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Like a lot of great television shows, Veronica Mars has a premise that sounds a bit silly on paper: a hard-boiled teenage private investigator? It's hard to see how that would work.
But work it does, and nowhere more so than in the nearly flawless, smart and tightly written first season. Veronica Mars is a seventeen-year-old girl living in Neptune, California. Once part of the popular crowd, the traumatic event of her best friend Lilly's murder turned her life upside down, and caused her dad the sheriff to lose his job because of his handling of the investigation and Veronica to lose all her friends for siding with her dad, her shunning culminating in her getting roofied and raped at a party.
At the beginning of the show, Veronica is significantly more cynical and isolated, and spends her free time helping her dad at his detective agency while still being haunted by the memory of her best friend Lilly's ghost. The overall arc of the season is Veronica investigating Lilly's murder, while dealing with individual cases clients bring to her.
The main selling point of the show is Veronica herself. It would be easy for a character of Veronica's history to wallow in their own angst, but Veronica is engaging, sharp as a whip and extremely funny-her voiceovers are one of the few times that storytelling device didn't annoy me. Other highlights of the show include its frequent focus of the high school's and town's class struggles, one of the better fictional father-daughter relationships between Veronica and her father Keith and the infinitely quotable dialogue.
Veronica Mars is a TV show that was originally shown on the American network UPN starting in 2004 before switching to the CW network before finally being cancelled in 2007 and joining other shows such as Arrested Development and Firefly which although critical successes never managed to find an audience. Although Veronica Mars only got three seasons which might have been disappointing for the fans (myself included) it was lucky to get this as for during the three season that ran it consistently ranked as one of the lowest rated TV shows shown on any network in the states.
However there is a reason that it was such a critical success and that's because it is in my opinion one of the best TV shows of all time. The basic premise of the show does sound a little daft which probably put a lot of people off at the time. Basically the show is about Veronica Mars who is a teenage private detective. Even typing that sentence made me cringe but there is so much more to the show than you might expect given its rubbish selling point.
For a start it is a lot darker than you might imagine a teenage show about a teenage detective might be. Season one has an overriding arc of Veronica trying to deal with and figure out who raped her the previous year as well as investigating the murder of her best friend. She has to do this while still being in school and being ostracised from my old friends thanks to her sheriff father who accused one of their parents of the murder of Lily her best friend. Her father couldn't prove this and was sacked as sheriff and Veronica was iced out by her friends for choosing to take her father's side.
Her mother also left her father and left him and Veronica after the stress of her husband being sacked and left town but of course there is more to this than first meets the eye.
Each episode in season one leads the viewer and Veronica a little closer to the mystery of what happened to Lily whilst also usually having a standalone mystery for Veronica to solve. These mysteries are sometimes small sometimes big but always done in such a smart way that is almost impossible for the viewer to be able to guess who or what is happening until the end of the episode.
The mystery of Veronica's rape and the murder of Lily is the main draw of the show and I personally found it to be such a compulsive mystery that I couldn't wait to find out who was responsible and although I made several guesses I was wrong and it kept me hooked right up until the end of the season.
By the way the mystery is season two is even darker and more twisty than season one and throws a lot of what we find out in season one right upside down.
As well as Veronica there are several core cast members such as her father and him and Veronica have such a good dynamic between them. There are her friends Weavel a latino biker gang member who has a soft spot for Veronica and the new boy in town Wallace who quickly becomes her best friend after she saves him from a humiliating experience on his first day at school. What I liked about the way the writers wrote her and Wallace's relationship is that it rang true and they never tried to put in any sort of romance between them.
There are also her previous friends the two main ones being Duncan who is not only her ex boyfriend who she still loves but also Lily's sister. Duncan is a bit of a drip to be honest and by far the weakest character in the show and it doesn't help that him and Veronica have absolutely zero chemistry together.
Logan is the school bad boy who is the son of a famous actor and is arrogant and cruel and of course him and Veronica have amazing chemistry together and it isn't long before the writers decide to shunt Duncan off to the side to make use of this great chemistry and start a love hate relationship between Logan and Veronica.
There is also the new sheriff who keeps getting in Veronicas way and causing trouble for her while she is investigating Lily's murder.
Veronica is played brilliantly by Kristen Bell who you might now know from films such as seeking Sarah Marshal, When in Rome and as the voice behind gossip girl. It says a lot about her performance in Veronica Mars that although the show never even hinted that it might be a success she came out of it a big star and went straight into leading lady parts in the movies. It is a shame she seems to have squandered her chance of being a huge actress by picking such bad roles as she really is an amazing actress. Veronica Mars is by far her best role to date and she gets to show so many sides to her performance from comedy to dramatic and she even gets to sing in one episode. This really is such a good part and she plays is perfectly.
Another famous lady most people will recognise is Amanda Seyfried from Mama Mia who plays the murdered Lily and we not only get to see her in flashbacks but also in ghostly present day form.
What really makes this show stand out from the glut of teen shows just like Buffy before it is the writing. It really is incredibly strong and well written from the interaction between the characters to the mysteries Veonica solves. The fictional town of Neptune where the show is set is a hot bed of intrigue and scandals just waiting to happen and is so well realised that I could easily imagine that it was a real place. The genre of the show has a real noire feeling to it but because the writing is so good it switches up the feel of the show several times in an episode and can easily go between comedy to more gruesome scenes without ever feeling jarring.
Although this is a totally different genre to Buffy with the monsters in Veronica Mars being real people the shows both rose above their silly premises to become much better than they should have thanks to the writing although for my money Veronica Mars is by far the more superior of the two shows.
The season one DVD set contains all 22 broadcast episodes and unlike a lot of TV shows there are very few filler episodes and each one stands up well on its own. There are of course some stand out episodes such as the pilot and the final couple of episodes where we find out what happened to Lily on that fateful night but I truly didn't find one weak episode in season one and have watched each and every one several times now.
For such a cult hit the DVD set has little in the way of extras. There is a different intro to the show, an extended pilot and some scenes that didn't make it onto the show. It's a shame the extras aren't a little more in depth as fanboys like myself would have loved a talk track from Kristin Bell and the creator Rob Thomas at least.
I bought the DVD as a region one import as I couldn't find it as a UK release so it is region one and you will need a DVD player that is capable of playing region one's. It is readily available as an import and costs in the region of £30.
Veronica Mars is a fantastic show and I really highly recommend it. Look past the ridiculous premise of a teen private detective and give it a chance and you will be rewarded with one of the best written and most addictive TV shows to ever come out of the states. There is a reason that it is a considered a cult show and that people are still screaming for the cast and crew to make it into a film (never going to happen) and that is because it was a great show that ended before it's time. Luckily there is the DVD box set so that you can watch it again whenever you like.