Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I hear she's smarter than me: Veronica Mars, season 2

Whipsmart? Platinum blonde? Great with a comeback? Sassy as all get-out? That's right, aside from the whole "18 years old" thing, Veronica Mars just might be my ideal woman.

Before we get in to ten reasons why season two of Veronica Mars was better than season one (and I'm aware that's an unpopular opinion, and I'm prepared to defend it), may I remind you to vote in the best-of-TV survey?

So. Veronica Mars. I thought that season two of this show built on the solid foundation it had laid down in the first year and shot off into uncharted. . .

Hold on. I feel my fanboy coming on.


Okay. Got that out of my system. Seriously, though, that was the best season finale I've seen in years. The cliffhanger, as it was, wasn't much of one, but the ways in which Rob Thomas and his writers tested and shattered their characters were peerless.

So. Ten reasons.

10.) As good as Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni were in season one, the rest of the cast grew to match them in season two. It's a tricky thing to build an ensemble, especially for a teen show, especially on a network like UPN or The WB, which constantly tries to get you to cast model lookalikes (ahem. . .One Tree Hill?). Veronica Mars fell prey to that with the casting of Teddy Dunn (more in a moment), but the second season allowed the show's other actors to show off their abilities. Francis Capra, Jason Dohring and Percy Daggs III all, in particular, found their inner chops this year (Dohring was starting to figure them out in the latter half of season one), and that made the ride that much more thrilling. And then, like freaky acting geniuses, Bell and Colantoni actually went on to OUTSTRIP their season one work. Incredible.

9.) The show expanded its universe and supporting players. A good noir world (and Veronica Mars tries to be one) offers up a rich, lived-in world, where evil can win and good gets a reprieve just to get up in the morning. In season one, VM didn't quite have the whole universe thing figured out. In season two, it stumbled by adding the Fitzpatricks (who never really quite gelled with the rest of the show), but it excelled when it expanded the world of the Casablancas brothers (I'm so glad the show kept its femme fatale, Kendall Casablancas, alive), Neptune High (making Tina Majorino's Mac all but a regular was such a smart move) and the upper echelons of Neptune's power circles (Woody Goodman ended up being a wonderfully pathetic guy). Plus, the show was careful to make Neptune the kind of world where a secret child molestor could become the mayor. Perfect.

8.) Speaking of noir. . . Veronica Mars wasn't afraid to play dark in season two. The dispatching of Weevil's nemesis when the stadium crumbled was deliciously twisted. The ultimate triumph of Aaron Echolls was as well. And the virtuous guy calling in a murder from the beach while hanging out with his baby. . .wonderful.

7.) The story construction was some of the best in TV series history. Frankly, this is where most of the complaints came from in the middle of the season (and the frequent pre-emptions didn't help). I can sort of see where these complaints were warranted in the part of the season when the show became preoccupied with Duncan's baby (and, briefly, with Wallace's alleged crimes). But the last 10 episodes or so were an incredible build-up to an incredible payoff.

6.) The individual episodes were more consistent. When fans talk about the wonder of season one, they're talking, in general, about the last half of the season, when the show figured out the proper balance between soap opera, overarching mystery and episode-based mysteries. The first half of the season had its fits and starts (the cult episode, in particular), when the show was still trying to figure out its formula. Season two took the balance of elements discovered in the latter half of season one and stretched it out through the whole year. Plus, the individual mysteries were better written, with more fully realized characters at the center of them.

5.) The writing got that much snappier. One of the chief appeals of this show is watching Veronica say and do the things we wish we would do when boxed in to an unpleasant situation. And while the first season had its share of memorable one-liners, season two was better overall in this regard. In the first year, the show was funnier than most dramas. In the second year, the show was funnier than most comedies (notice how I didn't give any examples? Yeah. I'm tired).

4.) The show got rid of Teddy Dunn. Teddy Dunn isn't a bad actor. But he just couldn't play either of the characters he was asked to play (the original notes for the show indicate that Thomas wanted Duncan to be the show's "guy fatale," but Logan ended up being much better at that role. . .so when Duncan was made a bland hero, he couldn't do that either). Plus, he didn't fit in with the story now that Lilly Kane's murder had been solved. The show found an elegant way for Duncan to leave AND let him have a final kissoff that was truly magnificent.

3.) The bus crash mystery forced Veronica into a new position. Veronica's position in the first year was that she wanted nothing to do with the world of Neptune. It had spurned her, so she would spurn it. But in a good noir, the hero eventually needs to realize that society as a whole will be better for their quixotic stands against the ruling power. Veronica came to realize this as well in season two, discovering that not only could she help people, but she could come to rely on them if need be. By working on the side of justice, Veronica took a larger step towards becoming a part of a more just society.

2.) The season set up a third season nicely. The college episode was one of the season's highlights, and it gave me hope that VM could be even BETTER in college (especially with Mac as a series regular).

1.) That finale. I mean. . .I had guessed who the killer was and all, but still. . .HOLY CRAP!

And, since all good things come with bad, two things that the show did that made it falter ever-so-slightly.

1.) Not enough Veronica and Logan. I don't mean that the show needed them together as a couple to work. I mean that the show is most on fire when Dohring and Bell are at the center of the screen. These two have some of the best chemistry in many a year, and Thomas and company would go episodes allowing the two only a scene or two. The end of the finale, though, seems to ensure this won't be the case next year.

2.) The show didn't work hard enough to humanize the bus crash victims. "I Am God," the episode where we met all of them, was a season highlight, but it came too late to make an impact in how the crime EMOTIONALLY impacted Veronica. If, say, (and I hate to suggest this) Mac had been on the bus, it would have played out MUCH more emotionally. The great thing about Lilly Kane was that she was Veronica's best friend. When she died, it gave Veronica purpose. But the purpose from the bus crash wasn't immediately clear.

I want to see how Lost and Sopranos wrap up their seasons, but for now, this is a strong number one show for the 2005-06 television season.

I hope I see you next season, Miss Mars.


David Sims said...

I agree with your criticism about not humanizing the bus crashes quickly enough. Lily was much more of an active character in season one. I also agree that the Wallace/Rashard storyline was poor and the Fitzpatricks were annoyingly vague villains.
BUT I also agree that VM season 2 was an improvement on season 1. I basically agree with everything you said, tbh.

Lee said...

"CW?" "Done deal."

Damn, I hope so. This show needs another season; a really, really wonderful piece of world-building.