By Evangeline Jennings
In case you’ve been living under a rock, this happened. On March 13th, Rob Thomas, Kristen Bell et al asked the Kickstarter world for two million dollars to support the making of a Veronica Mars movie. They hit their target in eleven hours and when the Kickstarter campaign closed last Friday, it had raised more than five million dollars and received the highest number of donations ever. So V will finally get her movie on.
It goes without saying that everyone at Pankhearst is a big Veronica fan. We’re also fascinated by the idea that if you ask nicely, people will rush to give you money. Admittedly it probably helps if you’re a beautiful perky blonde with snark to spare. But anyway this week we’re going to talk a little about Miss Veronica Mars and the whole Kickstarter thing. The first and most obvious question is why do people care so much about the just-as-God-made-me pint-size detective and her extended family?
Best. Show. Ever. Seriously, I’ve never gotten more wrapped up in a show I wasn’t making, and maybe even more than those. Crazy crisp dialogue. Incredibly tight plotting. Big emotion, I mean BIG, and charismatic actors and I was just DYING from the mystery and the relationships and PAIN … These guys know what they’re doing on a level that intimidates me. It’s the Harry Potter of shows.
Well, that’s one opinion – an expert one at that – and yes, at its best, Veronica Mars was outstanding. But it wasn’t always so. And possibly that’s part of the crazy mad demand. Veronica’s fans have a sense of unfinished business. We want closure, goddammit. Let’s take a closer look.
In her pilot episode, Veronica summarized the meaning of Pope’s An Essay On Man as “Life’s a bitch until you die.” As a prediction for the next three years, it was dead on the money.
Hands-down, the best show on television right now, and proof that TV can be far better than cinema.
– Kevin Smith
You want to know how I lost my virginity? So do I.
The schoolgirl detective entered our lives as a petite girl with an enormous back-story. That first season was one of the finest things I’ve ever seen on TV. Utterly compelling. Film Noir meets Beverly Hills 90210, and then some, in spades. The plot, which spanned the entire season, was rooted deep in moral ambiguity, sexual tension, and murder. The storytelling was supported by a potent combination of voice-over and flashback, and the whole was delivered in a stunning visual style. One favorite technique was the short-lens shot, both to emphasize the distance between Veronica and her peers and to focus our attention on the isolated protagonist. At times, VM came dangerously close to Art.
This is what you do. You get tough. You get even
The difficult second season was necessarily less outstanding, but it was still one of the best things on TV. Whedon and Kevin Smith made cameo appearances. Alyson Hannigan featured in three episodes and Charisma Carpenter had a recurring role. The comparisons with another California-based, pint-sized teenage blonde kicker of butts hardly needed reinforcing, but Veronica Mars was always more than Buffy PI. Approaching race and class with the same wry intelligence she brought to bear on rape, murder, and missing monkeys, Veronica tracked her teen noir lineage all the way back to Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia and Winona Ryder in Heathers. Or as Someone Else put it:
Nancy Drew meets Philip Marlowe, and the result is pure nitro. Why is Veronica Mars so good? It bears little resemblance to life as I know it, but I can’t take my eyes off the damn thing.
– Stephen King
You’re a marshmallow, Veronica Mars
However, just as Veronica suffered crisis after crisis, so her show experienced perennially low ratings. At the end of the landmark first season, VM was the 148th ranked primetime TV series – out of 156 – with an average of just 2.5 million viewers. The second season lost 200,000 viewers. And although the third clawed those missing numbers back, the CW had seen enough and sent V on a “permanent hiatus”. Looking back, it’s easy to understand why. The third season was Veronica’s weakest by far. The leap from high school to college had been unkind to Buffy. It was almost a disaster for VM.
The hero is the one that stays and the villain is the one that splits.
Bell and her “father” Enrico “Rico” Colantoni – despite the weird, vaguely incestuous thing – were dependably strong in their roles, but of the supporting “teenage” characters only “Weevil” (Francis Capra) made the leap to college intact, landing a job as a college janitor. Worse, the writing became lackluster, the romance with Piz was voted TV’s most ludicrous, and the choice of guest stars frequently provoked more conversation than the plots. Patty Hearst’s appearance as a disappearing heiress, for example, was type-casting on a par with Paris Hilton’s Season One role as a stupid, spoiled whore with no sense of irony.
