A week and a day into the Veronica Mars watch-a-long and we’ve already covered a lot of ground. We’ve met the major players and also some minor ones that will become important in the episodes and seasons to come. We’ve set up the morally gray world of Neptune, California. We’ve found that no matter how many 09ers accuse her of being otherwise, Veronica is fiercely loyal, especially to Lilly, her dad, and her new best friend Wallace.
Each week, I’ll share some of my thoughts on each episode. Hopefully they’ll be at least a little bit coherent.
S01E01 Extended Version of the Pilot
I’ve been watching the episodes on DVD and only the extended version of the pilot is available. If I remember correctly, the main difference between this version and the one that originally aired on UPN is that it starts while Veronica is on stakeout at the Camelot and then goes back to the school earlier that day before Veronica cuts Wallace down from the flagpole. The network wanted a high school show to start at the high school and also felt that since the series heavily relies on flashbacks that showing the present timeline out of order could be confusing. This isn’t the worst network note I’ve ever heard and it feels like one that is genuinely rooting for the show to succeed.
The thing that strikes me the most is that Rob Thomas is very good at making exposition not boring. This is all information that I already knew and yet I’m still interested in hearing it again. So much of this show, especially the pilot, relies on his writing ability and Kristen Bell’s acting. She has chemistry with almost every actor ever, some really great comedic timing, and a way of getting through very long voice overs that actually works. Josh Schwartz was totally right to use her as the voice of Gossip Girl.
S01E02 “Credit Where Credit’s Due”
Unlike the network note from the pilot, the casting of Paris Hilton wreaked of bad network interference to me at the time. She later made an appearance on Supernatural poking fun at herself that changed my opinion of her quite a bit but that doesn’t keep me from feeling that she’s out of place here. Even surrounded by a twentysomethings playing high school students, she just seems a bit too old.
This plot wouldn’t have quite worked today. Weevil easily could have made the purchases from a smartphone while still maintaining perfect attendance in auto shop. It still could have been explained by something like “no reception in the shop” or by somehow tying the purchases back to the phone that was used to make them. That doesn’t change the fact that nine years later, the solution to the stolen credit cards already comes off as incredibly dated.
I want it noted for the record that the last note I made on this episode was “Ugh, Troy.” This becomes a bit of a theme.
Also, welcome to the credits Sydney Tamiia Poitier. Unfortunately, your character never quite works.
S01E03 “Meet John Smith”
My first note on this episode was “Ugh, Troy.” I warned you. I did follow this up with “Proof that Veronica is still a teenage girl?” It’s an important thing to remember. She’s tough and smart but she’s not perfect.
The B plot of this episode is already a tough one for me. I can’t really tell what they’re trying to say about anti-depressants. Duncan often seems more depressed when he’s on them than when he’s not. It’s perfectly OK to suggest that Duncan’s not doing so well right now. The kid has been through a lot. What’s not OK is to make it seem like there’s a problem with taking anti-depressants. Celeste Kane says as much but she’s not exactly the show’s idea of a good mother.
Jake Kane is really trying but, ultimately, he’s no more successful at parenting Celeste. His whole approach can be boiled down to “Duncan must have his own passions in exactly the way that I want him to have them.”
This begins the start of guest stars that would become much more well-known in the years after their appearances. This time, it’s future Oscar winner Melissa Leo as a trans woman whose ex-wife would rather have their son think that his dad is dead than to face the fact that she’s a woman. It’s not a perfect storyline and I would be fine with anyone that would argue that they’d prefer that Julia Smith had been played by an actual trans woman but this story is still ahead of its time. It’s a 2004 UPN teen drama series with a trans* storyline that isn’t played for laughs. It’s not Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black but it’s a stepping stone along the path that we’re still traveling.
One last nitpick: Veronica, you do not use a Taser, you use a stun gun. Come on, even future Madison Sinclair gets that right.
