As much as she loves Sam Spade, Judge Jennifer Malkowski would hire Veronica Mars over him any day. Not just because she's oh-so-attractive, either!
"A long time ago, we used to be friends…"
The so-clever-it-hurts Veronica Mars was originally hailed as the second coming of Buffy-style brilliance. This strong second season and the show's dedicated fan base have earned the teen P.I. her own cult status, separate from the series that undoubtedly molded hers.
Facts of the Case
WARNING: Spoilers for Season One ahead, and probably some minor ones for Season Two.
Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) [the Buffy] is a high school senior who's learned her formidable sleuthing skills from her playful P.I. dad, Keith (Enrico Colantoni) [the Giles]. Last year, she uncovered her best friend Lilly's murderer to cut her teeth in the crimefighting biz. This year, she's got two major mysteries on her hands: who blew up a bus full of Neptune High students from the wrong side of the tracks (re: those without the wealthy "09" zip code), and who stabbed PCH biker Felix to death?
Luckily, she's got help—and sometimes hindrance—from a colorful crowd of supporting characters with whom she trades her witty one-liners. Her two perennial love interests, the rather wooden Duncan (Teddy Dunn) [the Angel/Riley] and the devilishly charming Logan (Jason Dohring) [the Spike], keep her romantic life exciting. "Awesome 'baller" and best friend Wallace (Percy Daggs III) [the suaver Xander] is again a partner in crime (solving), as is hacker-extraordinaire Mac (Tina Majorino) [the Willow]. Biker-gang leader Weevil (Francis Capra) [the other Spike] reprises his friend-or-foe role. Rounding out the cast are new-girl-in-town Jackie (Tessa Thompson), and last season's rich-boy brothers Dick (Ryan Hansen) and Beaver (Kyle Gallner).
This set includes all of the second season's 22 episodes:
• "Normal is the Watchword" (with deleted scenes)
• "Driver Ed" (with deleted scenes)
• "Cheatty Cheatty Bang Bang"
• "Green-Eyed Monster" (with deleted scenes)
• "Blast from the Past" (with deleted scenes)
• "Rat Saw God" (with deleted scenes)
• "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner" (with deleted
• "Ahoy, Mateys!" (with deleted scenes)
• "My Mother, the Fiend" (with deleted scenes)
• "One Angry Veronica"
• "Donut Run"
• "Rashard and Wallace Go to White Castle"
• "Versatile Toppings" (with deleted scenes)
• "The Quick and the Wed" (with deleted scenes)
• "The Rapes of Graff"
• "Plan B"
• "I am God"
• "Nevermind the Buttocks" (with deleted scenes)
• "Look Who's Stalking" (with deleted scenes)
• "Happy Go Lucky"
• "Not Pictured"
Veronica Mars is a perfect example of a series that fares much, much better on DVD than in broadcast. Watching this sophomore season week by week, I was somewhat less than floored. It seemed like the second season lacked the emotional resonance of the first and the clues were so plentiful and complex that I didn't make much headway in solving the big case. Rewatching it this past week on DVD (the way I saw all of the first season), I was shocked by how much more I liked it. Taken in bigger chunks without commercials, the intervening other six days of the week, and hiatuses, the season was far more moving and absorbing than I expected and the mystery was quite coherent. The world of Neptune, Calif., is intricate and confusing, so it's best to let yourself get sucked into it in a more condensed fashion than one hour per week spread out over an eight-month television season.
And there was plenty to get sucked into this season! The dual mysteries of who crashed the bus and who killed Felix, which I won't say too much about, give us more to keep track of than last season, and, of course, there are plenty of little cases along the way. The writers were wise to reduce the screen time and prominence of these smaller cases a bit this season. The ones they do feature are mostly pretty interesting, and often involve characters we are already invested in. This last strategy is usually a smart writing move, but in Veronica Mars it also bestows the mixed blessing of making the audience question whether clues from a minor Logan-related case, for example, might tie back to Felix's murder, another case he is involved in. The writers even tie in elements of the Lilly Kane murder case, planting seeds of doubt about her killer and making us wonder if her murder has anything to do with Veronica's current conundrum. The writers also don't feel pressured to always structure the show around a single-contained-case-per-episode in this season, and it pays off. We get a few episodes in the middle—such as "Blast from the Past," "Plan B," and "I am God" to just focus on the larger mysteries…and the various personal and romantic entanglements of our heroes and villains.
