Monday, 8 December 2008

Of Veronica Mars Season 1

Here we go. This is where I get to rant and rave about how fucking amazing Veronica Mars is. I’m going to start off by saying that the first season of Veronica Mars is television perfection. Better than any season of Lost, better than any season of The Wire. That is a big statement to make considering those shows stand on a lofty pedestal of all time television greats along with the likes of The Sopranos and Buffy. However I would like to put this show up there with them. It is just that amazing, whilst the second and third season lose some of the grandeur of the first season (second because of an incredibly complicated plot and the third because it’s just too watered down) they are still amazing television. But I’m here to talk about how perfect the first season of Veronica Mars is.

This show perfects the season long arc far better than other shows of the same ilk (it even surpasses the seminal second season of Buffy, which Veronica is a spiritual successor to in some ways). To start with I think I need to run through the story. Veronica Mars is a girl in high school. Now I know what you’re thinking “gah not another teen drama” but wait there’s more! Veronica Mars’ dad is a Private Investigator and she helps him with his cases. Okay the basic line of the show “teen girl solves crimes in spare time” sounds like the most god-awful plotline for a show ever but Veronica Mars makes it work. The first episode introduces everything you need to know. Veronica is an outcast, the reason she’s an outcast is because her dad went after the richest man in town as a murder suspect. Veronica Mars’ dad (Keith) accused Jake Kane of murdering his own daughter, who also happens to be Veronica’s best friend. This serves as the backbone for the entire season as it is all about “Who is Lilly Kane’s killer?” The show does this perfectly by having clues laid out in every episode. That isn’t the only big story either. There’s also the “Who raped Veronica?”, “Why won’t Lily’s brother and Veronica’s ex-boyfriend talk to Veronica anymore?” and “What happened to Veronica’s mother and why was she sleeping with Jake Kane?” Yes this really doesn’t sound that interesting but these stories are intertwined spectacularly well and the show makes you invested in all of these stories, in no small part to the characters (who we’ll get to later on).

Now the entire season isn’t just about these bigger storylines but instead in each individual episode there is a mini-crime to be solved. Stuff like “What happened to this boys dad?” and “Who stole the poker money?” Really this show uses a lot of normal stuff to teenagers and introduces it in a neo-noir world that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. Veronica Mars is just a good a sleuth as the old boy himself and does it with a far sharper tongue. There is no denying that part of the fun of watching Veronica Mars is wondering what wonderful put down or snarky comment she is next going to say. One of my favourites comes from an episode where Veronica has a flat tyre and someone asks if she needs any help:

Troy: Flat?
Veronica: Just as God made me.
Troy: Are you always this persnickety?
Veronica: Sometimes I'm even persnicketier.

Obviously it works better in the context of the show but it makes me laugh every time I hear it. Whilst not all of the mysteries of the show are “the greatest mystery ever” many of them make for exceedingly entertaining episodes (the Christmas special being my personal favourite).

