Thursday, September 4, 2008

What You Should Have Been Watching: Veronica Mars

As he previously mentioned, The Common Man spent a great deal of time this week, snuggled up with The Uncommon Wife in their bedroom, watching DVDs. It has been a delightful respite from feeling like crap, not just because The Common Man loves him some wife and values their time together, but because they are entirely wrapped up in the second season of the subject of the second edition of What You Should Have Been Watching: Veronica Mars.

Veronica Mars picked up the torch of the teenage heroine when it was discarded by Buffy Summers in 2004. Gushed over by fanboys and by critics, it should have been a hit, pairing a hot and versatile young star (Kristin Bell) with a terrific concept (90210 meets Nancy Drew). With an impressive stable of supporting talent (Enrico Colantoni and Jason Dohring in particular) and a
supportive network that gave the show three years to find an audience, you'd assume that VM was perfectly placed to find success. Sadly, that network was UPN, a third-rate joke whose best performing product was Friday Night Smackdown (The Common Man hesitates to italicize that title. Does that even count as a show or is it some vaudeville freakery gone even more freaky?), which did not exactly appeal to Veronica's demo. The network bumped it around into various timeslots and local affiliates preempted it for local sports, meaning that building a consistent audience was incredibly difficult, particularly for a serialized show.

That said, maybe it's best that Veronica Mars never made it onto one of the four main networks. Largely left to himself, series creator Rob Thomas was able to create an impressive universe for his characters and could touch on social commentary as well as revel in his star's sexybombshellness. And he was able to develop long, season-length story archs, patiently giving away clues, and teasing audiences along to a final payoff.

The series revolves around Bell's Veronica, the daughter of the local sheriff in Neptune, CA (a smallish city in So-Cal with huge disparities between rich and poor). When her best friend is murdered, Veronica's life collapses around her. Her father accuses Veronica's boyfriend's father of the crime, her boyfriend dumps her, she becomes a social pariah, her father is ousted in a recall election, her mother (already an alcoholic) leaves home, and the remaining Mars' are forced to move to a two-bedroom apartment. Veronica's father becomes a local private investigator and she his assistant. In her spare time, she investigates her friend's murder and helps classmates who fall into some kind of trouble or other, using her Batman-esque detectiving skills.

The series rode high on the strength Bell's performance. Her role as the class private eye forced her to invent several different versions of the character who could cajole, intimidate, and hustle other characters for information. And her status as an outsider inspired her every word to drip with sarcasm. She was, to be fair, given terrific, updated-Raymond Chandler-like dialogue to work with, but her delivery was consistently on point. Also, her hair was hot and bounced on her head like it was spring-loaded.

So, why is this show here? Sure, you're thinking, it sounds awesome and you probably should have been watching it. But what, besides the eye-candy is there to interest men. To instruct men. To be a boon to mankind. Ladies and gentlemen, Keith Mars, Veronica's father, as played by Enrico Colantoni, is the embodiment of responsible fatherhood. Abandoned by his wife and his community for pursuing his convictions and a suspect, Keith has every reason to start his life over in another town, or to be bitter and take out his frustrations on his daughter. But he doesn't. Instead, he stays in Neptune, and endures the scorn and ridicule of his neighbors. He embodies responsible fatherhood, sacrificing so that his daughter can be as well-adjusted as possible in their home. Love, money, pride. None of it matters as much as the safety and happiness of his little girl. Add to that his moral strength and physical toughness, and you have one hell of a man. Again and again, Keith Mars is held up as the pinnacle of manhood, and he is never found wanting. He is an example for fathers everywhere to follow, understanding that something as simple as a smile or a hug from one's child is a far greater reward than anything tangible.

Also, The Uncommon Wife has noted on several occasions that she would do incredible things to him, and once purred. So, um, ladies...he's apparently got that sexy dad thing going for him.

Anyway, if you liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and don't say you didn't, you'll just make The Common Man shed manly, manly tears), you'll love Veronica Mars. Though it plays down the action, adventure, and danger, it heightens the mystery, suspense, and wittiness of Joss Whedon's masterpiece. And when the show does get dangerous, it's incredibly intense. So go, enjoy all three seasons that Veronica Mars has to offer. And, now that the fall TV season is upon you, start watching good television, for God's sake, so they won't keep airing Who Wants To Break Up Their Family For a Million Dollars?

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