What entanglements they are! Personal drama is heightened a bit this season, as evidenced by the endless stream of dances and parties our characters attend and at which they spend precious little time gathering clues. Just like the ubiquitous concert at The Planet on The L Word or barn conversation between Clark and Lana on Smallville, there always seems to be some kind of festivity going on in the school gym or at Logan's suite at The Neptune Grand. Honestly, I didn't mind the monotony a bit, considering the juicy rewards. It's a nice tradition on the show, just like how every episode transitions into the credits by tracking in on Veronica doing a shocked-but-still-pretty face. Even lovable minor characters like Mac and Beaver get character develop through romance this season, and Wallace becomes an even bigger school heartthrob. For a girl who sometimes acts like she doesn't need anyone and sarcastically describes herself as "a marshmallow," Veronica stakes out a lot of boy territory in her off-hours. One of the most revealing comments of the season comes from Jackie when Veronica tells her off for dancing with Logan, while Duncan stands in the background:
Veronica: "Jackie, if you want to lock horns with me, duck and charge.
But if you think I'm gonna let you break Wallace's heart for sport, you have
grossly underestimated my wrath."
This interaction is one of the many that develops the important themes of Veronica's pride and vindictive nature. From her not-strictly-necessary tazing of a jerk at a college party to the undiluted joy she says she will feel when Aaron Echolls gets convicted, Veronica has an almost unhealthy obsession with justice, in whatever form it takes. She can't let things go and she won't let anyone get the better of her, no matter what. That spirit is seriously put to the test during a particularly poignant moment in the final case-cracking episode of the season.
In that moment and in almost every moment of the whole series, Kristen Bell proves over and over again that she is the driving force of Veronica Mars. A pitch-perfect mix of tough-but-vulnerable charms and the wits to outsmart and outbanter anyone in town, she manages to keep lines that could become shrill or obnoxious from any other actress within the realms of endearing sassiness. "Ain't No Magic Mountain High Enough" is a great showcase for this quality of hers. When she catches a rival classmate making copies of an upcoming test, a grouchy teacher accuses her of lying:
"And for my next trick!" Veronica spurts out with a flourish of her little hands and a showman's smirk, "I'll take J.B. into the hallway, whisper a few magic words and when we return, he'll confess."
"Yeah, that'll happen," J.B. replies.
Two minutes of running time later, J.B. says, "I stole the test." What happened in between was pure Veronica Mars, a sly little back-and-forth chock-full of our heroine's unique brand of spunk and smarts that could be so annoying coming out of anyone but Kristen Bell.
That's one of many hilarious moments in the second season, which does a great job again with the comedy. From nerdy Mac puns, like "Your wish is my shift-command" to Veronica's advice to a girl about to lose her virginity, "Close your eyes and think of England?," the show is chocked full of clever little one-liners. Then there are the laugh-out-loud moments like when Veronica tries to "clinch that Emmy nomination" at the wig shop in "The Rapes of Graff." She pours her heart about, teary-eyed, about the bald, post-chemo girl she absolutely has to find and closes with an impassioned, "Please. She's my sister." as the piano and violin score swells. The response from the cashier? "I'm sorry. This girl was Hawaiian." The look on Veronica's face just before she skeedaddles on out of there is priceless.
Although it has its wamrth and humor, the darkness of this series by no means lets up in its second season. Apart from one very disturbing component of the big mystery, there's still plenty of Veronica's unshakable cynicism, including this speech which she utters in voiceover and utterly means it:
"So this is how it is. The innocent suffer, the guilty go free, and truth and fiction are pretty much interchangeable. There is neither a Santa Claus, nor an Easter Bunny, and there are no angels watching over us. Things just happen for no reason. And nothing makes any sense."
