There are many great female detectives in the world of fiction, especially on TV, and for almost every age demographic. I’m a huge fan of Miss Jane Marple and Jessica Fletcher. When I was young, I loved Honey West, Emma Peel and Christine Cagney & Mary Beth Lacey. As an adult, I've enjoyed Jane Rizzoli, Kate Beckett, Brenda Lee Johnson, Sharon Raydor, U.S. Marshall Mary Shannon, Jennifer Hart and Lilly Rush just to name a few. (I know there are many more, but these are favorites I watched.)
Should I include Sabrina, Kelly and Jill…or Kris?
One of the “traditions” at our house is to binge-watch an old TV series during the summer, either a popular show we haven't seen or a favorite we want to watch again. In the past we’ve watched Madame Secretary, Scandal, Gilmore Girls, NCIS, and Everwood. This summer, one of the shows we re-watched was Veronica Mars.
Veronica Mars premiered in the fall of 2004, on the now-defunct UPN. The title character is played perfectly by the amazing Kristen Bell (The Good Place, Frozen). I watched that first episode…and was hooked. (By the way, that year also gave us other memorable shows, such as Boston Legal, Lost, Desperate Housewives, and regretably, The Apprentice.) After season two, the UPN merged with the (also now-defunct) WB network to form the CW, and Veronica Mars was the only one new drama from the UPN lineup to survive the merger.
Show’s Premise: Neptune, California is a diverse seaside town with lots of secrets. When high school student Lilly Kane, daughter of the one of the wealthiest families in Neptune, is murdered, it rocked the lives of the residents. The town’s sheriff, Keith Mars, was convinced Lilly’s father was somehow involved, and the accusation made national headlines. When someone else confesses to the murder, Keith is disgraced and removed from office. His wife leaves, they lose the house, and he opens a private detective agency. Veronica was Lilly's best friend, and she was also dating Duncan, Lilly’s brother, which put her in the rich, privileged, "in crowd" at Neptune High School. After the scandal involving her father, Duncan dumps her and she becomes a social pariah.
Veronica works with her father’s agency as an assistant, but uses her own skills to solve a series of crimes around the town and for kids at school. She has her own secrets that haunt her, but they also drive her. She's smart, sardonic, loyal, confident, tenacious, and at times, self-destructive. She has a strong sense of justice, but also a devious desire for payback.
Personal Note: A few years ago, in a FB discussion on TV’s best dads, I named Keith Mars. (Most folks had no idea who he was!) I think the relationship and rapport between Veronica and Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) was one of the best on TV.
In the first two seasons, there's one major mystery to be solved, and each episode revealed more to help Veronica solve it. Season one, Veronica becomes convinced that the person in jail for killing Lilly is lying, so she sets out to find the real killer. In season two, it's the tragic death of students in a bus crash—a bus Veronica was supposed to be on. Each of those murders/seasons end with an intense, and shocking, climatic reveal. When the show moved to the CW for season three, the network preferred several mysteries over multi-episode arcs. (e.g., a murder on Veronica's college campus, a serial rapist, etc.)
In each episode, there are also smaller cases as well, everything from finding a long-lost father, to a stolen dog to discovering who's outing...and blackmailing...closeted (rich) gay students. The show covered interesting, pertinent issues, including date rape, sexual harassment, drugs, teen sex, sexuality, STDs, gender identity, pregnancy, socio-economic differences and race relations. These subject are handled with sincerity and sensitivity.
Veronica is aided in her quest for the truth by those she's helped with their problems: her friend, Wallace, the new kid in school; the leader of the local biker gang, Eli 'Weevil' Navarro; and computer wizard, Cindy 'Mac' Mackenzie. We have minor characters who show up off and on throughout the show, which also gives it continuity. This includes the town's sheriff, who replaced Keith after the scandal. He's inept, arrogant and dense—making him the foil of Veronica's ire and sarcasm. The show has a unique way of mixing serious subjects with humor and heart. There's a film noir quality to the production that I loved. The dialogue is witty, fast paced and often biting, reminiscent of Gilmore Girls. We are served lots of cultural references, and granted, some are now dated. (Though a few still carry weight, such as one about Donald Trump, before he was ran for president.) Like other “teen shows” there are the usual issues of prom, sports, grades, and sitting at the correct lunch table. Of course, fans of the show divide up around Veronica’s three main boyfriends: Team Logan, Team Duncan or Team Piz. (I had my favorite as well!)
Entertainment Weekly included Veronica Mars in their list of "25 Greatest Cult TV Shows Ever."
Vulture magazine calls Veronica Mars "Feminist As Hell."
The show has an amazing soundtrack, many of the songs are still part of my playlists. There were fun cameos (Both Kevin Smith and Josh Whedon were fans of the show, and appeared briefly in episodes) and lots of well-known (or future well-known) guest stars: Paris Hilton (who was both a short-lived cast member and several cultural references), Anthony Anderson (Black-ish), Melissa Leo (Oscar winner, The Fighter), Jessica Chastain (Now twice Oscar nominated!), Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia), Jane Lynch (Glee), Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, Good Wife, The Intern), Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, How I Met Your Mother), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess), and Michael Cera (Arrested Development). Logan Echolls' parents were played by real-life husband and wife, Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin. (Funny side note: In the show, Hamlin plays a famous actor, and in one scene, he is seen in his role in the move Clash of the Titans.)
Veronica Mars only lasted three seasons, but the fan-base (known as Marshmallows, which is explained in one of the first episodes) were intensely loyal. They pushed until it was announced a follow-up movie would be attempted. When the studio refused to pay for it, creator Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell did a Kickstarter campaign, and the money needed was raised in less than 10 minutes. (Actually, the campaign raised a total of $5.7 million dollars, which was almost 300 percent of the original goal. The campaign broke all records for most money raised in the shortest amount of time.) The movie was released in 2007, opening simultaneously in theaters and via digital download. Almost all of the original cast returned. Many fans (like me) were eager to find out which of Veronica’s boyfriends she chose, since the final episode of season three ended on a cliffhanger. (NO SPOILERS, but I was disappointed!)
Interestingly and coincidentally, we were finishing up season 3 when we heard that Hulu will be reviving the show as a limited series.
The series and movie are currently available to stream on Amazon, and all are also available in a boxed DVD set.
In addition, Rob Thomas—the creator of the show, wrote and released two novels based on the characters.
We used to be friends...and I'm glad we renewed that friendship over the summer.