Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 22, 2004 (UPN)
Nielsen ratings information: 2.49 million viewers, 1.8/3 in Households, 1.0/3 with Adults 18-49
VERONICA MARS was always one of my favorite shows, despite the fact that I never had much interest in it before it premiered, while it aired, and after it was cancelled. The premise isn’t much to win over an audience with, and some of the characters are downright clichés of the California beach high school genre, while the stories aren’t really that much interesting or thrilling, considering the crime procedural genre they are placed in. After all, the cases the eponymous character and her friends and father will be investigating are all soft crimes compared to the murders and kidnappings the detectives investigate over at CBS at the same time. But VERONICA MARS is a show that lives (and judging by the soon-to-premiere Hulu revival, never died) with its fun and delightful attitude and its wonderful cast, headlined by a wonderful and charming Kristen Bell, who was more than crush material for the teenage me in 2005, when I discovered the existence of the show. Apparently she was born to play the titular hero, and apparently Rob Thomas was born to write a female character, who is not just more than meets the eye, but also puts the gender stereotypes of detective stories on its head, while being the center of a stereotypical world that is filled with detective stories. There is even a genre mix in this show – a teen high school drama that sometimes makes fun of its genre, and which dips into the noir drama for a few minutes here and there and makes fun of detective stories, VERONICA MARS is both a teen crime drama and a Whodunnit detective show set in the modern world, following the rules of both genres (which couldn’t be more different from each other), assuring the hopeful audience that this TV drama is not like any other. That should all promise fun, but for some reason I was never wild about VERONICA MARS, and I was never obsessive about it. Except maybe for a few days in the Spring of 2014, when the Kickstarter-funded movie premiered, and changed Hollywood for just a second. Yet here I am, considering the show as one of my all-time favorites. Will a rewatch change my connection to and emotional value of the show, and will I be more appreciative towards it? Am I about to realize that my teenage and Twentysomething mind didn’t catch all of the awesome weirdness that is VERONICA MARS?
Yes, Veronica Mars, high school student and teen detective, is not much of a premise, since teenagers have already been detectives, police officers, and even murderers, but it’s the other premise (the high school life of one Veronica Mars, who once had it all and is now on her own) that mixes well with the rather sleepy premise of solving petty cases in high school, and sometimes even a murder. It’s basically Nancy Drew set in the world of 21 JUMP STREET, but the writers figured how to fill the show with even more stuff by looking at how previous high school teenage dramas did it. Ten years of BEVERLY HILLS 90210, the emergence of DAWSON’S CREEK, and the genre shows BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ROSWELL all served as potential idols for VERONICA MARS, and I don’t even blame Rob Thomas for doing it, because a) I do like all these shows, and I would gladly watch and rewatch them (being a 90s kid, I have to confess I never saw more than the first season of BEVERLY HILLS, 90210, and I can’t even remember what happened in seasons two and three of ROSWELL), and b) it’s up to some heavy-hitters of television to create and write captivating female characters, with Veronica essentially joining Buffy Summers, and in a way Sydney Bristow from 2001’s ALIAS, in the narrow field of women characters who know how to handle men around them, and how to solve problems without the need to cry for help.
This episode was pretty much just exposition on top of even more exposition. 39 minutes of introducing the characters, the world and the back story to the new viewers, all while trying to shoehorn in a contemporary story involving a newcomer to Neptune High, because there is never a television show premiere with a character who serves as a proper audience surrogate, in this case Wallace, who is as much being introduced to Veronica’s world as we are. It’s kind of interesting how these 39 minutes, or if you happened to have watched the DVD version of the pilot, 41 minutes (I do not understand why the streaming version of this episode doesn’t include the extended opening), managed to be captivating with all the exposition in each and every one of the minutes the show was running. Veronica needs to be established as a high schooler with a hobby as a private investigator. Veronica needs to be given an extensive back story, in which she was raped. Veronica needs to be depicted as the clever young woman, who can’t even be bothered by potentially dangerous-looking Hispanics in a biker gang. Veronica needs to be introduced to new friends for her upcoming television adventures. Veronica needs to be thrust into an ongoing case, which happens to involve the murder of her best friend. And all of this in 39 minutes? To quote Keanu Reeves: “Whoa.” It’s definitely surprising that I never lost interest in the pilot, judging by all the heavy exposition it delivered.
