Sunday, January 23, 2011

'Veronica Mars' Season Three (2006)

Starring Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni and Jason Dohring
Created by Rob Thomas

Veronica Mars: The Complete Third SeasonAnd so it was that despite an uptick in the ratings and more critical praise than you can shake a stick at, the CW for some reason decided that it would not order a fourth season of "Veronica Mars."  The show would end on a cliffhanger, with a number of unresolved storylines, which leaves me with an unfulfilled feeling of frustration at viewing this third season, despite the quality of the episodes contained within.  Unlike the previous two seasons, Season Three does not feature a single mystery spread over the course of the entire season.  Instead, it features two larger mysteries and then ends with a series of standalone episodes. 

Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) is now a freshman at Hearst College, along with her boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), best friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino), and Logan's roommate and surfing buddy Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen).  She also befriends Mac's roommate, Parker (Julie Gonzalo) and Wallace's roommate, Stosh "Piz" Piznarski (Chris Lowell).  Veronica's father Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) continues to head up Mars Investigations, often butting heads with glory-hound local sheriff, Don Lamb (Michael Muhney).

Soon after the beginning of the school year, Veronica helps former gang member Eli "Weevil" Navarro get a job in the maintenance department at the college.  Veronica is majoring in criminology under the tutelage of Professor Hank Landry (Patrick Fabian), whom Veronica discovers is having an affair with the wife of Dean Cyrus O'Dell (Ed Begley Jr.).  The campus is plagued by a series of rapes in which young women wake up in the morning having been drugged and finding their heads shaved.  When Parker becomes the latest victim, Veronica vows to find the rapist and bring him to justice.  Her investigation begins to make her enemies all over campus as tensions rise.  The rapes are blamed on the college's fraternities, but when Veronica proves them innocent, she finds herself branded a traitor by the females on campus, and worse, she eventually discovers that some of the rapes were faked in order to force the college to dismantle the fraternities.

No sooner than Veronica solves this first mystery than the next rears its head: Someone has murdered Dean O'Dell, and Keith Mars is hired to find out who.  In doing so, he and Veronica will expose Landry's affair with the Dean's wife, and Veronica begins to suspect that her mentor may be a murderer.  When one of the suspects kills Sheriff Lamb, Keith is called upon to be county sheriff once more, but he finds he'll have to beat out skeevy local PI Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino) in a special election to keep the job.

The real problem with the third season of "Veronica Mars" is one of consistency.  Though billed as main cast members, the characters of Parker, Piz, Wallace and Lamb end up having little screen time.  Parker and Piz disappear for much of the middle of the season, and Wallace features only sporadically.  Lamb never gets more than a few moments of screen time in any given episode, no more than previously, and is killed off partway through the season, so I can't even imagine why he's billed as a main cast member.  This is a problem the show's had, particularly with the Wallace character, since its inception, but here it feels far more noticeable. 

The last stretch of episodes, which do not build any particular mystery arc, feel like the show spinning its wheels without much to do.  The episodes themselves aren't bad, but their standalone nature and the left-field series finale just don't gel like the climaxes of the previous two seasons. 

The series finale, in particular, is quite a let-down.  The simple fact is that it feels rushed, as Veronica barrels through her investigation.  The return of Jake Kane (Kyle Secor) and Clarence Wiedman (Christopher B. Duncan) in an 11th hour twist feels cheap, and Keith's attempt to protect his daughter by destroying key evidence seems disastrously stupid, even though at the same time it feels entirely in character considering the relationship Keith and Veronica have. 

Despite all these gripes, Season Three is still pretty dang great.  The dialogue is just as sharp as ever, and Bell is still a sexy, intelligent and sassy lead.  Veronica's playfulness is a key element to her personality that Bell simply nails - witness a scene where she finds herself arrested.  Keith arrives, and Veronica has rolled up her sleeves, given herself a jailhouse tattoo with a Bic pen and is doing pushups in the cell floor, and claims to be "no one's bitch."  Or, how about this hilarious bit that must be seen rather than described.  It's a shame that, for the most part, Bell hasn't managed to strike gold with a role like this one a second time.  While she's done more than fine in her handful of romantic comedies, even her bitchy Sarah Marshall hasn't come close to the amount of fun she exudes as Veronica Mars.

"Veronica Mars" stumbles a bit at the end, but is still very, very worthy of your time.  It's unfortunate that the show didn't get a fourth season, or even a finale that will close out its various storylines.  Creator Rob Thomas lobbied unsuccessfully for a fourth season that would skip forward several years to find Veronica working at the FBI, and also unsuccessfully to produce a feature film version of the show.  For all intents and purposes, "Veronica Mars" is not coming back, and frankly, that's just sad.  This is a wonderful show, deftly mixing hard-boiled detective noir with pop teen drama.  That it didn't find a larger audience when it was on television is a real shame, since there's a lot here for almost any kind of TV viewer to like. 

See Also
Season One
Season Two