In 2004, the upstart television network known as UPN premiered a plucky little show about a teenager who had a knack for solving mysteries. Set in the fictional Neptune, California, our heroine struggled with the usual high school hurdles: homework, angst, parents, love and… murder? Also, rape, racism, child molestation, trans-phobia, alcoholism, and suicide. Sounds like feel-good TV, doesn’t it?
In a way, it actually was. The show effortlessly blended heavy topics with normal everyday situations and a little comedy – and somehow made it all believable. Veronica Mars, starring a young Kristen Bell as the titular sleuth, was an anomaly – and one that I missed completely. I’m not sure what I watching in 2004; looking at Wikipedia’s article on the 2004 TV season, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t According to Jim. Veronica was, sadly, nowhere on my radar.
This all changed earlier this year when Hulu revived the show for a fourth season and posted the 3 previous seasons – that’s 64 episodes – which I then promptly binge-watched in the span of 2 weeks. “Binge-watched” may not accurately describe what I did – obsessively black-hole watched? I’ll workshop that… Let’s just say after the first episode, I was hooked.
We were introduced to Veronica, her father and former Neptune sheriff Keith Mars, and her estranged mother Lianne. Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane was murdered; Keith bungled the investigation, blaming her grief-stricken father, Jake Kane. Lianne skipped town, Keith got ousted as sheriff and became a private investigator. Further complicating things were Veronica’s ex-boyfriend and Lilly’s brother Duncan Kane and his buddy and Lilly’s boyfriend, Logan Echolls.
Add in arrogant but clueless sheriff Don Lamb, public defender Cliff McCormack, biker club leader Eli “Weevil” Navarro, and Veronica’s BFF Wallace Fennel and you’ve got a binge-worthy TV season.
Who murdered Lilly Kane? #NoSpoilers, but I certainly didn’t see it coming. The mystery was solid, but the relationships – Veronica and Keith above all – kept me coming back for more. Veronica herself was at the center of a mystery, being drugged at a party and subsequently raped, not knowing exactly what happened or with whom. The first season was a wild ride, all while making the viewer guess (and second-guess) how Lilly met her end. The reveal was satisfying, and made me wonder how they would up the ante for season 2.
To up said ante, they killed a bus load of kids. Season 2 was the season of the Casablancas – making series regulars out of Dick and Cassidy “Beaver” Casablancas, and introducing step-mom Kendall Casablancas. Also introduced were Neptune mayoral hopeful Woody Goodman, his daughter, Gia, new student Jackie Cook as well as an increased presence of computer nerd Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie. Also along for the ride were Deputy Leo D’Amato and sleazy PI Vinnie Van Lowe.
While I didn’t find the mystery of the bus crash as compelling as Lilly’s murder, it kept my interest, and the reveal of who did it (and sadly, why) was genuinely jaw-dropping. Again, I won’t spoil the mystery, but you have to imagine a character with the name “Goodman” is probably somehow involved. In another exciting twist, Veronica’s rape story was also revealed at the end of the season, creating a retcon of sorts, as events as Veronica and the viewers knew them turned out to be untrue.
Season 3, or Veronica Mars: The College Years, saw the show experiment with mini-mystery arcs, each getting a few weeks’ attention. This definitely changed the pacing of the show as the storylines were wrapped up more quickly. New characters Stosh “Piz” Piznarski and Parker Lee joined Veronica, Wallace and Mac at Hearst College where PI Veronica continued sleuthing. While the mysteries of rapes, murdered deans, and extra-marital affairs waxed and waned, Veronica’s relationships took more of a prominent role.
And then the show was canceled. The UPN and WB networks had merged into The CW, and Veronica Mars couldn’t find a stable audience. Cut to 8 years later where, due to the magic of the internet, a feature film was Kickstarted. Veronica – now an adult – was back, along with old friends and new, to solve another mystery that nicely tied in with the original run of the show. While the mystery itself and resolution weren’t quite as sharp as the original, it was great to see where the characters ended up and get the gang back together.
Revival and reboot fever being in full swing, Hulu brought Veronica Mars back for an eight-episode fourth season in 2019. The new season retains the charm of the original show, again mainly due to Veronica and Keith’s relationship – the one constant through the show’s iterations. The now fully-engrossed-in-PI-work Veronica, along with some familiar faces, tackles mystery bombings plaguing Neptune. Guest stars like J.K. Simmons and Patton Oswalt are engrossed in the mystery, which results in a somewhat predictable reveal, and a truly sad ending. Creator Rob Thomas has said he has some ideas for an Agatha Christie-like season 5, but whether or not he’ll get to tell that tale remains to be seen.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching 72 episodes and a feature film with these characters and hope enough people get on the bandwagon for Hulu to bring it back for season 5. The show could continue on for several more seasons in its current incarnation, and Kristen Bell has taken the character from defiant teen to mature private investigator. I’m certainly on board for more, though I probably won’t be taking the bus any time soon.