When we talk about the TV renaissance, we should talk about “Veronica Mars.” The 2004 “high school noir” show’s extraordinary first season mixed weekly casefiles with a season-long arc–two arcs, actually. Veronica starts the show as a suddenly bereft and embittered California teen: Her best friend has been murdered, her father lost his sheriff’s job when he fingered a local corporate bigwig for the crime, she lost all her friends in the aftermath, and when she tried to show defiance by going to a party where most of the people hated her, she was roofied and raped. Our tiny blonde sleuth spends the first season trying to solve her friend’s murder and her own assault.
Veronica (Kristen Bell) is half Philip Marlowe, half Buffy Summers. But she’s Marlowe without the isolation–her relationships, especially her warm and (mostly) trusting relationship with her father (Enrico Colantoni), are central to her character–and Buffy without the self-pity. She’s a wisecracker whose cynicism covers up a “marshmallow” heart of empathy and longing. The show’s first season explored the spiraling consequences of seemingly minor sins; the callousness and confusion which allow crimes to be committed right under everybody’s noses; and the way kids cope, or fail to cope, with parental legacies of violence and despair.