What you should know about the ‘Veronica Mars’ series so you can enjoy the movie

03.13.14 4 years ago 3 Comments

Warner Bros Home Video

There are several things you should know about “Veronica Mars.”

First, you should know that it's great.

While I think the full run of the show, seasons one through three, is uneven at times,  particularly towards the end, the high points are so high, and the basic heart and soul of the show is so durable, that I am completely puzzled as to why it was ever anything less than a ratings gargantuan.

Second, you should know that the new film leans heavily on the relationships of the characters in the series, and at least in script form, it never felt like it was slowed down or over-explained for newcomers. It's very much a next chapter of “Veronica Mars,” and that should have fans very excited.

The film's arriving in theaters tomorrow, and unfortunately, Netflix Instant doesn't currently have the show in its library. You can find it at iTunes and Amazon Prime, though, so we wanted to offer you a primer to pick up with the show and to help narrow things down for you so you can take a crash course.

Best case scenario? Buy season one and watch it. If you like it as much as I suspect you will, get yourself to the theater, support the film as soon as you can since openings count, so we get more “Veronica Mars.” Then watch season two and, if you feel like it, use season three as the slow drip you chip away at afterwards.

Honestly, I feel like the film is a sequel to Season One, but with some threads from Season Two that carry over, and one particular Season Three element that might feel like a dagger in the hearts of some fans until they see how Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggerio handled it.

NEPTUNE, CALIFORNIA

The first thing you need to know is where “Veronica Mars” takes place. I'm not sure, even with the show so clearly exploring notions of class privilege and corruption, that I ever really understood what a cool accomplishment the creation of Neptune was for show runner and creator Rob Thomas. He wanted to create a noir landscape full of truly horrible people with truly upsetting secrets, and for the most part, he did over the course of all three seasons. In the film, it is Veronica's return to Neptune that triggers her identity crisis. She sees it again in all its seedy glory, and one of the things that was very clear over the run of the series is that Veronica's righteous anger comes from the way the system works in Neptune. She can't help but right the wrongs she sees, and Neptune just keeps giving her opportunities thanks to the sheer volume of wrongdoing.

VERONICA MARS (Kristen Bell)

So who is this Veronica?

Believe it or not, she's a high school junior when the show begins, and while she looks like a perky little cheerleader type, she's anything but. She is, in fact, a whip-smart, broken hearted girl who works for her father KEITH MARS, who owns a private investigation firm. Technically, she isn't old enough to get her own PI license, but she has picked up everything she needs to in order to effectively work a case, and the week to week business of the series in the first year involved her solving cases for students at Neptune High School.

Veronica had much larger things on her mind, though, because her best friend LILLY KANE had been murdered the year before, and her life had been changed in the process. Veronica spent the entire first season of the show working to solve the murder of her friend, and in the process, she discovered that she had been date raped at a high school party while drugged, she managed to track down her missing mother LIANNE MARS, and she managed to shake up the entire rotten power structure of her hometown. She can be single-minded when she is determined to do something, and she has a knack for finding pressure points and exploiting them. The last thing you want to do is make Veronica mad at you or stand between her and some information she needs, because she has a real gift for punishing people who are jerks, and she has a savage sarcastic wit.

She is also a very sweet soul deep down at heart, and she believes in love, something that is admirable considering how deeply bruised she's been by it so far.

KEITH MARS (Enrico Colantoni)

Veronica's father was the sheriff of Neptune when Lilly Kane was murdered, and he worked hard to solve the case, his investigation leading him to suspect that JAKE and CELESTE KANE, Lilly's parents, were somehow involved. When DON LAMB proved that the murder was committed by ABEL KOONTZ, it cost Keith his job and his marriage. Keith's wife LIANNE MARS took off, leaving Keith to deal with Veronica and her grief, and Keith opened his own detective agency. He never gave up on his theory, though, even when his investigations led him to suspect that he might not be Veronica's real biological father.

