Friday, August 06, 2010

30 Day Television Challenge - Day 1: "I thought being a private eye was all about shooting dudes and making out with sexy widows."

1. A show that should have never been canceled.
Veronica Mars, canceled in 2007
Well, this is a tricky one. Trickier than you think, actually; the knee-jerk answers aren't actually right. Sure, Arrested Development was cut off at the knees, but its inevitable cancellation led to some of its best episodes in the third season, as they threw all of their rules and morals right out of the window and gave Fox a gigantic middle finger every week. I wouldn't want to have lost those. Firefly? Yeah, maybe. But the network would have picked the show to pieces and ruined it in an effort to get more viewers; really, it was doomed from the start. So instead, I'll go with Veronica Mars, the best detective show I've ever seen.

Veronica got a bad rep right from the start -- it was a high school show, starring a bunch of teenagers, running on the WB. The second episode featured a prominent cameo from Paris Hilton. Not something likely to be taken seriously by anyone. But here's the catch: it was phenomenal. Right out of the gate, it's clear that creator Rob Thomas* has more on his mind than just a silly locker show -- his characters are sharply drawn and fully realized right from the pilot, realistic people with complex motivations. The mysteries are compelling and well-told, and the performances are electrifying. What more could you want?

On the surface, it's something of a simple premise -- Veronica Mars is the daughter of Keith Mars, a private detective. She follows in her father's footsteps and solves cases of her own, most having to do with her fellow students at Neptune High, the unluckiest and most scandal-ridden school since Bayside High. But of course there's more than that -- Keith used to be the sheriff of Neptune, until he was run out of office for (allegedly) bungling a high-profile murder case. That case was the murder of Veronica's best friend, Lily, who was (a) the daughter of the richest, most powerful man in town; (b) the sister of Veronica's boyfriend, Duncan, and (c) the girlfriend of Veronica's perpetual nemesis**, Logan Echolls. The new sheriff quickly made an arrest and got a conviction, putting the whole affair to rest...except for the Marses, who continue to search for evidence of the real culprit. Veronica, meanwhile, has become the outcast of the school: ridiculed for her father's public failure, ostracized for no longer fitting in with the ultra-rich cool kids, and labeled a whore after being drugged and date-raped at a party she crashed.

And that's just the backstory, of course -- the pilot picks up as Veronica and Keith have already fallen from grace, with him picking up bail jumpers to pay the bills while Veronica dodges hate from all sides at school. Veronica's angst-filled voice-overs, the stylistic camerawork, the seedy plot lines -- this isn't just some high school show, it's a film noir for the 21st century. This is especially true in the show's magnificent second season, when the numerous arcs and mysteries are no longer partitioned into separate threads, but blur together in an almost impenetrable soup of lies, deceptions and murders. It's dense, which is a word few would use to describe the overwhelming majority of WB programming. But even beyond the mysteries, underneath the surfers and the sunshine, there's still more dark underbelly; Thomas uses Neptune as a canvas on which to paint a stark commentary on class and race in America, with the rich and white on one side and the poor on the other.

So what happened? Well, low ratings, first of all. Read that description up there, then remember it's the WB we're talking about, and you understand why no one was watching. But then it got worse -- the WB and UPN merged into the CW, and while Veronica Mars came along for the ride, it was with reservations. The new masters demanded changes -- thin out the stories, simplify the plots, shorten the arcs, and pump up the soap opera romance angles. Pump them way up. Despite the lobotomy, the show remained brilliant, but the ratings dropped again, and the CW dropped the ax. For good.

They tried to save it, of course -- fans started the obligatory "save our show!" campaign, sending the CW executives marshmallows (you'd have to watch the show to understand why), and Thomas pitched a radical overhaul, offering to jump the show forward to Veronica's adventures as an FBI agent. But no dice. The deal was done. So, after a frustrating cliffhanger, Veronica Mars was done. There was talk of a movie, but Kristen Bell has moved on to profitable (and shitty) romantic comedies, and the DVD sets haven't made much money, so no one is holding their breath.

The cancellation of Veronica Mars is sad because this show should have succeeded. On another network, in another time slot, with more publicity and less meddling, this My So-Called Life meets The Rockford Files meets The Maltese Falcon masterpiece could have thrived. Instead, it's another television casualty, forgotten and discarded. And that's why it should have never been canceled. Hell, at least Firefly fans got their damn movie.

*Not that Rob Thomas, of course.
**Fans may bristle at me calling Logan Veronica's nemesis. But I'm using "nemesis" here in the Chuck Klosterman sense. Clearly, Logan is her nemesis. Her archenemy, meanwhile, is Madison Sinclair.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! Just wanted you to know you just captured my thoughts exactly in this post, and it was interesting to read. You have some good points. Veronica Mars is the one show that I really wished never had been cancelled.