Veronica Mars Shows Its Story Can Look Forward While Its Characters Linger in the Past
The television landscape has changed quite a bit since Veronica Mars made its debut in 2004. Its first network, UPN, hasn’t been around for more than a decade. Its current home, Hulu, didn’t exist yet, as cable networks were only just starting to focus on original programming, let alone streaming. The quirky high school detective show felt like a breath of fresh air, taking on the youthful territory of rival network The WB with an adult sense of maturity.
Like practically all high school dramas, Veronica Mars experienced some growing pains after graduation. The UPN/WB merger left plenty of shows fighting for space on The CW, which cancelled Mars after its third season, the first overall on the new network. The show’s cult fanbase has ensured that its legacy has lived on, first in a 2014 film of the same name, and now a fourth season of eight episodes.
The fourth season follows its predecessors’ lead in having one big mystery, but the shortened episode order leaves this case as the predominant narrative. The early years let the cases unfold over the course of a twenty-two-episode arc, allowing plenty of time for character development and other various subplots. This season manages the balance between mystery and character, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Plenty of Veronica Mars characters return over the course of the fourth season, but only Veronica (Kristen Bell), Keith (Enrico Colatoni), and Logan (Jason Dohring) remain at the heart of the narrative. Trouble is, the show doesn’t really have anything new to say about Veronica’s relationship with either man. There’s still plenty of witty banter between Veronica and Keith, but Logan mostly mopes around while on leave from the Navy.
The “will they/won’t they” relationship between Logan and Veronica existed at the heart of the show’s narrative for its entire run. Season four maintains the status quo to its own detriment, pursuing this well-trodden turf at the expense of any other kind of character development. For all the ways this season managed to put high school in the past, the melodrama between two grown adults feels like misplaced nostalgia.
The mystery at the heart of the season involves the bombing of several Spring Break destinations across Neptune. Patton Oswalt and J.K. Simmons stand out as newcomers Penn Epner, a pizza delivery guy and amateur sleuth solver, and Clyde Pickett, an ex-con serving as a fixer for Dick Casablancas Sr. The mystery has plenty of twists and turns, serving as the season’s primary focus without feeling overly drawn out.
To its credit, season four hardly lives in the shadows of what came before it. Old Veronica Mars characters return infrequently, almost always with purpose. Fan favorites such as series regulars Wallace (Percy Daggs III), Weevil (Francis Capra), and Dick (Ryan Hansen) aren’t around much, consistent with the passage of time since these characters would have played natural roles in each other’s lives. The show demonstrates a sense of maturity for not picking the low hanging fruit of forcing these people together to recapture the good old days.
Season four exists in a state of limbo, a revival that doesn’t cling to the past while not being overly committed to the idea of a future for Veronica Mars either. High school is over. The show knows that, but what comes next remains oddly up in the air. As a revival, this kind of makes sense since no one really knows what the future will hold for the series, but the narrative doesn’t face the same obligations.
Veronica Mars is still a fun show to watch. It’s decidedly less fun than it used to be. Thoughts of its theme song’s refrain, “we used to be friends,” remain ever-present. We all have memories of days gone by. Television possesses the ability to bring those dreams alive again, but some of the magic is lost when wishful thinking becomes reality.