Saturday, December 02, 2006

Veronica Mars: Season Three, Part One

Now that the first mystery of the season is over, it seems like as good a time as any to check in on Veronica Mars. Most shows have a lot of trouble transitioning from high school to college, and I think Veronica has done a smoother job it than Buffy or Gilmore Girls. However, the primary reason for this is that they've made very few changes to the show from the high school years. Everyone that Veronica knows has gone to Hearst, even Weevil is a janitor there. So, other than calling the cafeteria a dining hall, and getting some new antagonists, this is the exact same show it was the previous two years. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, clearly it was a formula that worked, but at the same time, it feels like the show hasn't grown.

Part of the reason that's difficult is because of Veronica herself. With Buffy, there was real difference between college and high school. Xander never got a job at the college, instead he was left behind, and that was a great choice. When you go to college, everyone you know doesn't follow you, and there are people like Xander, who get left behind. Similarly, Buffy runs into issues with her parental figure, Giles. She has trouble incorporating him into her new worldview, she's outgrowing him, and we don't get that same tension with Veronica and Keith. I think it would have been smarter to not have her live at home, that way there'd be more tension in the relationship, with Veronica working on cases without his knowledge or approval.

The major reason they can't do this is because none of the other characters are complex or developed enough to sustain their own storylines. Xander could easily handle an A storyline, but I don't think the same is true of Wallace. He's given a couple of decent storylines, but generally speaking, he remains the same person he was back in high school, Veronica's sidekick. Ironically, despite being added to the opening credits, Mac has even less screentime. This is a huge mistake, we should be seeing more of how her experience with Beaver affected her, but that's only really touched on in the first episode.

That's symptomatic of a larger problem, which is the show's reluctance to use its history to its advantage. There are references to past episodes, but generally speaking, there is not strong character development over time. Some awful stuff happened at the end of last season, and they should have engaged with that more. Now, a major reason for the reluctance to do so was likely the desire to make it easy for new viewers to watch the show. There's validity to that, but I think it's possible to incorporate arcs that build off of old stuff without requiring the audience to know the exact details of what happened. If you just started watching the show this season, you'd have no concept of Mac as a character, she'd just be Veronica's friend who appears occasionally.

There are similar problems with the new characters. For one, they don't get much screentime, so you don't really know them. I just had to look on IMDB to find Parker's name, which shows how much she's impacted the show. The problem with her is that they set up a specific kind of personality in the first episode, then having her get raped negates all that personality. So, who is she now? That is never really clarified. Piz is the archetypal self deprecating nice guy who cropped up often on Buffy, always as a contrast to her real desire for the bad boy figure. Now, I think Logan is the most interesting character on the show, but with Veronica's morality, there's no real reason that she should be interested in him.

Veronica has a very strict manichean worldview. With her dad's affair, she refuses to consider that it might make him happy. Admittedly, she has seen a lot of these kind of affairs that go wrong, but I feel like she's acting a bit hypocritical when she is dating someone who's been involved in all sorts of bad stuff. With Buffy, it made sense for her to be attracted to Spike because having her drawn to the darkness was a part of her character. We never get that sense with Veronica, when she crosses the line, it's in being utterly cold, there is none of the emotional heat that Buffy had. Veronica's decision to break up with him does make sense, but I'm sure they'll inevitably be drawn back together.

The other major issue I had with this part of the season is with the overall mystery. Now, having your best friend murdered isn't very nice, but I think we're more used to dealing with a whodunit, and it's not as fun to engage in a whorapedher. And, the resolution wasn't particularly exciting. A couple of peripheral characters did it because they could. The resolution of the first mystery was great, and the second season's was solid as well, but this one felt like they just picked a couple of people and had them do it. Plus, I think it's troubling that Veronica has been dosed with GHB so many times. I feel like it's crossing the line from something interesting to a kind of perverse punishment for the character. They've made her so steely that it takes literally being drugged to give her any kind of weakness.

But, there is one element of the show that always works and that's Dick. Every scene he has with Veronica is funny, and a nice counterpoint to her usual seriousness. Logan's also still pretty interesting, though a bit neutered this season. I'm still enjoying the episodes, but the show's not growing, and that's a problem. What did this season's nine episode long rape arc do that wasn't already done in the standalone episode that introduced it last season? Not much. The show needs to commit to giving more development and better arcs to its supporting cast, and challenge Veronica with more than just rape drugs.


Anonymous said...

I wish I could agree or disagree with this post, but now that VM has been moved from UPN to whatever cable station it's on, a lot of us "poor" kids without cable can't enjoy the show anymore. I logged online to try to find a summary of the season so far... with your comments, there's no such luck, only distraught... I need to feed my VM fix... was she rapped again??? What's the big mystery this year... best friend's murder? bus crash?? WHAT AM I MISSING?!?!?! if you can help me with a website or blog it yourself, my email is

Patrick said...

It's not on a cable channel, it's on the CW, which has replaced the WB in most markets, but apparently not yours. I have heard that it had poor coverage, hence lower ratings than before.