The Guardian, 25 June 2012

Detectives Blog

Collective punishment was outlawed by the Geneva Convention in 1949. So how come the people of Britain have suffered en masse with almost no screening of the utterly brilliant Veronica Mars in this country? Sure, you could occasionally find it on some random digital channel at 3 in the afternoon of every third Tuesday, but it never showed where it belonged: on primetime terrestrial telly, like the undiluted treat it is.

As a consequence, I am writing this blog with extra care for spoilers, because I realise there’s a more than fair chance that most of you haven’t seen it (I only have because an audience member recommended it to me, back when I was doing stand-up, and a big fat hat tip and thank-you to her).

Veronica Mars is the cutest, sassiest detective in town: a high-school girl who helps her dad with his private-eye business when she’s not in school. If that makes her sound like Nancy Drew, well, she is. But only if Nancy Drew is a smoking-hot, whip-smart, pint-sized blonde who can solve crimes, come top of her class, thwart the principal and sheriff’s offices in equal measure, befriend the biker gang, and deliver a pitch-perfect karaoke rendition of Blondie’s One Way Or Another while on the track of a miscreant.

The series is set in the town of Neptune, California, which Veronica notes is a town with no middle class: you can only live there if your parents are millionaires, or they work for millionaires. Inequality is the background theme of Veronica Mars – the have-everythings versus the never-will-haves. And Rob Thomas, the series creator, realised that this inequality would constantly generate small and large scale crime, and that in turn would give his heroine plenty to do.

Veronica (Kristen Bell) is a high-school girl in the same mould as Buffy: she’s never lost for words, she defends the little guy, she dispatches her enemies with a ruthless wisecrack. But the series has a bleaker story arc than its peppy protagonist first suggests: Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane, was murdered the previous year. Veronica’s dad, the town sheriff, lost his job over the bungled investigation, and Veronica lost her boyfriend Duncan, and all their friends, as a consequence.

But Veronica is a survivor of her extensive traumas, not a victim. Ultimately, Veronica Mars is all about surviving high school, and therefore life. And no matter what she’s lost, she still has her wits, her charm, and her dad. For although Veronica enjoys various liaisons with various minxy chaps over the three seasons, the true love story of the show is a chaste one, that of Veronica and Keith Mars, her devoted father (Enrico Colantoni).

Veronica is every inch her father’s daughter, and he knows it. When he leaves town to chase a bail jumper, he explains to her that she is absolutely not to pursue a suspected adulterer while he’s away. But he knows it’s a waste of breath. As he leaves, he ruefully adds, ‘And Veronica? When you go after Jake Kane, take back-up.’ ‘I always do,’ she replies. Back-up, it turns out, is her protective pitbull dog.

She gets the smart mouth from him too. When he catches a potential intruder outside a friend’s house, he photographs him, then sends him packing, with the words, ‘The next time I shoot you, it won’t be digitally. Unless I hit you in the finger. Then we’ll have a big laugh about it.’ I don’t even pretend not to be in love with Keith Mars, and nor should you.

The guest stars are also a classy bunch for the discerning nerd: Harry Hamlin as movie- star Aaron Echolls, Steve Guttenberg as the town mayor, Woody, Erica Gimpel (of Fame fame) as the mother of Veronica’s best friend, Wallace, Joss Whedon as an uptight car- rental salesman, Charisma Carpenter as milf-fatale Kendall Casablancas, and even Patty Hearst as kidnap survivor, Selma Hearst.

Iconic? It will be, once you’ve rented and watched. In the words of Mr Whedon: ‘Best. Show. Ever…. Crazy crisp dialogue. Incredibly tight plotting. Big emotion. I mean BIG.’ You know he wouldn’t lie.

Duffers? The final DVD shows where Veronica would have gone, if a 4th season had been commissioned. I have never pined so much for an unmade series. Please can we have a movie? Like with Arrested Development? We’ll be good for ever and never ask for anything again, I swear.