Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Late to the Party: Veronica Mars, Season 1 Disc 1

(I've never seen Veronica Mars. Though I watched a few episodes out of context during its initial 2004-2007 run, the vast majority of the series remains unseen by me and I have little to no knowledge of where any of the major mysteries or character arcs are going. With the film continuation coming next year, I figure now is the perfect time to watch the show, and I'm going to chronicle my journey with mini-reviews written immediately after watching each episode.)

Season 1 Episode 1 - "Pilot"

The thing that leaps most immediately out about Veronica Mars is how very, very Buffy it is. I mean, it's a UPN-aired teen drama about the genre adventures of a badass blonde teenaged girl at a California high school, its dialogue peppered with quips and wisecracks. Only difference is that in Buffy the genre in question involved vampires and magic, here it's noir-style mysteries.

But Buffy is one of the best shows ever, so it's not like I'm complaining. And this is a good pilot – I'd go so far as to say that had it aired in September 2012 I might have considered it the best network pilot of last fall (give or take a Last Resort, though that show almost immediately collapsed starting with episode 2). It certainly doesn't feel as cheap as Buffy's pilot did.

The case-of-the-week with Veronica swiping a convenience store surveillance tape is fun but nothing special – mostly just a way to introduce Wallace and Weevil, it seems – but I found the way the pilot introduced the backstory of Lilly Kane's murder and the Mars family's downfall in Neptune to be stylish and engaging. Kristen Bell is doing a fine job, as is Enrico Colantoni as her father. Weevil standing up for Veronica and Wallace at the end was a great scene. But that new sheriff guy, what a dick, right? Looking forward to more.

Season 1 Episode 2 - "Credit Where Credit's Due"

Well, this episode guest starred Paris Hilton, so that's weird, right? I mean, I guess if I didn't know who Paris Hilton was it would have just seemed like a mediocre-to-poor actress with a small role as a generic mean girl, but still, in every scene featuring her character Catlin Ford all I could think was "ParisHiltonParisHiltonParisHiltonParisHilton!" It was... distracting, to say the least.

Other than that, I thought the episode was fine, but nothing special. I liked the case-of-the-week a smidge more than the pilot's (they buried the real culprit in the credit card theft – Weevil's cousin – deep enough that I didn't guess it until the reveal), but the character work definitely wasn't as strong.

Season 1 Episode 3 - "Meet John Smith"

And, one episode after our featured guest star was Paris Hilton, our featured guest star is Melissa fucking Leo. That's the acting equivalent of leaving Taco Bell and walking across the street into Chipotle right there. And she's playing a male-to-female transexual, to boot! That's some hardcore circa-2004 UPN edginess right there!

Truth be told, outside of the "Damn, that's Melissa Leo!" factor (which in its own way I suppose was as distracting as Paris Hilton, but this was a good kind of distracting, you know?), the case-of-the-week wasn't too impressive on the story or thrill level, though I did think it did a nice job building the theme of missing parental figures as it relates to Veronica. As I've said, I have no idea how this series is going to play out – for all I know, Veronica is never going to see her mother again or she'll see her in the next five episodes – but I was genuinely hopeful Veronica had found her mom and felt the pain when it turned out she hadn't.

In our B-plot, Duncan Kane gives a remarkably dull performance. Seriously, every time this kid steps on the screen, I spend a few seconds squinting, trying to figure out if that's Duncan Kane or just some random extra. What a block of wood!

Season 1 Episode 4 - "The Wrath of Con"

Oof. I'm definitely torn on this episode. It represents perhaps the best and worst of Veronica Mars so far. Let's start with the worst: The case-of-the-week this time out suu-uu-uuccked. I mean, really? These two college dorks are conning a few thousand bucks to make a game that, quote, "makes Quake look like Asteroids"? Is this shit for real? Watching an episode like this reminds of how incredibly stupid, backwards and ignorant the depiction of video games and gamer culture was onscreen less than a decade ago. It still often sucks today, of course, but "Digital Estate Planning" sure as hell couldn't have existed until the last year or two, that's for sure.

On the other hand, the character work here was great. Though I know little of Veronica Mars, one thing I have been exposed to simply by being a person who reads about TV on the internet is that Veronica Mars fans love them some Logan Echolls (and by extension the actor playing him, Jason Dohring). And after a few episodes of him being a generic jerkwad, "The Wrath of Con" made me finally start to understand why, as Logan struggles to make a video memorial of Lilly. He sure pops off the screen more than Teddy Dunn as Duncan Kane. (And, as a side note, Amanda Seyfried gives her best performance so far as Lilly here, though, with her long-dead, I dunno how much she'll even be seen from here on out.)

Everything with the flashbacks to Veronica and Lilly and Logan and Duncan at the beach was good stuff, and, as it did Weevil, I'll admit that Logan's video memorial got to me a little too. What's interesting is that Lilly's father seemed to be bona fide grieving for his dead daughter, so either he's innocent after all or that character is just a damn fine actor.

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