Next on my list are the characters (yes I made a list). We’ve met Veronica (Kristin Bell), the loveable yet sarcastic blonde girl. Then we have daddy, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni). Much of the fun of this show comes from the incredibly realistic between Veronica and Keith. Their relationship is a lot of fun and much of the emotion of the show is built around the connection that these two have. There is no better ‘parent-child relationship that I have seen in television, movies or books ever. Veronica Mars perfects it and it’s pleasing to know that this same relationship is carried throughout the entire run of the show. Then we have the characters that go to Veronica’s school. There’s Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III), Veronica’s best friend who regularly helps her out throughout the season with the many mysteries (however funnily he never really seems to know what the actual cases are about). There’s Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn) who is Veronica’s ex-boyfriend and Lily Kane’s (Amanda Seyfried) brother, whilst he is far from the most compelling actor on the show (Kristin Bell has that one in the bag) he is still integral to the storyline of the show and has a fair few great moments throughout the season (the second to last episode where he reveals that… I really can’t spoil it, you need to watch this show!) There’s Weevil (Francis Capra) who is the head of the ‘PCH’ biker gang and is Veronica’s contact into the world of semi-organised crime (seriously even though he’s the head of a bike gang doesn’t mean he doesn’t go to school). Veronica and Weevil share many a cool scene throughout the season and Weevil is a very interesting character, however his storyline isn’t made bigger till Season 2 and in Season 3 he’s more or less relegated to the side lines (however we do get he wondrous Piz during this time). Finally we have Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) the “obligatory psychotic jackass”. I love Logan. Logan is my favourite character (after Veronica of course). He starts the season off as quite possibly the biggest dickhead in the world (he takes a crowbar to Veronica’s car in the first episode). However, like Lost and the way that it changed our impression of Sawyer from the first time we saw him, Logan evolves into something far more interesting. He has a reason to be the “obligatory psychotic jackass”, this reason being his father, Aaron Echolls (Harry Hamlin). Aaron is a movie star and is there to prove to us that Logan isn’t such a bad guy (and makes the twist later on in the season that much better). Then are the characters who would later become regulars such as Dick Casablancas and his brother Cassidy “Beaver” played by Ryan Hansen and Kyle Gallner, Hansen plays the surfer dude to perfection and is exceedingly funny in many of the episodes he is in, Beaver is introduced later on in the season but still deserves a mention as he is key to one of Veronica’s many investigations (as well a hinging mystery of Season 2). Tina Majorino from Napoleon Dynamite plays “Mac”, Veronica’s computer whiz and is another fun character (whilst she is nowhere near as witty as Logan or Veronica she still comes out with many a great piece of dialogue). Finally the last character I’m going to mention is the detestable Sheriff Lamb, played by Michael Muhney, he is by far the shows most consistent hate figure and is just another character that Veronica is able to outsmart with ease. God I’m only just touching on all the fantastic actors who are in this show. Kyle Secor as Jake Kane, Alyson Hannigan (Willow in Buffy and Lily in How I Met Your Mother) as Trina Echolls, Max Greenfield as Leo D’Amato, Chirstopher B. Duncan as Clarence Wiedman, Daran Norris as Cliff McCormack (trust me you’ll recognise his voice). If you can’t tell I love the cast of this show. There is hardly a misplace character at all (although some people do think that Teddy Dunn’s Duncan is a tad wooden, I just didn’t see it at all.) The cast of Veronica Mars is one of those perfect things, other shows like Lost and Heroes have the occasional dud in terms of characters (more so in Heroes than Lost) but Veronica Mars doesn’t have an awkwardly placed characters because by the end of the season they’ve all played their role in the overarching mystery of the show.

The writing of the show is also seminal. There is not a single dud of a line; every line is perfect and so much to the show itself. The wit of the show is razor sharp and will regularly lead to glorious exchanges between the characters like this:

Weevil: If you’re looking for my trophy, it’s back by auto shop.
Veronica: A lube job? Or can you medal in stealing hubcaps?
Weevil: Is this 1970? Rims, baby.
Veronica: So you got a trophy for a rim job?
Weevil: Forget it. Look, I got some information for you.
Veronica: Finally, a Deep Throat to call my own.
Weevil: I’m not going to touch that one.

It’s not just the character interaction as well that makes the writing so superb. Shows like Heroes seem to have forgotten what a cohesive storyline is. Whilst even Lost has pacing issues (particularly season 2 and early season 3), Veronica Mars knows exactly how to lay it’s story so that viewer is perpetually left wanting more but is never frustrated with how slow the story is going. All of the key plot points (apart from perhaps one) are introduced within the first episode of Veronica Mars (one of the best first episodes of any show ever by the way). From then on we got little clues until eventually the crimes of the week start to relate back to the main mysteries of the season until it call comes together into an earth shattering revelation (although not quite as earth shattering as Season 2’s mystery). Really if you want to see the turning point of the show, it comes in episode 10 “An Echolls’ Family Christmas” which also happens to be my all time favourite episode of the show. Not only does it have an amazing crime of the week story, but is the most “mystery novel” like episode of the entire show. When I say that I mean “four people locked in a room none of them could have left and no one could have gotten in and yet all the money has been stolen”. The answer to the case is deliciously simply and has some choice lines that I’m not even going to begin to spoil it. From this episode onwards we get that much from the crimes each week as they just get deeper and we learn more about our characters. As I said the pacing of the show is perfect. Clues are drip fed at a slow rate and whilst it would be impossible to figure out who Lily’s killer is until the actual reveal, it is still an exhilarating feeling to try and figure it out before the end. As I said Season 2 is a bit too complex for its own good and Season 3 lacked a proper mystery, but Season 1 is the pure crystallisation of what makes this show so amazing.