While that would be hard for any parent, it would be devastating for Keith, and if you're a fan of the show, I'll bet one of your favorite things about it is just how great the relationship between Keith and Veronica is. That's because Rob Thomas wrote them as two people both grappling with a world that had body-slammed them, treating each other as equals, determined to do anything to keep each other sane while everyone else turned against them. I think Keith Mars is as classic a dad as Calvin's dad in Watterson's classic “Calvin & Hobbes,” and what makes him such a great character is the obvious love he has for Veronica and the way he inspires her by example.

LILLY KANE (Amanda Seyfried)

Her murder was the straw that broke the camel's back. Lilly was a huge life-force, a beautiful young woman who didn't care about the class structure of Neptune, but who knew full well that the only reason she could be such a wild child was because of the power of her family. She and Veronica really were best friends, although Lilly was always the wild one. She was the one who was dating LOGAN ECHOLLS, the bad boy son of the movie star AARON ECHOLLS, and she was the one who kept all her friends connected. After all, Veronica was dating her brother, DUNCAN KANE.

Once Lilly was gone, though, that was it. Veronica's father was disgraced and his theories meant Veronica was shunned by Duncan and Logan and their entire class, basically.

DUNCAN KANE (Teddy Dunn)

Lilly's brother Duncan was Veronica's first real boyfriend, and for a brief time during Season One, Veronica became convinced that Duncan was her biological brother thanks to an affair between his father and her mother. That became particularly upsetting when it was revealed that Duncan, under the influence of the same Mexican Ecstacy that was used to knock Veronica out, was the person who took her virginity. In the end, while they turned out to not be biologically related, their relationship still ended.

LOGAN ECHOLLS (Jason Dohring)

Logan, on the other hand, went from being the guy who dated Lilly to Veronica's most consistent tormentor to the maybe love of her life. Quite an arc, especially since Jason Dohring wasn't hired as a regular when the show began. He grew into the character of Logan, and the chemistry between he and Bell turned out to be irresistible. During the second season of the show, Logan had to grapple with people's expectations of him and his father's very serious legal woes. His anger has always been his weak spot, and while he's come a long way by the start of the film, having joined the military, it is easy to see why people would believe him capable of murder, and it's equally easy to see why Veronica sees past that.

WALLACE FENNEL (Percy Daggs III)
CINDY “MAC” MACKENZIE (Tina Majorino)

Veronica rescued Wallace from the flagpole where he'd been taped on the first day of school in the pilot to the series, and they stayed fast friends from that point forward. Wallace is, in many ways, the regular high school kid that Veronica could no longer be after what happened to Lilly. He saw all the good Veronica did to help others, and he went out of his way to help her however he could. He is also one of the few character who ever got to call her out for how selfish she could be in pursuit of some answer, and he saw her at her lowest points.

Likewise, “Mac” was a gifted computer hacker who Veronica originally approached to help with a case, but who ended up becoming a great friend. Veronica is an outsider by the time the show begins, but she was an insider before that, and Mac sees how Veronica can work in both those worlds and admires the choice she made to devote herself to helping balance some of the massive disparity that exists in Neptune.

ELI “WEEVIL” NAVARRO (Francis Capra)

Weevil was the leader of the PCH Biker Gang, and he definitely served as a threat for much of the early part of the show. Little by little, though, Veronica won him over as he saw how loyal she was to her friends and how much she hated the way Neptune's haves lorded it over the have-nots. Weevil was secretly dating Lilly when she died, something not even Veronica knew, and if he didn't already hate Logan Echolls and the rest of the 09ers (slang for the rich kids who came from the right zip code), his feelings about Lilly would have given him more than enough reason.

DICK CASABLANCAS (Ryan Hansen)

Like many of the rich kids Veronica tangled with at Neptune High, Dick comes from a totally dysfunctional family, and the way Ryan Hansen played him, Dick could be the worst person on the show, frequently, and somehow still maintained a certain charm. He got all the best lines in his scenes because Dick has no filter at all. Even when he ends up at the heart of season two's big mystery, he is unflappable because, while he is an amoral jerk, he's also simply devoted to making it through each day as numb as can be in all of his favorite ways. Nothing else really matters to him.

