Its titular heroine is a teenage detective with a name that seems to belong in a Saturday morning cartoon instead of on primetime television. But do not let these admittedly ridiculous sounding surface details fool you: “Veronica Mars” was one of the most consistently engaging, charming and provocative shows to make a blip on a very loyal following of viewers’ radars during the first decade of the 2000s.
Veronica Mars was a popular teenager in the affluent seaside town of Neptune, Calif. After the mysterious murder of her best friend Lily, an unfortunate series of events take place that shove her down the wealthy town’s social food chain. Embittered and determined to find Lily’s killer, Veronica becomes an amateur private investigator under the watchful eye of her father, the town’s unfairly dethroned sheriff.
A plot like that has all the trappings of a silly teen drama with an even sillier genre twist, but “Mars” takes all negative expectations and throws them back at the viewer like a brick. The show is razor sharp, multi-layered and, at times, as dark as the heroine’s hair is blonde.
The pillar at the center of the show is Kristen Bell’s portrayal of Veronica. She is endlessly charming and witty, never once missing a note of sly humor when solving one of the shows’ weekly yet interconnected mysteries. The show has the viewer become Veronica’s partner in crime solving. You learn every piece of dirty laundry and skeleton in the closet for the wealthy but morally bankrupt citizens of Neptune right alongside the teenage gumshoe.
Every episode has a self-contained mystery that helps build up to a larger investigation that spans a season. The first season dealt primarily with the murder of Veronica’s best friend while the second concerned a possibly planned school bus crash. Both of these arcs are expertly paced and evenly balance cliffhangers with satisfying resolutions.
The show plays out like a high school film noir, and like in most noir yarns, bad things happen to good people. It is usually the bad guys who walk away unscathed. Even if justice prevails in the end, there is always a catch. In one episode, when Veronica exposes a local business of fraud, she ends up ruining the financial future of an innocent teacher of which she is fond.
Moral messages such as these pop up in nearly every episode and constantly challenge Veronica’s inexperienced ideals of right and wrong. This added depth and footing in the unfair real world gives the show legs.
Despite its darker overtones, “Mars” never fails at being joyfully sardonic. Dialogue whizzes by with fits of irony and a never-ending wealth of pop-culture references. The cast makes a top-notch ensemble and helped carry the show with ease.
Cause of Death
Television’s equivalent of heart disease, low ratings, did this gem in. It was a critic’s darling but it never brought in enough viewers to make it a must-see ratings behemoth. Despite keeping a solid but small fan base through three seasons, the just-launched CW Network decided to pull the plug even after an enthusiastic fan campaign to keep it on the air.
Survived By: Yet to be Seen
“Mars” is still fairly recent and its legacy has not yet firmly imprinted itself in the airwaves yet. However, it survives on DVD and the Internet is still abuzz with fan activity.
It could be looked at as a spiritual successor to the similarly subversive coming-of-age classic, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and both shows’ fan bases overlap. The rule of thumb is that if you are a “Buffy” fan, you are most likely a “Mars” fan as well.
If you flip on the CW and catch shows like “Gossip Girl” or “The Vampire Diaries,” you can catch snippets of Mars-worthy snarky one-liners and high-brow pop culture references, but it is really all just a pale shadow.
Kristen Bell, who has since moved on to brighter cinematic horizons, has hinted at talks with the show’s creator about a possible film spinoff, but nothing has come to fruition.
Smart shows with adult sensibilities aimed at America’s youth are a dime a dozen these days. It is only a matter of time before something worthy of being compared to “Mars” will sneak up on us.