The show is fantastic in so many other ways; the soundtrack is up there with the likes of The O.C, Scrubs and Chuck. There have been times where I have just heard a few bars of a song and I’ve just felt compelled to download the song (although it is a complete bitch to try and find the name of the song). The way the show is shot is also superb. Whilst it’s hardly the best directed show on television (The Wire/Lost/Pushing Daisies three way tie), the visual style of the show is unmistakable. Veronica Mars borrows heavily from its neo-noir heritage by dealing with some very dark plots and the visual style represents this incredibly well, whilst at the same time subverting it. The show is set in California, the rich part of California. Everyone who lives in Neptune (the town Veronica Mars is set in) is either rich or works for rich people. Because it is set in California it is almost always sunny, even during the Christmas episode, and yet the show manages to keep this feeling of detective noir. One of the coolest parts however is how they deal with some of the visions. Yes, I know it is just a collection different filters but it still comes of a very cool little visual flair for the show that is used in incredibly well.

Now for my two minute niggles:
1) How they dealt with the main cast member leaving – She might never have been integral to the show, in fact I won’t ever class her as main class. However the fact that she was in the opening credits and then just left because of budget issues is a sore spot to me (although her characters story was probably given to Wallace’s mum)
2) The fight scenes look a bit meh – This is such a small complaint but it needs to be said. The fight scenes occasionally look like complete arse. You can see the fake punching and they’re just not riveting. The show takes three seasons to get fight seasons down (Piz vs. Logan is still a great scene), however luckily the show never hinges on fights so it’s a bit of a non-entity.

In conclusion Veronica Mars season one is perfect (well obviously not or I wouldn’t have those complaints). There is so little I would change about this show. I might go back and redo the fight scenes and maybe try and sort out the character just disappearing rather than have a line saying “she got pregnant” five episodes later. However the combination of superb characters, writing and plot development make this the perfect television season. There are storylines left open for Season 2 (which is amazing just not as amazing), but really the story is entirely self contained. Every question that is asked at the beginning of season 1 is answered by episode 22. If you want a show that doesn’t treat you like a complete retard (*cough*Heroes*cough*) then Veronica Mars is for you. If you want an incredibly funny show that doesn’t skimp on the character development or the drama then Veronica Mars is for you. If you want a little show that you can just get lost in for a day or a week or a month then Veronica Mars is for you. Fuck it, if you are looking for a good piece of quality entertainment then Veronica Mars is for you, and even if you’re not you should still be watching this show because it truly is that amazing.

I’m going to give Veronica Mars the highest praise I can possibly give. It just has the perfect everything and it has something for nearly anyone. Veronica Mars is as close to an 11/10 that you can possibly get. However because I simply can’t do that I have to settle for 10/10.

And if you don’t take my word for it then here’s a direct quote from Joss Whedon:

“My peeps and I just finished a crazed Veronica Marsathon, and I can no longer restrain myself. Best. Show. Ever. Seriously, I've never gotten more wrapped up in a show I wasn't making, and maybe even more than those. Crazy crisp dialogue. Incredibly tight plotting. Big emotion, I mean BIG, and charismatic actors and I was just DYING from the mystery and the relationships and PAIN, this show knows from pain and no, I don't care, laugh all you want, I had to share this. These guys know what they're doing on a level that intimidates me. It's the Harry Potter of shows. There. I said it. People should do whatever they can to check out this first season so the second won't be a spoiler fest. I'm nutty.”

If you won’t take the guy who created Buffy’s word for it then whose word will you take?

More reviews of Veronica Mars Season 1:

Finally I’m going to have a bit of a wrap up. Next I may or may not have my season review of Dexter up by next week (depends whether the Swiss have the Internet). Honestly I hope I do because it means I don’t have to wait a week to find out the conclusion to the Dexter/Miguel storyline.

Now for some cool news. ABC has confirmed that they have greenlighted a pilot for Fables (you know the comic series I’ve raved about in the past). Whilst the may have cancelled Pushing Daisies, I really can’t blame them for it, the show was performing terribly. They are also the channel that made Lost, have got Cupid coming out next year and a new show with Nathan Fillion plus the potentially cool Flash Forward (a bit like Heroes in terms of “save the world” but without the superpowers). So I’m officially excited, whilst it will in no way be as cool as the main book series it could be a cool show that I will be checking out if it airs next autumn.

I'm also going to start the hype train for my top 10 shows of 2008. Starting after Christmas I'll be starting my countdown, and this year there might be a few surprises (not many but hopefully it'll be interesting).

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