You know what they say about Veronica Mars: she’s a marshmallow.
The problem was that the third season had no ongoing mystery and was much the poorer for it. A serial rape investigation linked the first nine episodes but rarely proved compelling and worse, the storyline often trivialized the crime. The murder of Dean Cyrus O’Dell (Ed Begley Jr was great in the role) dawdled haplessly across the following episodes and many viewers were so underwhelmed that when VM was sent on an eight-week hiatus to make room for The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll, many feared the worst. As it turned out, VM did return, but the remaining episodes were generally so poor that this may not have been such a good thing.
Be cool, Sodapop
“Un-American Graffiti” was little more than an extended sequence of public service announcements linked by an occasionally neat one-liner and a whole stinking heap of sterile “romance”. “The Debasement Tapes” plumbed both new depths and shallows. The headline mystery featured a has-been rock star (Paul Rudd) who inadvertently swapped bags with a drunk. The subplot revolved around a website called Grade My Ass. I could say more, but then I’d have to kill myself. “I Know What You’ll Do Next Summer” rushed us straight back to Worthyworld. This time our theme was child soldiers in Africa and the charity Invisible Children. If only the episode had been as worthy as its cause. Sadly, however, it supported my growing suspicion that VM‘s writers had already checked out of Mars Mansions, and that a small group of script monkeys had been dragged in off the street and told not to bother their pretty little monkey heads with such abstract notions as continuity or quality. Worst. Episode. Ever.
A girl, a teenager, and a private detective – I’m a triple threat. Barely fits on my business card.
Two episodes closed the series on the same evening. “Weevils Wobble But They Don’t Go Down” featured politics in the workplace, politics in the community, and the little man getting shafted in both. Not to mention recurring scenes and themes from previous seasons, a nod to Paris Hilton’s many sex tapes, V’s Bad Boy Ex beating the crap out of her Rebound Nice Guy, rich students setting up ex-con janitors to take the fall for their capers, the wonderful Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) getting his first proper lines of the season, and a series of inexplicable references to The Office. Best of all, following the longest sequence of product placements ever seen outside a big budget Sci-Fi movie (Veronica Mars uses a Venus razor – because if she doesn’t, her legs look like Pluto’s – drives a Saturn hybrid, and I can’t think of a joke about Uranus), we get the throwaway line, “Rob Thomas is a whore”. Ostensibly a reference to a Matchbox 20 reunion, but … well, you know.
After all these years, do you not instinctively fear me? Maybe you should write yourself a note.
The final episode, “The Bitch Is Back” took us all the way back to the heart of Veronica Mars with clear references to the pilot and other key episodes. Most critically, in the pilot, BBX was beaten up by Weevil and forced to apologize to Veronica for vandalizing her car. In “The Bitch Is Back”, he was the one beating an apology out of the student responsible for the Veronica Mars Sex Tape.
In both cases, Veronica’s reply was the same: “I don’t want his apology”. And that, right there, was the true noir heart of Veronica Mars. V didn’t care about apologies. They had no value to her. She was driven by a nihilistic need for pure revenge. Here’s what you do. You get tough. You get even.
You don’t care now, but holy crap are you gonna care when I start to get my revenge on, you’ll be doing all sorts of caring.
At the end of the final episode, we were left hanging twice. First, there were a bunch of unanswered questions. Will Keith Mars go to prison? Will Logan the BBX be killed by Gory’s friends and relations? And will Veronica ever make it to the FBI? These are questions the movie will answer. But will it resolve the other, even more important issue?
Season three went out with a whimper, not a bang. Yes, life’s a bitch until you die. And yes, noir is the new black. But Veronica and her marshmallow fans still deserved better than season three. If the movie can deliver a more fitting farewell for everybody’s favorite lovely gumshoette then it will have been a Kickstarter well spent.