STOSH “PIZ” PIZNARSKI

Once season three shifted locations to college, Wallace got a roommate, and “Veronica Mars” fans got a new favorite person to hate. Piz was a decent guy who simply wasn't Logan, and by the time season three arrived, it was clear that Logan was self-destructive and angry and somehow permanently entangled in the life of Veronica. Piz never seemed like the right guy to be pitting against Logan as a possible love interest for Veronica, but that's just because he was such a straightforward average guy. When the film begins, it is obvious that Veronica made a choice to have a certain kind of life, and Piz is part of that. Longtime fans should try to look past their feelings about Piz to see what it is that he represents to Veronica. There's a reason Piz dreads the call from Logan Echolls that first drags Veronica back, and that's because he knows that she's never going to fully escape being that girl who cannot allow an injustice in Neptune to stand, and that's never going to be the life he's willing to lead.

WOODY GOODMAN (Steve Guttenberg)
GIA GOODMAN (Krysten Ritter)

Woody owned a professional baseball team and was a high-profile beloved Neptune citizen, as well as the father of Gia, who showed up at Neptune High in Season Two after leaving a long stay at a private boarding school. The bus crash that was the driving mystery in season two may be the thing that draws them all together, but it is her own father's dark secrets that ultimately ruined the friendship between Gia and Veronica, a recurrent theme in Veronica's life.

VINNIE VAN LOWE (Ken Marino)

Keith Mars represents the best version of what a private investigator can be, and Vinnie Van Lowe is the opposite end of that scale, sleazy and without scruples. Ken Marino always had a blast playing the part, and as the film opens, he's still in Neptune, having found a much more lucrative angle to play in the surveillance game.

LEO D'AMATO (Max Greenfield)

Until I went back to start rewatching this show, I had no idea Max Greenfield, now well-known as Schmidt on “New Girl,” was the guy who played Deputy Leo. He's a young deputy in the show's first season, and he and Veronica have instant chemistry when they meet. They even tried dating a bit, and Greenfield managed to make Leo sweet enough that it didn't seem creepy when he and a high school girl almost end up a couple. Even after seeing him play the character again in the film, I can't get my head around the idea that Leo and Schmidt are the same actor, because he does such a great job of making them such radically different people.

CLIFF MCCORMACK (DARAN NORRIS)

One of the ways Rob Thomas fleshed out his fictional town was by having a large ensemble cast of people who showed up when he needed them, including McCormack, a public defender with a healthy sense of cynicism and a willingness to help the Mars family because he recognized something genuinely good about them.

WHAT DO WE NEED TO KNOW FOR THE MOVIE?

The last piece of information you need before you can jump right into the movie is that they tried to salvage the show as the ratings fell over the course of the three seasons. For the first year, there was one driving mystery that was the focus of everything, and it made it hard for casual viewers to jump on. The same was true in year two, although Thomas built in several mini-arcs over the course of the year as well. It was in season three that he tried to change the shape of the show the most, sending the characters to college and then building shorter mysteries that broke up the season. They talked about a fourth season that would have jumped forward in time and made Veronica an FBI agent, but in hindsight, it seems like a good idea they didn't do that.

When we catch up with Veronica at the start of the film, she's just finished law school and she's now interviewing for jobs. She seems to have left Neptune behind completely, and she stresses repeatedly that she is not that person anymore. If the film has any larger theme, it is that we do not change simply because we want to change, and no matter how many times Veronica claims she's become someone else, all it takes is one little push before she falls right back into the world of Neptune. It feels like the film is very close to the tone of that first season, where it felt like they got everything right, and I hope people are intrigued enough at the idea that this show got saved by its passionate fans to take a chance and see what all the fuss has been about this entire time.

Tonight at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, our very own Alan Sepinwall will be moderating a PaleyFest panel with the cast and crew of “Veronica Mars,” and the film opens tomorrow after running the most successful Kickstarter campaign so far for a movie. I hope this is the start of a new second wind for the show, because returning to it to write this piece and to review the film has only reminded me of just how special the show was in its finest hours, and how much potential there still is for the story as it unfolds.

“Veronica Mars” is in theaters on Friday.

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