Veronica Mars: The Ugly Truth, Barely Sensationalized

Veronica Mars: The Ugly Truth, Barely Sensationalized November 10, 2010

Veronica Mars was gone before most of us even realized it had began. From the very beginning, the show struggled to find an audience, and it’s easy to see why: it seemed to be produced for an audience that didn’t exist. The high school drama was merely a facade for a more adult series. More than just a mystery-of-the-week show, Veronica Mars tended to deal head on with extremely touchy hot-button and personal issues. From the very first series, rape, celebrity exploitation, class warfare, and perverse abuses of authority were paraded in front of the viewer as if they were nothing out of the ordinary.

Maybe that’s why Veronica Mars retains a rampent following years after the series’ end. While so many shows tend to avoid, trivialize or sensationalize hot button topics, this show took the time to investigate them with a level and balanced viewpoint. While much of the show tends to come across as out-of-the-ordinary fantasy, the emotional and relational impact of the insane happenings in Neptune feel as real and raw as we can expect out of such a show.

When Veronica’s best friend is killed, it changes her life forever, not just because she has lost a best friend but because her dad expects foul play. When her dad is alienated within Neptune as a result of trying to discover the truth, it colors her entire worldview. It becomes easy to trust her father, but conversely impossible to trust anyone else. Cynical doesn’t even begin to describe Veronica’s (and the show’s) overall attitude toward human nature. Ask Veronica, and she’ll tell you that people are almost always up to something, and that occasionally they get away with it. Everyone wants to murder someone, and some of them can bring themselves to do it. Even her friends remained trustworthy only when she completely understood their motives and motions. If something seemed off, it stopped her relationships in their tracks.

Unlike more recent cable television hit shows that urge the viewer to get to know, like, and empathize with what one would categorize normally as “the bad guy,” Veronica Mars remains firmly grounded in absolutism, thanks to a select few lead characters whose motives are never truly called into question. When these characters betray Veronica or the viewer, it’s because of a misstep or a weakness of character, not because of a calculated misdeed. In other words, we are given someone to root for and care about without any misgivings. The result is a surprising amount of catharsis for the viewer. We let our guard down to Veronica and her dad, but we relate to them completely when they refuse to open themselves up to others. When Veronica wrongly accuses someone of a misdeed (which happens with a startling regularity), we recognize that “this is getting ridiculous,” but we also understand why Veronica does it. Sometimes this ridiculous world requires ridiculous expectations.

VM falls short of providing the viewer with any sort of easy answers for the incredible struggles that the characters are suffering through. After all, Veronica Mars is no after-school special. Instead, the show focuses on showing us something that “family” entertainment doesn’t do enough out of fear of “normalizing” sin. It admits that sin is normal, even if aberrant. In Neptune, just like on planet earth, sin is everywhere, all the time, and it’s out to get you. The question the series asks best is whether it’s possible to live a normal life in light of such a discovery, or whether we should even want to if we could.

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  • matt

    VM really is a great show, and I think you’re dead-on with your reasoning about why it struggled to find an audience.

  • David Dunham

    Great analysis, Rich. This was a show that my wife and I got into just last year (thank you netflix) and I whole heartidly agree. I don’t know why I didn’t know about this show when it was on regular cable!

  • How long did this show run? I can’t keep finding good shows that got abruptly cancelled, it makes me sad when they are good. I’m still mourning over Firefly for goodness sakes.

  • @Brad, it had a pretty good run of 3 seasons, but it struggled to find an audience throughout. This becomes particularly clear as the various seasons struggle to try different formulas. In my opinion the third season suffered a lot because of it. It was more reactionary in nature. Still, I would vouch for all three seasons as being worth watching.