It's always hard to see tension in the Mars family, and there is some serious mistrust between Keith and Veronica at certain points in the season. It's pretty upsetting to hear Keith tell her, with barely restrained rage, "I love you. I'll always love you. But I don't know how I'll ever trust you again." In terms of the other men in her life, Logan becomes more of a tortured soul—understandably so, considering that his mother killed herself, and his father had an affair with and then murdered Logan's girlfriend. That profile doesn't scream cheery portrait of mental health. There are some great moments here with our favorite bad boy (although not enough with our second favorite, Weevil), including this heartwrenchingly honest exchange with a girl at school:
Logan: "You're a really sweet girl, but—"
Last, but not least, in the content department, who could forget the amazing collection of guest stars Veronica Mars bagged this season? Writer/directors Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (who you may know by his other name, God), both huge supporters of the show, turn up in front of the camera for cameos ("Driver Ed" and "Rat Saw God"). Buffy alums include Charisma Carpenter as reoccurring golddigger Kendall and Alyson Hannigan reprising her role as Logan's catty sister, Trina ("My Mother, the Fiend"—the best of the season's case-of-the-week episodes). More familiar faces from cult shows turn up, including Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development ("The Rapes of Graff") and Xena's Lucy Lawless ("Donut Run"). Plus, there's a most unexpected stroke of casting genius with Steve Guttenberg as the new mayor, Woody Goodman (or, as a poll on fan podcast "Neptune Pirate Radio" dubbed him, Mayor McCreepy).
One of the most visually interesting shows on TV, the stylistic sleekness of Veronica Mars is well preserved on this transfer. Good black levels are always appreciated in noir, and they're great here, along with the often luminous coloring and lighting of the series. The sound quality is good, but a few of the actors consistently mumble their lines—most notably Logan and Beaver—making clarity an occasional problem. There are no English subtitles, so no help there unless you speak French or Spanish.
Warner Bros. has given fans a bit more in the extras department this time around, compared to the deleted-scenes-only first-season package. We get plenty of those, to start with, linked on the menus to their individual episodes—one of the links is switched, though, with the scenes for "The Quick and the Wed" attached to "Versatile Toppings" and vice versa. As with most deleted scenes, one understands why these were left out. Most of them take us just a little deeper into the facts of Veronica's case-of-the-week. In some case, leaving the scenes out was just merciful. The two instances I'm thinking of feature some very stiff and uncomfortable attempts at romantic bravado by Duncan early in the season—kind of painful to watch. LoVe (Logan + Veronica, of course) fans get an extension of the mid-season bathroom scene between the two, with a little more sexually-loaded banter. The other extras are contained on the sixth disc, starting with a behind-the-scenes featurette, "A Day on the set with Veronica Mars." This is a fun eight-minute jaunt through the sets of the show with Kristen Bell herself as our camcorder-toting hostess. In it, we learn that the set is located next to a very noisy military base, that the cast often pulls 15-hour workdays, and that Bell is very nearly as charming as the character she portrays. With her great Veronica comic timing, she chats with an animal handler about the diet of a huge python she is holding: "Where do you get a frozen goat?" The second featurette, "Veronica Mars: Not Your Average Teen Detective," is composed mostly of clips from the show and interview footage with Rob Thomas and some of the cast. It's a brief six minutes, but Thomas says a few interesting things. He cites Twin Peaks as a big influence and notes that the most important lesson he learned from that series was, "eventually solve the case." We also get a pretty standard eight minutes of gag reel footage that's a nice showcase for the warmth of the cast. The gags stretch back to the first season, and the editor makes sure to include a little bit of most of the show's high-profile guest stars (including Joss Whedon improvising a monologue to Kim from America's Next Top Model; tee hee). Lastly, there is a preview for the show's third season on the CW, but it doesn't include any new footage.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though most of the twists and turns merge nicely together by season's end, there are a few lingering questions that seemed to just drop off the writers' radar for no apparent reason. What on earth happened to Keith and Alicia's relationship? We see them have a fight, but there is no closure and then she just disappears, other than a brief, inconclusive resurfacing to cheer Wallace on at graduation. What really happened between Duncan and Kendall? If their interaction was some kind of red herring, I'm still waiting for the confirmation. Perhaps some viewers enjoy these ambiguities, but some of them smacked of bad writing to me.
To say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a hard act to follow would be a vast, gaping hole of an understatement. But as its widely acknowledged successor, Veronica Mars holds its own. Although I doubt it will ever reach the standard set by this predecessor in my mind, I'm making fewer comparisons with each season and greatly appreciate this mind-bender of a mystery series for its own merits.
Veronica Mars: The Complete Second Season is a pure, shining ball of innocence compared to any of the residents of Neptune, Calif. But in their courts, it'd get convicted anyway.
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