The setup: welcome to Neptune High, school for the kids of the rich and famous. And everyone else, of course, but in this town they don't matter. Meet Veronica Mars, daughter of Keith Mars, local private eye and ex-town sheriff. The aforementioned rich and famous ran him out of office when he accused a local computer software billionaire of murdering his own daughter. Said daughter was also Veronica's best friend; the brother of the daughter was Veronica's boyfriend.
So Veronica had to make a choice, and she chose family, and that cost her dear. Now she's an outcast, more likely to be found helping her Dad out on a case than hanging with her former peers; and you should hear the things they say about her, behind her back. It really doesn't help that her Mum left town, either, for parts and reasons unknown. And though a murderer has been found, arrested and convicted, there's something about
So far, so Buffy-meets-Beverly Hills? Wrong. Or right, but in the best possible way. Here are a half-dozen things I love about this show:
The town. The place feels real, and it's got fathoms under the surface; it's not named after the god of the sea for nothing. Veronica Mars gets to have its cake and eat it, because they can show us lifestyles of the glamorous and lucky, but in this show the fact that some people don't matter matters. There's a real dissection of race and class going on, and it can be uncompromising.
The metaphor. You remember the one-line pitch for Buffy, right? 'High school is hell'. Boom, you've got it, as David Hines once said. You can see the stories. What I only just realised is that Veronica Mars does the same thing--using a genre as a metaphor--but with crime instead of fantasy. The one-line pitch might be 'growing up is solving the mystery of who you are'. There are several ways in which Veronica literally does not know who she is; things in her past she doesn't have answers for. And where in a regular teen show they'd be played straight, here they're tied into cases she has to solve. And you can broaden it, too, if you like, because nobody in Neptune is quite what they seem; 'growing up is figuring people out', maybe. Personal development through sleuthing, is what it is; and I like it. A lot.
The style. There might be--ok, there are--all sorts of dubious things going on under the surface, but to look at it you'd never know. I've seen the description 'high school noir' bandied around, and it seems to be apt; there are the voiceovers, the sleuthing, the desperate ambiguity and moral murkiness. But for the most part the episodes are all bright colours and SoCal sunshine and sparkling wit, and that really works for the show, because when the bad things happen they hit your gut that much harder.
The plotting. Stuff happens. It's only when you see a show like Veronica Mars that you realise quite how much most American network TV messes around with nothing-stories, waiting for sweeps period. Of course there's an element of that, but from episode one there's always something that matters. Events build on each other, new things are revealed, people develop. And here's another impressive thing: they're all good. I've watched eight episodes now, and none of them have sucked. I haven't seen a first season this consistent since season one West Wing.
The relationships. Whether it's Veronica and her father having a functional relationship (and god that's refreshing after--much as I love those shows--umpteen years of the MEverse), or the friendship between Veronica and the new kid, Wallace, or the evolving animosity/respect/whatever the hell between Logan Echolls and Weevil, these are interesting dynamics, written with freshness and (overused word coming up, but it's true) honesty.
And lastly, of course, Veronica Mars. Oh, how I love Veronica Mars. She can be rash, and impulsive, and judgemental, and she walks eyes-open into some deeply grey areas, but she's sharp, and capable, and perceptive, and determined, and loyal, and I could go on all night about what a brilliant lead she is, but I should stop.
Beg, buy, borrow or steal this series. That's all there is to it.
(One thing I have been wondering: how exactly does Bechdel's Rule work for TV shows? Because Veronica certainly has conversations with other women about subjects other than men on a weekly basis, but I think I'm right in thinking that none of them are members of the regular cast. So does that count, or not?)
(And did I mention that when they show computer screens, they are recognisably computer screens? As in, running identifiable bits of OSX software? It's the little things that make me happy.)
(And the theme tune's ace, too.)