Veronica Mars is one of those shows that enjoys a certain cultural cache.
After all, it's not every series that gets resurrected six years after cancelation for a crowd-funded movie that reaches its $2 million goal a mere 11 hours after launching the campaign.
It's cool, it's cult and I completely missed the boat on it during its original 2004-2007 run (and many subsequent reairings).
I've heard numerous colleagues praise the first season in particular for its smart storytelling style and sassy tone, but I've never found time to jump on the bandwagon... until now.
With the movie slated for release in 2014 and the cast tweeting up a storm about their long-anticipated reunion, now seems like as good a time as any to find out what I've been missing.
Whether you're a newcomer like me who hasn't seen a single episode, or a nostalgic fan who wants to refresh their memory before the film debuts, let's take a trip back to Neptune, California for Veronica Season 1 Episode 1, inventively titled "Pilot."
Like any good noir, the first episode opens on a seedy motel and a hardboiled voiceover - but instead of a Philip Marlowe-esque tough guy, our detective is a spunky, acerbic teenage girl, one whose stakeout patience is being undermined by an impending calculus test.
Thus we meet Veronica, a girl who used to have it all: a dreamy boyfriend, a seat at the cool kids' table at lunch, a functional family and financial stability -- all of which were torn from her (along with her virginity) following a series of highly unfortunate events involving the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane, and her sheriff father's ill-fated attempt to pin the crime on Lilly's billionaire dad, Jake.
Sadly for Veronica's father, Keith Mars, another man was convicted of the murder, he lost his job as a result of the bungled investigation, and Veronica lost her remaining friends and her mom, who was quick to abandon them as their fortunes turned.
This made the father-daughter duo outcasts from their social circles and decidedly lower-class, leaving Keith to start a private investigation agency (at which Veronica works part-time when she's not in school) in order to make ends meet.
The premiere covers a lot of ground through flashbacks, filling us in on the events surrounding Lilly's murder and the subsequent separation of Veronica's parents, as well as scenes involving Veronica being drugged and raped at a party and the callous way her ordeal is then dismissed by the sheriff who replaced her father.
In addition to these chunks of backstory, the episode also introduces us to the layered characters who populate Veronica's world: new student Wallace, who finds himself taped to the school's flagpole after snitching on two thieving members of the local PCH biker gang; Weevil, said gang's aggressive leader; Duncan, Lilly's brother and Veronica's ex-boyfriend; and Logan, Duncan's best friend and the school's resident "psychotic jackass," as Veronica describes him.
All this and the show somehow makes time for an elaborate plot that involves Veronica humiliating Logan and the sadistic new sheriff, all while getting the gang members off Wallace’s back. No easy feat.
While some of the characters initially appear to be stereotypical stock characters - particularly entitled douchebag Logan and sexist gangbanger Weevil - Rob Thomas' writing is sharp enough to hint that appearances may be deceiving. Although Logan remains an antagonistic jerk throughout the pilot (and Duncan is such a non-entity that his presence barely registers), by the end of the hour, Weevil has demonstrated that he has honor, coming to Veronica's defense and beating the crap out of Logan after he smashes her headlights in retaliation for Veronica getting his car confiscated.
Although Weevil talks a blithely misogynistic game to impress his gang - or to get a rise out of Veronica - he also makes it clear that he respects her methods and her wits, which gives me hope that the rest of the supporting cast will be similarly fleshed out as we go on.
What strikes me most about Veronica Mars in my limited exposure to it is the surprisingly dark subject matter - the pilot features rape, murder, classism, sexism and racism, as well as parental abandonment and infidelity - realistically depicting the way that different social groups (especially teenagers) address each other when they’re forced to coexist.
For a show that aired on UPN -- which combined with The WB to form the not-particularly-groundbreaking CW – almost a decade ago, I'm impressed at VM’s willingness to spotlight some of the less savory aspects of growing up with honesty and humor, instead of seeking to glamorize or excuse that kind of behavior, as shows like Gossip Girl and 90210 did.
(And as someone who watched GG before seeing VM, I must admit that it’s a little jarring to hear Kristen Bell’s dulcet tones providing a voiceover that doesn’t end with “xoxo,” but I like it.)
Between Thomas’ snappy writing, a fully-realized female lead with flaws, strength and agency, and the artful direction from Mark Piznarski, I’m definitely eager to delve further into Veronica’s world. Better late than never, right?
Be sure to visit our section of Veronica Mars quotes and return next week for my secod Veronica Mars rewatch!