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Pop Rocks: Watching the First Season of Veronica Mars for the First Time

Neptune was an interesting place.
Neptune was an interesting place.

There was a point in my life when I wasn't all that into TV. This was abnormal for me as I have watched television nearly religiously since I was a toddler. I have a strange memory that allows me to remember things after watching a show once some people couldn't remember if they saw it 10 times. It has been a blessing and a curse. Just ask my wife.

But during the transition into the new century, I got out of watching primetime television. Some of my favorite shows had ended and networks not named CBS, NBC and ABC (or even Fox) were starting to produce new and interesting shows. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dawson's Creek to even the sadly stunted Freaks and Geeks, I just wasn't much into TV.

Another show that lots of people I knew enjoyed, particularly the women in my life, was Veronica Mars. I heard good things about the show featuring a blond teen turned noir-style detective, and starring a very young Kristen Bell unraveling the mysteries in her rich-versus-poor beach town of Neptune, California. Fans of the show were so dedicated, they managed to raise enough money on Kickstarter to fund a film that came out this year. That's where my initiation begins.

My wife, who is not exactly the most avid watcher of TV, was a fan of the show, mainly season one which she recalls as being the pinnacle of the show, which lasted only three seasons before facing the chopping block. When the film came out, she wanted to see it and when we noticed it was for rent on Amazon the same weekend it hit theaters, she was quick to suggest we watch it.

The fact that it went to video streaming while still in theaters wasn't an encouraging sign, but we plunged ahead. I'm not one to be ruined by spoilers as I wrote about in this space a few weeks back. So, seeing the movie first wasn't all that big of a deal to me.

It didn't matter too much then that the film was an awful stinker of a production. It felt like show creator Rob Thomas tried to cram about five one-hour episodes of the television show into an hour-and-a-half while re-introducing characters at lightning speed. Even with no knowledge of the show, this was painfully obvious and neither of us cared for the film. But, assured by my wife that the series was better, we pressed on.  

Even if you loved the show, skip the movie.
Even if you loved the show, skip the movie.

Thus far I have seen all 22 of the first season's episodes and it has reminded me both why I enjoy television and why I didn't much care for it in the early part of this century. On one hand, Vernoica Mars is a fun, engaging show with plenty of interesting characters, many of whom veer well off the traditional path put in place by casting directors for decades. It breaks some stereotypes while heartily reinforcing others and that's fine, particularly when the bad guys all live in mansions and act about as smugly as humanly possible.

Still, the part that was somewhat off putting was the snappy dialogue. Clearly, Mars was produced as a teen homage to Mickey Spillane, but the level of banter from the cast was, at times, almost more than I could take. If at any point James Van Der Beek hopped out from a bathroom stall in the girl's bathroom at Neptune High -- Vernoica's unofficial office -- wanting to quote lyrics and cry deeply, it would not have shocked me.

But, for all that it shared with the whip-cracking dialogue of Dawson's home along the creek or even, God help them, Party of Five, Veronica Mars also worked from a place of real intellect that helped steer it just clear of a full blown teen soap opera and land it safely in the company of Freaks and Geeks, Felicity and the predecessor to all these shows, My So-Called Life.

No, Veronica didn't share Angela's melodrama and Logan, for all his bad boy posing, was no Jordan Catalano, but the show felt like its genesis was at least on the same end of the spectrum. Plus, it could be genuinely funny and quirky, with some Ally McBeal, David E. Kelley-ish tendencies. If not for the fact that Veronica was a high school girl, her blonde hair and waif-ly figure would seem to be an ideal muse for Kelley, whose obsession with casting skinny, Nordic-looking women has been a thing since Susan Dey landed a starring role on L.A. Law.

Anyway, I found season one enjoyable enough to decide it was worth venturing forth into seasons two and three, the film's ruinous attempt at a conclusion notwithstanding. They probably can't compare to the first, but it's worth a shot. Maybe I'll re-watch My So-Called Life next. Maybe not.


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