I have watched about 13 eps of Veronica Mars season 1 so far. It started off well with an appealingly sharp heroine, played with brittle defensiveness by the slight and sexy Kristen Bell. Her nonchalant posture and her understated delivery effectively transmit her character’s pain, cynicism and grief. And, for all those people who say that the actor looks too old to play a high schooler, I like the fact that she looks pointy and drawn. You would too if your best friend was murdered and your dad was fired, besides which your mom just up and left and your boyfriend dumped you, all before the pilot started.
I also liked the corrupt, incestuous setting. The SoCal town of Neptune hosts the usual gang of spoiled rich kids, whose affairs and tawdry secrets run similar to what goes on in Desperate Housewives. Class warfare comes up more pointedly, though, since Veronica, who used to be one of the “haves” [best friend and boyfriend were rich], is now an outcast “have not.” Also, occasionally, the Latino motorcycle gang vrooms through to help and/or menace Veronica or various rich dudes, so race [all the rich dudes are white] makes an appearance. The entire town of Neptune reflects the cliquishness and backstabbing of high school writ large.
With such a promising setting and a promising main character, what’s not to like? Well, like I said in my title, I watched in amazement as the show, once so promising and nuanced, took a belly-flopping jump over the shark and landed horribly in the soap aisle in ep 13. What happened to push the show over the edge? Well, Veronica bugged the guidance counselor’s office so she could hear what students were saying. The guidance counselor interviewed students most affected by the death of Lilly, Veronica’s best friend. Each student revealed a heretofore unknown secret that somehow makes him [yeah, all the people in the show are male except Veronica, hmmmmm] more suspect in Lilly’s death.
At that moment, my interest in the show waned. I have no problem with Lilly’s friends and family being implicated in her murder. I have no problem with revelations of secrets. I even think that the grief counseling and interviews is a clever gimmick. However, I seriously object to the way the writers of the show used it. The grief counseling was employed as a cheap device to drag more people into the murder investigation by having them confess something fishy. The confessions did have some preparation in earlier eps, but mostly they came out of the blue. This data dump on all main secondaries was supposed to give them some depth, but it just came across as cheating, showing, rather than telling. And this is in the same show where Lilly’s character as a risk-taking, show-offy, self-centered brat was portrayed so clearly [with no telling] in flashbacks. Couldn’t the secondaries’ connections to the murder be demonstrated in a similar organic way?
Frustratingly enough, the “data dump” isn’t the only instance where the show takes the easy way out. After spending about 4 eps on Troy as a romantic possibility for Veronica, the writers tossed him out casually in one ep. Oh, he was just a liar with past drug charges who was faking his interest in Veronica. Then we never heard from him again. In a show that’s all about hurt, loss, grief and the lingering past, you can’t toss out emotionally charged characters that easily! I hear from spoilers that Veronica’s rape and her nasty relationship with Logan get treated with the same flippancy at the end of the season. Come on, people.
Veronica Mars has the makings of a great show. Just stick with the groundwork and the backstory. Develop it consistently for all characters, showing, rather than telling, and don’t let your secondaries fall into plot holes. Focus more tightly on the A story; give everyone a clear role that you develop piecemeal over the season, and then give us the satisfaction of a story that comes to a mature climax, rather than a rushed finish with pieces shedding along the way.