Thursday, September 07, 2006

Veronica Mars: The Second Season

A while back, I watched the first season of Veronica Mars, which I liked but didn't love. However it was enough to get me to watch season two, a season that solves a lot of the problems I had with the first season, but still has a bunch of issues of its own. I don't think the show has made it to greatness, though it's always entertaining.

The major place that this season improves on the first is in the episode to episode continuity. Back in season one, there was some character development, but the focus of most episodes was on the stand alone mystery of the week, with some development in the Lily Kane case going on in the background. Here we get a lot more subplots and development for the secondary characters, and much like second season Buffy, it becomes a serial show, where there's sometimes a standalone plot as well. Generally speaking, the standalone plots have a thematic tie in to what's going on in Veronica's life.

This season, the overall mystery, the bus crash, was usually a secondary plot element, weaved in to the tapestry of events going on in the characters' lives. On the one hand, this works because less of the season's success is reliant on the progression of the mystery. However, I think the fact that the bus is made up of a bunch of characters we don't know means we can't sympathize with the town's initial sadness at the crash. I do like the way they gradually develop the people on the bus, particularly in the dream sequence heavy episode with Veronica imagining she's on the bus. But, by the point we get to know these people, the initial impact of the event is gone, so we never get an emotional jolt from what happens.

This ends up causing problems when we get to the season finale. Because of the show's structure, we can never get a clear villain. It's a world where everyone's a bit nefarious, but not until the final moments of the season can Veronica have a clear antagonist. This causes a bunch of narrative issues when they try to turn Beaver, the goofy, troubled kid we've known all season, into a dangerous, menacing figure. Because we've been pulled through so many theories and loose ends, the actual revelation of what happened is rather underwhelming. The extent of the investigation seems to reveal that the actual person responsible for the crime doesn't particularly matter, the kids are still dead either way.

So, they have to make Beaver more than just the guy who blew up the bus, and this leads to one of the most uncomfortable plot decisions on the show, to say that Beaver raped Veronica when she was unconscious at the party back before the show started. Technically, this fits with what we've heard before, but it just doesn't make sense with the character we've seen, and it comes across as a really crass attempt to make Beaver come across as a villain. Plus, it just pours the misery on Veronica a bit thick, to think that she was forced into sex by two guys in that one night. Come on, that's a bit excessive.

In the case of this show, it's really the journey more than the resolution that's fun. Some shows are designed to build up to the season finale, most of Buffy or Six Feet Under, each season working as a coherent chapter structured to climax in the last episode. Veronica is like that, except the resolution here just didn't work for me. For one, the piling on of atrocities didn't quite fit with the tone. The Woody Goodman molesting children thing in particular was tough to match with Veronica's quip happy persona.

Because Veronica is such a caustic character, it's difficult to emotionally relate to her, and this means I don't get engaged in her pain in the same way that I did with someone like Buffy. She always remains cynical about things, and that makes it difficult to fit the Woody Goodman stuff, or the episode about the college rapist, into the show's world. I think it's good that they tried to branch out into heavier stuff, but it takes a lot of skill to move between a rape and comedy, and I don't feel like that episode was able to handle it that well. Plus, the Woody Goodman stuff came across as a retread of Mysterious Skin.

However, despite all this, I still really enjoyed the season. It just goes by really smoothly, the cliffhangers make it easy to back to back an episode and I liked a lot of the expanded cast. Dick Casablancas in particular was always hilarious and I'm hoping he'll make it back next season. Charisma Carpenter was interesting, playing someone who's basically Cordelia if she'd never met Buffy. The dialogue was always snappy and I loved the continuation of the Aaron Echols storyline. I just wish he hadn't gotten offed at the end of the season, it'd be great to see him and Veronica continue sparring.

So, this is one of the shows that's always entertaining, a lot of fun to watch, but lacks the intellectual cohesion of a truly great show. I'll still be watching the third season, and hope that the show does get a bigger audience now that it's paired with Gilmore Girls.

1 comment:

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