“A long time ago we used to be friends,” begins the Veronica Mars iconic theme song. And it’s true, it has been a long time – since 2007 to be exact. That’s when the original Veronica Mars, created by Rob Thomas (iZombie), went off the air. After three seasons, the series was unexpectedly canceled, and since the season 3 finale had left a lot of questions in the air, fans were left wanting. Since then, Thomas and star Kristen Bell have tried many things to revive Veronica. There was the idea to do a spin-off series about Veronica (Bell) working at the FBI that never got off the ground. There was an ill-received movie in 2014 that was entirely funded by a Kickstarter campaign that was meant to wrap up loose ends and provide a satisfying finish to the story. Now, five years later, Thomas and Bell have finally got what they wanted – an official revival to their hit noir series, airing on Hulu. All eight episodes of the new season dropped a week early on July 19.
In case you didn’t know, the original series follows teenage Veronica (the original three seasons are available on Hulu in case you want to catch up), as she engages in detective work assisting her father Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), who’s a private investigator, and her classmates with their various problems. There’s also usually an overarching mystery each season that Veronica has to figure out (except in season 3, where there are a series of mysteries). Season 1, and in my opinion the best season, saw Veronica trying to figure out who killed her best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried). By the end of the movie (which really does have a lot of connective tissue and I recommend watching it between seasons 3 and 4 if you want everything to make sense), Veronica ditches the lucrative law career she was pursuing, and goes back to work with her dad in Neptune.
That’s where season 4 picks up, with Veronica and Keith working side by side on the cases brought into their office. It’s too bad, considering Veronica’s talent. Throughout seasons 1-3, and especially in season 3 when Veronica is in college, everyone talks about how Veronica is going to go on to do great things. And you believe it. Veronica is brilliant, and way too good for the small town of Neptune. She’s world class. So it’s disappointing that Veronica, now in her thirties, is still doing the same old stuff she did in high school. Right off the bat, the premise is flawed. (That old proposal of Veronica working at the FBI would’ve been a much better premise – same old Veronica sleuthing skills, bigger ballgame.)
Also the same old story is Veronica’s romantic choices – since the 2014 movie, she has been dating her high school/college on-again-off-again boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). But this I’m not too mad about. Logan and Veronica always had unbelievable on-screen chemistry, and fans have shipped the couple since season 1. Logan, has also grown up a lot. You might even say that he’s a lot more mature than Veronica by this point. Also, unlike Veronica, his career really took off (which I don’t think any fans of the original series saw coming), as he’s an agent doing super-secret stuff for the US military. My only real criticism of the Logan aspect of the series (besides for that plot-twist ending which we’ll get to later) is that he’s a little too serious. He still has the quippy lines, but he’s very dry. The passion of original Logan is gone.
This is pretty representative of the entire season. I recognize all the sign-posts of it being a Veronica Mars season – big murder mystery that needs solving, Veronica delivering witty one-liners, Veronica and Keith’s banter, great detective work done by our PIs despite the police’s objections, a Logan romantic plot-line. But where is the warmth of the original series? The part of the show that had campy goofiness to it that just gave the show so much life; the possibility of hope for a great future for Veronica beyond shitty Neptune, it’s all gone. Veronica, who used to have a big heart and be a force for good – helping out classmates who deserved it even when they couldn’t pay her, is now extremely cynical and jaded. The fun and joyful part of the series is gone, and the new tone is a little too desolate for my taste. Veronica Mars has always dealt with serious real-world themes (rape, class disparities), but without the more light-hearted aspects of the series to balance it out, the show suffers.
The central mystery this season is about a series of bombs set off during spring break. This takes up most of the time as Veronica chases down leads, but what’s missing are the case-of-the-week storylines that were used to break up the big mystery in the original series. It’s a good complex case that has enough moving parts to keep Veronica busy and us occupied, but it gets a bit tired after a while. The case does do something that the series always did well however, which is to highlight the ever-growing class disparities in Neptune.
There are some great new characters. Nicole, played by the brilliant Kirby Howell-Baptiste (The Good Place), is a savvy club owner who makes fast friends with Veronica. Unfortunately, Veronica’s penchant for chasing leads despite how it may hurt a friendship gets in the way, making it unlikely that we’ll see Nicole in future seasons. My other new favorite (who may actually become a more permanent character) is Matty Ross, played by Izabela Vidovic (iZombie, Wonder). Matty is like a mini Veronica. She’s smart and crafty, and she wants justice for her father’s death – he dies in the first of the bombings. Veronica becomes a sort of mentor to Matty, and their relationship is priceless. Matty reminds us of what we loved so much about Veronica in her own teenage years – a kid who’s so much smarter than everyone else, and who everyone underestimates. There’s also Penn (Patton Oswalt), who’s…interesting to say the least. He’s a pizza delivery guy who gets a little too involved in the case.
As for all the old characters? Keith is the most like his old self. He’s still taking cases and cracking jokes. He has his own obstacles this season as he deals with trouble with his memory, and hip problems from the car crash he was in in the 2014 film. He adds warmth and nostalgia to the season, which it desperately needs. Veronica’s old friend Wallace (Percy Daggs III) is married with a kid, but he’s kind of just there. He doesn’t have any active role in the plot, and mostly fades into the background. Gone are the days when he was Veronica’s partner in crime, helping her with all her cases, and stealing permanent files from the administration office. Dick Jr. (Ryan Hansen) and Big Dick (David Starzyk) Casablancas are both back as well. Dick is mostly just there to add dumb laughs, which he does pretty well, but his father is a sinister presence throughout the season, and a major suspect in the case. Weevil (Francis Capra) is disappointingly up to his old gang ways, eliminating all the previous growth the character had undergone. The result is also that he and Veronica are not friendly this season, which is too bad because their friendship was one of the highlights of the original show. One character who’s notably absent is Mac, played in the original series and movie by Tina Majorino, who said in an interview with TVLine that she opted out of doing season 4 when it was made clear to her that Mac would not have a substantial role in the new season.
***Spoilers ahead!!! Do not read if you haven’t seen all of season 4 yet!!!!***
I can’t do this review without talking about that big twist ending. The one no one saw coming. All season long Logan bugs Veronica to get married to him, and when she finally says yes, the small ceremony they have at city hall is one of the most beautiful scenes in all four seasons of the show. It is therefore heartbreaking that Thomas chose to have Logan be murdered in a car bomb meant for Veronica not even an hour after their nuptials. Thomas has said that it was because he and Bell wanted a wide open future for Veronica to pursue their stories, and a significant other would be holding the series back. But fans have loved this couple since season 1. Logan and Veronica are one of the greatest parts of the show. Without it, there’s just a very jaded and desolate Veronica left to somehow carry the show. I’m not the only who’s said it. Pretty much everyone who’s seen the new season has, but this was a grave mistake on behalf of the show. We love Veronica going about solving mysteries, but the drama of Neptune and her family, friends, and enemies are what give the show life. It was never holding her back, but lifting her up.
***End of spoilers***
This show never got the real send off it deserved (the movie only sort of gave an ending), and it’s understandable why they would want to bring it back, and why fans would want it back. But the new season forgot a lot of what made the original series work in the first place. It forgot that the drama of the interpersonal relationships and the goofiness of the original show is what made fans fall in love with it to begin with. It forgot that the case-of-the-week plot lines helped, not hurt, the plot. It forgot that fans had high hopes for Veronica’s future, and one where she’s still doing the same old thing she did in high school is not an interesting one. There are things to recommend the new season, but it mostly just makes me want to go back and watch those original three seasons that had all the magic.