and come September, I was ready for Season 2. Sadly, Veronica Mars was one of those cult shows that had a loyal fan base, widespread critical acclaim, but no wider audience. It also had the misfortune of being on the UPN network as it transitioned into the CW and was constantly in flux. However, the vocal fans managed to convince the network to produce three seasons of the show. I recently re-watched the first season and it is just as amazing as I remembered; so much so, that I now find myself halfway through the second season and furiously downloading the third.

The show stars Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars, an extremely intelligent, fiery high-schooler who works part-time for her father's private detective agency. They live in Neptune, a Beverly Hills 90210-esque town that is teeming with millionaires and the people who resentfully work for them. Veronica used to be part of the elite crowd - her father was the Sheriff and her boyfriend was Duncan Kane, son of billionaire Jake Kane and brother of Veronica's best friend, Lily. However, when Lily was found brutally murdered on the Kane estate, Veronica's father launched an investigation that would ultimately get him fired from his position as Sheriff, break up his marriage, and make Veronica a complete outcast among her rich friends. 

However, out heroine is made of sterner stuff. Characterized by biting sarcasm and utter fearlessness, she ignores the rumors and gossip swirling around her and concentrates on her amateur detective duties. Even though a man has been convicted of Lily's murder, Veronica unearths evidence that suggests that he wasn't the real killer. Her father had similar doubts, and he was quickly run out of the Sheriff's department when he dared to suspect Jake Kane of having a hand in his daughter's murder. The entire first season concerns itself with the mystery of the murder of Lily Kane and each episode gives you a little clue that helps put together the entire horrifying picture in the epic season finale. 

Every episode of Veronica Mars was structured impeccably. There was a mystery of the week - a missing dog, a false accusation of cheating, a straying boyfriend, etc. that Veronica would attempt to solve for one of her classmates in exchange for some much needed cash. At the same time, she would also be pursuing new leads in the Lily Kane murder investigation, as well as trying to solve a personal mystery about something that happened to her at a party a year ago. The show's writers were adept at keeping you interested in both the smaller and overarching mysteries of the season and Kristen Bell was just masterful at getting you to empathize and root for Veronica at every turn. This structure was repeated in the second season when Veronica had to solve the mystery of a bus accident that resulted in the death of several classmates, but the third season was slightly different. The network decided that the show couldn't get new viewers if the season was occupied with one long mystery, so the show was divided into three acts where each of the three "big" mysteries was wrapped up over 7 or 8 episodes instead of 22. This worked just as well as prior seasons, but unfortunately did nothing to increase the show's audience, ultimately leading to its cancellation.

Good mysteries are hard to come by on TV, but Veronica Mars did an amazing job of keeping you engaged throughout the course of a season. The show is probably best watched on DVD when you can just go through an entire season in one fell swoop without having to wait impatiently for further developments and keep track of all the information. So seek out this show and revel in some truly inspired television that illustrates that suspenseful mystery writing doesn't necessarily have to be in a book.

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