Veronica Mars

3 out of 5

Created by: Rob Thomas

Covers season 1 through 4

Veronica Mars, daughter of local Neptune P.I. Keith Mars, solves episode-by-episode crimes at her high school, and later at college.  The Nancy Drew format is given a modernized spin by creator Rob Thomas, who doesn’t shy away from the CW-enabled subject matter of teens involved in gangs, using drugs, and having sex, but the tone of the show still mostly errs toward upbeat, helped along by the perfect casting of Kristen Bell as Mars, capably straddling the line between whipsmart upstart detective and mixed up, boy-problem prone, popularity seeking student.  When the show is making the most of playing Mars’ skills against her cold and hot reputation at her school(s), giving us bottle episodes of continually interesting mystery solvings, VM is addictive and tons of fun.  When it dips into its season-spanning cases, which generally ante up with threats of death and cliffhangers, it tends to feel forced and requires a lot of stupid, blind decisions.  In the first season, especially, with the murder of Mars’ friend kicking off events that lead to her denouncement from prom queenish type to outcast, and her father’s forced retirement as town sheriff, we are continually dragged through really cheesy flashbacks to her past life – in which she plays a character we probably wouldn’t want to watch a show about, wearing a bad wig and with obnoxious friends – and the dramatics involving boyfriend swappings and missing mothers just come across as soap opera trappings.  This is smoothed out a bit in the second and third seasons, thankfully, but that only ends up leaving more room for Mars’ baffling on again / off again relationship with the brainless Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), a dickbag male who never seems like the right fit for Veronica, even as a “bad boy.”

More than a decade later, when the show would return for a final season, the new home at Hulu allowing for swearing and sexing, as well as the fact that the cast were now legitimate adults, finally gave this aspect of the character its due, with some light analysis as to why the attraction exists.  But I’m not sure if I can give credit to the series’ original incarnation for having that much thought behind it, so much as assuming that it made for good drama to have opposites attract, and our forever return to episodes spending time on V making lovey eyes at Logan while he punches someone prevented the show from really breaking free of its CWness and being the smart TV it proved it could be when Veronica and her mystery-assisting cronies were actually working cases.