Creator: Rob Thomas
Starring: Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, Patton Oswalt, J.K. Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr., Izabela Vidovic
I’ll start at the beginning of the end.
This is the second time Veronica Mars has had a surprise revival. I shouldn’t be surprised by it, but I always am. The show premiered in 2004 on UPN. It was originally canceled after its third season aired on the newly formed The CW. Since then, the small, vocal fanbase has clamored for some kind of continuation of the series, whether it was a new season, a series of books, or a movie.
Surprisingly, the fanbase got everything they asked for.
Well, eventually. It’s been 12 years since the series was canceled, but there’s finally a fourth season of eight episodes that’s currently available to stream on Hulu.
As I said, I shouldn’t be surprised that the series keeps coming back. Like its titular character, the show is scrappy and versatile and used to getting kicked to the curb. But a new eight-episode season is happy news for Veronica Mars the series. Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) is in a pretty happy place herself when we’re reintroduced to her.
Veronica and her father (Enrico Colantoni) are both private investigators running a seemingly successful P.I. firm in her hometown of Neptune, California. She lives with Logan (Jason Dohring), her reformed, bad boy, on-again-off-again boyfriend. She even owns a cramped, adorable sea-front property. Everything’s coming up, Veronica! Until she gets sucked into an investigation of The Mad Bomber of Neptune, someone who is blowing up businesses and killing people and ultimately harshing the town’s Spring Break vibe.
There’s also the return of real estate mogul and ex-con, Big Dick Casablancas (David Starzyk) and his new fixer, Clyde Pickett (J.K. Simmons). There’s also an amateur sleuth and professional pizza man, Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt) and a badass nightclub owner, Nicole Malloy (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). This is just a few of the new and returning characters that have something to do with our main mystery. They manage to cram a lot into eight episodes, but it never feels overstuffed.
I think this was the best season since the first. It’s hard to top “who killed Lilly Kane?” as far as mysteries are concerned. Seasons two and three tried to be different enough while still giving Veronica some kind of personal stake, but it’s a tough thing to pull off. 2014’s Kickstarter backed film, Veronica Mars, was a lot of fan-service and a pretty basic mystery. It was a fun check-in with the characters we love, but quality-wise, it didn’t come close to the original series.
With season four’s stripped-down episode count, we’re able to focus more on the season-long case and how it affects our main characters. Of course, that means jettisoning the case-of-the-week aspect of the show. We get a couple of glimpses in the first episode of some disconnected casework, but that’s it. Those are used to produce some of the best moments for the show, but it’s a fair trade-off.
Not everything gels perfectly with the main plot, however. The two Mexican hitmen that are sent to Neptune after the nephew of a cartel boss is collateral damage in one of the bombings are entertaining but ultimately superfluous. It’s fun to watch Clifton Collins Jr. in anything. However, they mostly seemed like a way for the show’s creator, Rob Thomas, to do something like Fargo without working too hard to fit them into the style of the show. As far as new characters are concerned, Clyde was a much better fit. Simmons had great chemistry with everyone, especially Colantoni. They’re two long-time professionals who spent most of their lives on opposite sides of the law, and there was an easy kinship about that.
Matty Ross (Izabela Vidovic) was another good addition to the supporting cast. After her father is killed in the bombing at the Sea Sprite Motel, she takes it upon herself to investigate, so obviously, she ends up crossing paths with Veronica. She’s an obvious device to have Veronica reflect on a lot of different aspects of her life, but she feels like more than a plot device. It helps that she isn’t used to soften Veronica as a character–to explore some different aspects of her.
Speaking of our lead, as usual, she’s the main reason for watching the show. The cast of the series is trimmed down in the neon-tinged, True Detective-esque title sequence to just our core three characters: Veronica, Keith, and Logan. They’ve been the most important characters on the show since the latter half of season one when the people running the show realized how good Dohring was.
Bell and Colantoni have incredible chemistry, and Keith and Veronica have easily one of the best father-daughter relationships on television. I found myself smiling the first time they got a scene together. They seem to be having so much fun bouncing off of each other. It was interesting to see the shift in their relationship. Usually, Keith is constantly concerned about his daughter, but the troubling memory loss he’s experiencing due to the effects of a car accident from the movie has their roles reversed. It’s sad to see Keith like that, but it feels like a necessary evolution of the show. Veronica isn’t 17 anymore; she’s in her 30’s, and that stuff happens.
Logan is a complicated character, probably the most complicated character in the show besides Veronica herself. He started out as the “obligatory psychotic jackass.” Due to the writing and Dohring’s subtly vulnerable performance, he evolved into somebody who is constantly striving to better himself. And somebody who occasionally backslides hard. Once he actually became Veronica’s serious boyfriend, the character softened so that it made more sense for someone like Veronica to stay with him. This was an especially big complaint in the third season when they broke up. Logan spent a number of episodes being quiet and mopey.
In the film, Logan is almost a parody of a reformed bad boy. He joined the military, and we first see him in full-dress uniform. It cuts out all of the will-they-won’t-they-should-they tension when you make the more fun and charming option an almost literal choir boy. The series tones that down a bit, and we get to see a reformed Logan without him seeming like a stereotype. He’s regularly seeing a therapist, he’s working on himself and his anger issues, and he’s in a loving, committed relationship. He’s trying and improving and evolving. That’s what’s so damn hard for Veronica. She’s a person who makes a lot of noise about moving on. However, she always finds herself in the same place, physically and emotionally.
I’ve always loved that the show isn’t afraid to make Veronica an asshole. She’s consistently shown to be a bad girlfriend, with her trust issues and her single-mindedness. She does something in the second episode that’s so toxic it’s almost hard to watch. But what makes her a truly great character, and a relatable and understandable one, is that we know exactly why she’s broken in the ways she is. We want her to be better, but we know exactly why sometimes she can’t be.
This season leaves Veronica in an interesting place. Because Veronica Mars is, under all of its trappings, a classic noir at heart, it’s no stranger to bittersweet endings. If we never get another follow-up, it feels like a perfect conclusion that is open-ended enough to be continued in another form. Even if it’s just continued in the minds of the show’s fans, that’s good enough for me.