S01E04 “The Wrath of Con”
This is one of my favorite episodes ever and yet I took very few notes during it. That may be because I just like it that much. This is one of the times where Kristen Bell proves that she can probably play at least ten distinct types of ditzes. Her quick shift into “Amber” is impressive. It’s one of her other disguises that I like even better, though. She uses the horrible fake geek girl stereotype to her advantage by drawing attention to herself and by making it believable that she wouldn’t know that she was shooting at someone on her own team.
The Lilly parts of this episode make me feel sympathy for almost everyone but Celeste. When shown images of who their daughter really was, Celeste seems annoyed that her perfect memorial ceremony was wrecked while Jake breaks down. Weevil mysteriously sheds a tear. Veronica and Logan call a truce to remember a girl that they both truly loved. Lilly wasn’t perfect but she was vital.
Plot wise, the skinny dipping doesn’t make sense. Her hair was curled. She didn’t have a towel. They were on their way to the dance! Character wise, it was note perfect.
S01E05 “You Think You Know Somebody”
This episode’s surprise guest star isn’t as notable as an Oscar winner but it is Sam Huntington from the US adaptation of Being Human. It’s a really good adaptation that has grown into a good show in its own right.
Troy always felt a little off to me and that was obviously for a good reason. There were a couple of moments that lulled me (and Veronica) into complacency so I was surprised by the outcome of this episode. Assuming that Aaron Ashmore knew about this the entire time, he did a really good job of playing Troy as a “nice guy” with the sheen of falseness.
One of my favorite details of this episode is that Veronica knows at least enough Spanish to understand the conversation between Weevil and his uncle. She’s a smart girl who has lived in Southern California her entire life. She should know at least some Spanish.
Keith Mars is the world’s best dad. It’s not his fault that just when his daughter was starting to get over the loss of her mother that she found out that her mother may have been forced out of town. He doesn’t know exactly what’s going on with Veronica and makes a decision that is in her best interest. Best dad ever. I’m welling up just thinking about it.
S01E06 “Return of the Kane
This week’s parade of well-known guest stars includes real-life married people Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna as Logan’s parents and Jane Lynch as the student council advisor (and math teacher, going by the blackboards in her classroom).
Dessert for dinner! Noir-style father/daughter banter! The Mars family is just better than yours. Also, Veronica’s hair is really cute in that scene.
While the plot of this episode seems silly, it shows that Neptune is probably not like your town. It’s also the most sympathy I’ve probably felt for Duncan by this point in the series. That poor kid.
This is one of the biggest advancements on the Lilly Kane mystery that we’ve seen so far. Veronica and Keith aren’t going to be dancing around one another anymore. They’re always best when they work together.
S01E07 “The Girl Next Door”
This episode does a really good job of showing off the moral shades of gray that the show lives in. It starts with Veronica saying that if she hadn’t gotten involved then maybe the results would have been better. André comes off as an asshole but the questions he wanted answers to were things that Sarah probably needed to let come out eventually. In hindsight, a lot of his standoffishness could have been protectiveness. Also, I wouldn’t be too happy if I came home to find my neighbor in my apartment holding my dog, either. On the other hand, that mural above the bed was really creepy.
Keith’s stance that André’s willingness to raise a child that may not be his says something good about him could just be that Keith is a great guy and a good judge of character. It could also be that he suspects that Veronica might not be his biological daughter. Either way, Keith Mars once again proves that he is the best dad ever.
S01E08 “Like a Virgin”
I forgot that Meg and Mac were introduced in the same episode. I love them both.
A lot of Duncan’s lines in this episode came off as Logan lines only they didn’t have Jason Dohring contracted for this episode. Instead of just being boring and a tiny bit sympathetic as he usually is, Duncan just seems like a jackass in this one. “One of those Britney Spears virgins.” Ugh.
Meg brings in the lighter side of the shades of gray that surround Neptune. Being tough and resilient is great. Focusing on revenge isn’t necessary. It’s a hard pill to swallow but it’s good advice.
That’s it for now. I’ll be back next week with discussion of episodes S01E09 through S01E15.