On March 14th, after almost eight years off the air, Veronica Mars is coming back–this time on the big screens of AMC Theaters across the country (and cinemas across the globe). If you are a “Marshmallow”, subscribe to Entertainment Magazine (where the show’s stars graced the cover last month), or frequently check IMDB news, then you know of the brilliant TV show of which I speak. Even if you haven’t [yet] watched a single episode, you may have heard of the unorthodox means by which its follow-up movie came to be conceived. While many prematurely-canceled programs have dreamed of such a chance to return (Pushing Daisies), few have actually attained it (Arrested Development, after many false alarms). Thanks (truly) to the fans, Veronica Mars is happening and I couldn’t be more excited.
So Who Or What Is Veronica Mars?
There are a lot of perks to being a super-fan of a TV show in the 21st century. Immersing yourself in fan outlets and buying targeted merchandise has never been easier, with new products appearing everyday on web-sites like Red Bubble and Etsy. It’s only fair, though, that there should be a flaw, and in this case, as massive (and vocal) as the community supporting a critically acclaimed daring like this one can be, there remains an equally massive outside world who doesn’t realize said critical darling exists. I was a late comer to the scene myself, only catching on in 2010, but I’ve never looked back since.
To paraphrase what I remember reading on the back of the DVD box at a local Best Buys, Miss. Mars was advertised as the teen PI answer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer withdrawal. One staked fanged Big Bads, the other staked out criminals, and both knew their way around a witty retort. This was right around the time I had finished Buffy’s final season so logically I viewed this description as a sign. That and there was an “On Sale” sticker pasted on the first season. My curiosity couldn’t resist.
As it turns out, Veronica Mars is probably one of the best shows you’ve never heard of. Originally aired in 2004 on UPN (pre-the network’s merger with the WB in 2006 to form the CW), this detective noir was created by Ron Thomas and stared the wonderfully charismatic Kristen Bell in the title role. The concept: petite blonde, when not finishing homework, solves cases on the side for her dad’s P.I. agency or (paying) classmates in need. For the suspicious viewer this basis could sound sketchy, but this is not the stereotyped “low brow” teen drama. It just includes both teens and drama, some great guest stars (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul and Zero Dark Thirty’s Jessica Chastain, to name two), and a fictional home town of Neptune, California that’s reminiscent of West Side Story’s LA, where the class divides are fierce and familiar. You have the white elite ‘09ers (of the 90909 zip code), the Spanish motorcycle gang, and the general pop middle class, all pooled together in that fire pit that is high school for an education in social hierarchy. However, members of each are written with such depth that would-be stereotypes are transformed into real, complex characters. Veronica currently falls under the lower middle percentage herself, but a long time ago she used to sit with the “popular kids,” back when her boyfriend was CEO son, Duncan Kane, and her best friend, Lily Kane, was still alive.
Which Brings Us To… The Murder Behind The First Season
When Lily was murdered, Veronica’s dad, Keith Mars, was Neptune’s sheriff. Put in charge of the investigation, his unpopular decision to target her father, Jake Kane, as the primary suspect would lose him his job and cause Veronica, who stood by him, to lose both her friends and mother in the process.
The effects of this decision are very visible in the pilot, where the Veronica of the present is tougher, wiser, and shorter of hair than the Veronica of the flashbacks. This does not mean she regrets her decision (she doesn’t), but she is lacking allies, so when Wallace Fennel is introduced, spending his opening scene taped to the high school flag pole nude, things start looking up (a little) for our ostracized “traitor.” Wallace is the new kid in town and after an incident at work causes him to make a bad first impression with the leader of the PCH bikers, Veronica has to come to his rescue (and in this case cut him down from the pole). So is the start of a beautiful friendship… It is through his unfamiliarity with Neptune’s tension-fraught dynamics that viewers become acclimated to our tumultuous setting and its feisty central figure.
A few initial tidbits on Veronica Mars: She…
* …frequently converses with new clients in the woman’s rest room of her school.
* …knows how to use a taser.
* …is one half of the coolest father-daughter pairing on TV.
* …is smarter than you
Also, despite her dad getting removed from the case, she is still set on finding her best friend’s killer. That search, along with another storyline dealing with the aftermath of attending a party where she wasn’t welcome, set-up the basic framework of the season. And while season-long running crimes are not an uncommon narrative layout on television (see such recent shows as Broadchurch, Top of the Lake, and The Killing), the detail behind this ones construction is so layered that the payoff is immensely powerful- basically as far from disappointing as a season finale can get (the opposite lies true with my examples. Top of the Lake was the only show I stuck with to the end, and even then its finale was a departure from previous installments).
In any sense, season two (my personal favorite) would keep to the season-long mystery arc style, meshed with side plots, that worked so well with the first and ends on an equally spectacular conclusion. Season three — the college year — diverged from the norm. Shorter plot lines marked a season that would end up being the show’s last.
Now, admittedly three was the weakest, but cancellation? That was not deserved. Worse, what ended up being the series finale left fans with the most infuriating cliffhanger that a show can have: an uncertain future for the main romantic pairing*. Officially Logan Echolls and our fearless heroine are broken up but in one of the last moments they share on screen a look is passed between them. That look, because it is all fans have, has been clung to as hope that their future was far from over.
* SIDENOTE *
And yes, before it gets pointed out, fraught romance is undeniably a popular teen drama trope but lots of show are guilty of this one– kid, teen, and adult. Plus, while Logan and Veronica have had their fair share of conflict (he starts the show smashing the headlights of her LeBaron) we get past that, because this particular couple was (and maybe, depending on how this movie plays out, are) epic together.
So Back To Present Day: The Kickstarter Campaign
When I mentioned in the beginning that this movie wouldn’t have been possible without its fan base, I was speaking in a very literal sense. 91,585 backers raised $5,702,153 ($3,702,000 above the $2,000,000 asking price) to fund for the filming of this feature and convince WB execs (who held the rights for the show) that there was a large and eager audience for a movie to be released. True, there may have been some prize incentives involved (I do love my snazzy t-shirt and stickers) but the real prize is in the victory that after all the campaigning and petitions for closure, it is actually being made. The movie is done, its premiere is near, and we are going to get to see it. Crowd-funding debates have been raging on ever since (how can other projects benefit from such backing? are fans being exploited by artists that “should have enough money to do this on their own?) but Veronica Mars wasn’t about being controversial or filching cash out of susceptible fans pockets. It was about Rob Thomas and his fine cast of actors wanting to make a film but not being able to convince higher-ups that it would profit, and the fans who loved and adored the show jumping at this opportunity to bring it back in any way possible. There’s something exciting about being part of something so unprecedented–to be able to say I helped contribute in a small way to making this happen. Like Veronica Mars, I have no regrets. Like Veronica Mars and her fans, I am a Marshmallow.
The Veronica Mars Movie comes out March 14th with a simultaneous digital release. All three seasons are available for free on Amazon Prime and the box sets can be purchased online and wherever DVDs are sold.