Saturday, January 14, 2006

Review: Veronica Mars, Season 1

Lisa & I spent the last couple of weeks watching nothing but Veronica Mars, a TV show hailed by many as the successor to Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. The show, it's basic plot, and the characters involved are discussed extensively elsewhere, so I won't discuss the basics.

Veronica Mars falls into the "mystery story" genre, much like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, or perhaps, Kinsey Milhone in a teen/high school setting. From what I can tell, American High School is hell, and many of America's executive producers and script writers are still trying to work through the trauma of having to attend one by producing TV shows and movies about their experiences. The alternative explanation, that teens are the most avid consumers of TV and (especially) movie media is too depressing to contemplate.

In any case, Veronica Mars is firmly in the genre, with each episode revolving around a (usually high school related) mystery to be solved, with an over-arching plot/mystery involving the protagonist. Most of the mysteries are more easily solved by the viewer by playing the meta-game of figuring out what the misdirection of the plot is, rather than observing the clues provided by the show, since the writers do work very hard at the misdirection. In any case, the mystery is barely the point in most cases, since Rob Thomas tries to make many of the shows as Chandler-resque as possible, down to an occasional voice-over which doesn't quite make it as a "hard-boiled" voice of the protagonist.

Veronica Mars herself is an incredibly strong character. She's smart, sassy, courageous, and has no room in herself for doubt, angst, or self-pity. She has the maturity to admit when she's wrong, and is mature enough to let a beau down as soon as she realizes that she's dating someone else. Too good to be real? Very much so, but this is TV, and while watching the series we did not at all mind listening to Kristen Bell speak dialogue that sounds great when snapped back as an off-the-cuff remark, but we would have taken a day or so before coming back with such a snappy comeback. One does wonder where Veronica finds the time to do homework, but I do have friends who were smart enough that homework took up very little time (especially given the pathetic standards we have for Science and Math in the U.S.), and had time to play pool before finals, and the series does establish Veronica as being a very smart, precocious teen. The supporting cast includes Veronica Mars' convenient contacts: a teacher's aide, a young police officer at the sheriff's office, a computer expert (a girl, of course), and the leader of the local biker gang. Enrico Colantoni also plays Keith Mars, in what I consider to be the healthiest father/daughter relationship I've seen on TV --- Keith Mars is neither an absent father nor a bumbler.

The inevitable comparison with Buffy: Veronica Mars is a genre show that uses its strong characters to provide human interest, mis-direction, and plot, while Buffy is a character-driven show that uses its genre's tropes and plots as a metaphor for what its characters go through as part of growing up. Buffy and "the scoobies" grow and mature over the years, while Veronica Mars is already such a fully developed human being that I don't know if she's got a lot more room to develop as a person (but I am eager for Rob Thomas to surprise me). Joss Whedon is not afraid to put Buffy through hell, and while Veronica does have her (metaphorical rather than literal) demons to confront, she deals with them so deftly and with such self-confidence that the impact on the viewer is lessened.

In any case, Lisa, who could not watch Buffy because of its genre trappings, kept clamoring to see the next episode every time I wanted to pause the DVD for the night, so obviously she gives Veronica Mars a thumbs up, as do I. It is very much worth your time.

STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS

There are a few shows that have massive plot holes. For instance, in Kanes and Abels, we are asked to believe that the father of a working class Chinese over-achiever, Hamilton Cho, hired a private investigator to haress an academic rival of Cho's. We've established that a private investigator cost about $250 a day, yet we see Cho working at his father's Pizza Restaurant. I can't think of a situation in which an Asian parent would not hire help for the restuarant during exams for $250 a day and have his kid study instead of the dubious tactic of hiring a PI to
harrass a classmate. Nevertheless, the episode manages to portray the Cho as a cool character, so the episode doesn't suck too badly as a whole.
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