Ben Watches Television : Veronica Mars, Season 4 (2019)
It’s almost common knowledge by now: popular culture has a creativity problem. New ideas in movies and television are not nearly as welcome as they used to be. Producers are executives are increasingly relying on nostalgia and familiarity to find audiences, forsaking original creators to streaming services and independent distribution. At first sight, you’d think this is what this Veronica Mars revival is about. The little teenage detective show that could is back after a thirteen years hiatus punctuated by a 2014 movie that really was just a long episode.
But here’s the thing: the new Veronica Mars season (available on Hulu in the US and Crave in Canada) is very much an anti-nostalgia series. A decade later, the show is still doing things its own way. What other television series do you know came back after a decade-long hiatus with characters that aged alongside you (even if Kristen Bell looks like she was frozen in a block of ice all that time) and has for for driving theme that things change and get generally shittier as you get older? It’s the first of its kind, as far as I’m concerned.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the show is shitty on purpose. Let me explain.
In season 4, Veronica and her dad Keith (the inimitable Enrico Colantoni) are hired to investigate a hotel bombing during Spring Break in Neptune. Still gimped by a car accident that happened in the movie (the season 3’s last episode, I don’t remember), Keith is struggling with memory loss. Veronica is now living with Logan (Jason Dohring) who’s still in the army and the couple is trying to figure out what their next step is going to be. Weevil (Francis Capra) has taken a full heel turn and sells his biker gang’s services to the highest bidder. Nothing is black and white anymore.
A moral shift
To appreciate how far the show has come and how complex of a portrait it’s offering, you have to understand where it started. At the beginning, Veronica Mars was a very Californian show about class warfare. The wealthy of Neptune all harbored secrets and did whatever they could to keep their inherent villainy from the public eye. Veronica was the daughter of a destitute sheriff and working class heroine working with downtrodden Weevil and Wallace (Percy Daggs III) reestablish her hometown’s moral center. She was the living embodiment that justice doesn’t necessarily has to have finances behind it.
In this new season, Veronica Mars shows an economically conflicted Neptune, which interestingly enough throws the entire structure of the first three season out of wack. The city has become more dependent on Spring Break than ever and the past violences and death have definitely taken their toll on local population. The characters are on a much more equal footing in front of the possibility of death and destruction of their way of living. There is no more moral divide between Veronica and Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen). They each struggle with the past in their own way.
We used to be friends
Economic insecurity. Real estate crisis. The inevitability of death. These are very much adult issues that weren’t previously dealt in the previous seasons and they’re the entire backdrop of Veronica Mars, season 4. No matter how much of a trauma high school left, the reality of being an adult is infinitely more complicated than being a teenager. There are more responsibilities, insecurities and issues of self-determination to figure out. It also introduces a certain melancholy of the past, which I believe season 4 exploits very well.
It is perhaps best expressed in the relationship between Veronica and Logan. Our favorite military bad boy proposes to her in the first episode, but she’s terrified that engagement will break their barely functional dynamic and refuses. Veronica will face hardened criminals and flying bullets, but she lacks the courage to face a major change in her life. That’s what makes her such a moving character. She’s super strong, but struggles with normalcy and part of becoming an adult is exactly that. Accepting that you’ll be normal and letting go of the part of your life where you thought you’d change the world.
That’s what I mean by melancholy of the past. Veronica Mars is growing older with her fans and going through the same issues as them. Whether you hate it because it’s not the show you grew up with or love it because the show actually grew up with you, you have to appreciate showrunner Rob Thomas’ courage for doing things differently. Veronica Mars, season 4 is the living example that you can reanimate an old idea and make it say new things. This season is about a bomber, but the bomber doesn’t really matter. It’s about the characters you love dealing with changes and growing uncertainty in their lives.
That’s the brilliance of this new Veronica Mars season. It accepted that it couldn’t be like it once was and courageously moved on. Oh, and it’s pretty great, too. You have to know these characters already to appreciate where they are now, but they’re exactly who I wished they have become.
But that new theme sucks. That song needs to be sung in an over-the-top falsetto.