Saturday, May 1, 2010

Veronica Mars (3 seasons, 64 episodes, 2004-2007)

Before starting my Veronica Mars watchathon, I had already seen every episode at least once.  I caught the first season on DVD after hearing critical acclaim, then watched the second and third seasons as they aired on the network.

I loved Veronica Mars the first time it was on.  Veronica is glib, witty and off-the-charts smart.  She is driven to figure out any mystery that appears in front of her, sometimes to her own peril.  And, of course, she's played by uber-babe Kristen Bell.  This run-through, as you might expect, didn't provide the gut-wrenching surprise factor that is key in several episodes but I still consider it to be a wonderful show, holding up on repeat viewings.

Here is the one-paragraph synopsis: Veronica Mars is the daughter of a small-town private eye who inherited the curiosity gene.  In most episodes, she is solving a mystery for a friend, her father or a fellow student.  Underneath all that, however, are season-long life-or-death mysteries for her to solve.  In the first season it was who raped Veronica Mars and who killed her best friend, Lilly Kane?  In season two, it was who sabotaged the school bus and killed seven students?  In season three, Veronica is off to college.  Who is the Hearst College serial rapist and who killed the Dean of Students?  Did I mention that Veronica Mars alternates between comedy and tragedy?  Quality writing all the way through.  I especially like the use of "The Big Bad," a technique perfected by Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.  Every episode, no matter how seemingly unrelated, drives you to the big dust-up at the end of the season.

As I'm watching it the second time, I'm struck by Veronica's behavior.  At first, I considered her to be a heroine, but aside from solving murders and such, she really isn't acting heroic.  She's either doing it for money or to progress her big-picture investigations.  I wanted to call her a noir hero, as bad things are constantly happening to her or people around her (Lilly Kane, et al), but she doesn't neatly fit into the noir definition (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity) or even a modern interpretation.  No, I think Veronica Mars is an anti-hero.

Why an anti-hero?  Well, she's hardly innocent.  From making fake IDs for her friends to helping a fugitive escape the country, Veronica will follow or ignore the law as it suits her.  People around her die because of choices she makes and despite feeling guilt, she doesn't change her behavior.  Even in her close relationship with her father, she is constantly hiding things from him, lying to him and on several occasions, makes choices that hurt him about as bad as you can hurt someone and still leave them breathing.  By the end of the three-season run, Veronica Mars has used or betrayed every friend she has to some extent.  Yet, the show is about her.  Beloved by viewers and forgiven by the surviving characters, she is the anti-hero.

Despite the tragic undertones, Veronica Mars is a fun and engrossing program.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

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