Maybe it’s a good thing then that most of the flashbacks were used as part of the greater narrative. The flashbacks essentially told a story about how Veronica turned from being part of the clique to the lone girl on the outside, how the murder of Lily Kane shocked not only her, but the entire town she lived in, and how it ruined her status with her peers. It tells a story of how she was secluded more and more, which was then being put over the top by her rape, and how she was treated by Sheriff Lamb in his office (hello patriarchy, turns out you really need to be kicked in the nuts by Veronica for being such a dick). It’s almost like Rob Thomas realized he may have a few too many flashback scenes, so he decided to up the ante and simply tell another story within his story. Hey, as long as it helps to introduce the characters and the world to the viewers, why not?
The three stand-alone detective cases were not much of interest to me, even if they happened to introduce the supporting cast around Veronica. The big high school case introduced with Wallace hanging by the pole was just a way for Veronica to make some new friends and maybe get an assistant (and when UPN really was high on their non-success, they even would have asked Rob Thomas to make Veronica and Wallace a romantic couple), while the Jake Kane arc was thrown into the mix to show that there is more to the Kane family than just Veronica having dated Duncan and having befriended Lily. And the Loretta Cancun case showed that Veronica can be Ethan Hunt for high school teenage dramas as well, and go to lengths to solve a case and save her friends, even when Weevil and his biker gang weren’t her friends in this episode, and even when it looked like Veronica and her contacts were kind of breaking the law to switch out the video tape. Then again, throwing her into the biker gang ring was just one way to get Veronica some more friends. After all, Wallace is not the only one who started to like Veronica in a BFF-kinda way by the end of the episode, since Weevil might have found his match as well, and he might have liked that more than Wallace did.
When it comes to the ongoing story (Lily’s murder), it seemed obvious that Rob Thomas wanted to stretch out the case as long as possible, to turn it into an ongoing narrative, anything but soon to be solved and closed. Even though information was given that the murder case is still being investigated by Keith, what Veronica thought about during the final third of the episode was her mother, and how she might be involved in the Kane drama. It was like finding her mother and fixing her family was of a greater concern than realizing that the Lily Kane murder is practically still unsolved, which means Veronica needs to remove her fixation on her effort to fix her family, and turn her eyes towards her best friend’s murder. That’s also an intriguing thing to do: Rob Thomas developed the main arc of the show with the help of exposition-heavy flashbacks, but paddled around this huge elephant in the show and created another ongoing arc that might overshadow Lily Kane’s murder for a bit and give the writers time to develop either story, and make it part of Veronica’s development. It’s actually clever writing.
Best part of the episode: Who Veronica is can be summed up by the scene in front of the motel. Veronica sends Backup on one of Weevil’s gang members, and electroshocks another one. She can not only defend herself, but she had the upper hand the entire time. That is some amusing and cheerful stuff.
Worst part of the episode: All the white privilege in this episode went on my nerves. Yes, it’s part of the narrative, and yes, it’s part of the character pool, but damn, if I ever have to hear Logan bitch about his car being taken away, which is why he is acting out, I might create a device that sends me into fictional worlds of television, and I’m gonna choose this episode, just to punch the hell out of Logan for being such a whiny white kid.
Weirdest part of the episode: It was the energy between Weevil and Wallace at the end of the episode. One might think that Weevil is threatening to a young black man like Wallace, but damn, the black kid feels way too secure with this white chick by his side. And Weevil is just taking all that for granted? I didn’t quite believe that this was happening.
Player of the episode: Naturally it’s Kristen Bell for still giving me the hives. She is too perfect for the role, and I am falling in love with her all over again.