Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Mars needs viewers

Salon on why Veronica Mars rocks:

Like any high school heroine worth her weight in greasy cafeteria tater tots, Veronica Mars' mix of alienation, sarcasm and angst is palpable from across a packed gymnasium. But there's something else that sets her apart, an angry, stubborn self-confidence in the face of a very dark past, one that includes a dead best friend, a mom who skipped town, and a night when she was slipped a roofie and raped. Even with Buffy setting the precedent, this is not the sort of darkness you'd expect to find on a teen show. But as screwed up as her life has become, each week Veronica learns that the other kids at school could be facing bigger demons than she is.

This is the tasty little truth at the heart of "Veronica Mars" and one of the main reasons -- among many -- that the show has gathered a loyal audience and some promise of a second season despite unimpressive ratings. Each week, using the skills she's picked up from her detective dad, Veronica unearths the vulnerabilities and torturous circumstances behind those seemingly flat characters -- the nerd, the jock, the outsider -- who haunted us way back when. And so, along with a barrage of crimes, mysteries and missing persons, Veronica discovers that the popular jackass at school, Logan, has a self-absorbed, brutal movie-star father (played hilariously by Harry Hamlin) and a mother who, out of the blue, drives to a local bridge, parks her car, and jumps off. Duncan Kane, the dreamy ex-boyfriend who's kept Veronica at arm's length, has epilepsy, a murdered sister, and wildly dysfunctional parents to boot. And Carrie, the gossipy girl Veronica doesn't trust, who claims Veronica's favorite teacher got her pregnant? She is lying, but with good reason -- she's helping vindicate her friend, who really did have an affair with the teacher.

While such fully realized characters might be common on, say, "Deadwood," such depth is unheard of in most teen dramas. Providing this peek behind the curtain not only offers a remedy for those teenage snap judgments, it lends the world of "Veronica Mars" depth and color. We can trust, as viewers, that we'll be treated to a look at the sad or confusing or deliciously sick layers that exist underneath the pretty myth of other people's families, those layers most of us don't discover until at least our 10-year high school reunions.

Plus there's an interview with show creator Rob Thomas.

New episodes return tonight on UPN.

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