A Neo-Noir Nancy Drew meets Buffy - Veronica Mars: Season 1-3 Review

Veronica Mars is one of the most entertaining, well thought out mystery shows I’ve seen. It’s witty tone, wicked sense of humour and school-setting makes it appealing to teenagers but it’s complex layers of story and adult-subject matters makes it accessible for older audiences.

It’s like Nancy Drew in the style of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, imagine if Buffy and her friends are not fighting off supernatural entities but instead are solving crimes. It has film noir tropes such as having an antihero that narrates monologues, corrupt police officers and blurs the lines of good and evil.

The show initially lasted for three seasons (2004-2006), until a movie was produced in 2014, which was immediately followed by two books. Then in 2019 the series was revived with a fourth season. I intend on reviewing each of the series in all the formats. Being a mystery franchise, I will keep the reviews as spoiler-free as possible, not giving away any big twists.

Backstory – Veronica (Kristen Bell) lives in the rich community town of Neptune, California and her father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni) used to be the sheriff of the town. Veronica was best friends with Lily (Amanda Seyfried) and was dating Lily’s brother Duncan (Teddy Dunn); their father is Jake Cane, the richest man in town. Having lived the simple life, things suddenly go south for Veronica when Duncan breaks up with her for an unknown reason, and then Lily is found murdered.

Keith suspected Jake of murdering his own daughter, but going after the richest man in Neptune with a lack of evidence, Keith lost his sheriff badge. The Mars family were ostracised, which drove Veronica’s mother to alcoholism and to leave town. Veronica refuses to go against her dad leaving her as an outcast and even worse when she attends a party and wakes up realising she was drugged and raped.

When the police don’t take her seriously, Veronica accepts she’s living in a corrupt town and works with Keith at his private investigation business. One year later, Veronica discovers a lead in Lily’s murder and sets out to solve the case herself.

During Veronica’s investigation she gains some new friends whom she comes to rely on, just as much as they rely on her. With the help of her friends, she gains the reputation of being a great sleuth with several students approaching and paying her to investigate petty crimes and various secrets for them.

The friends she gains over the course of the show include Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III), whom she shares a Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson-like relationship; then there’s Weevil (Francis Capra), head of a biker-gang who provides Veronica muscle against violent criminals and in return she clears him of any crimes pinned on him by racist police officers; Mac (Tina Majorino), a computer genius who is similar to Willow from Buffy; and Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), a self-destructive son of a movie-star.

She gains some rivals along the way like Don Lamb (Michael Muhney) the corrupt sheriff, as well as Logan (some time before he becomes one her allies) and his best friend Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen).

Veronica is a multi-dimensional protagonist, a character who never catches a break and is always fighting all the wrong-doers she comes across. She’s highly intelligent, she’s not afraid to confront you, she’ll do whatever it takes to solve a crime, even if it means committing a crime herself. She’s typically equipped with a stun gun, her dog named “Backup”, and most importantly, her intuition.

Kristen Bell is amazing in the title role, she had the difficult task of portraying an anti-heroine yet keeping her likeable with a fun personality and witty one-liners. Enrico Colantoni is also fantastic as Veronica’s dad, Keith, the chemistry he shares with Bell is fantastic. It’s one of the best portrayals of a father/daughter I’ve seen; they banter, they argue, yet they care about each other and have each other’s backs.

The supporting cast are also excellent, Logan is particularly compelling; he is a wreck, who is alienating people due to his difficult life at home and the loss of his girlfriend Lily. His personality is so unreadable, he could go in any direction regarding the case or the circumstances. You could argue that if the show is noir, then he’s the femme fatale – even if he’s male.

There are 20-22 episodes per season, each episode typically features a stand-alone case, while there’s a new development in the main mystery arc. Some of the stand-alones can be forgettable, while several can be fascinating, and sometimes the conclusions are unsatisfying, just like in real-life.

Season 1

Still the best season of the show, the mystery of Lily’s murder takes several twists and turns until it’s shocking revelation. At the same time we get to see Veronica forming her new relationships and watch her develop into the iconic sleuth that she is. Amanda Seyfried makes a scene-stealing performance in her brief role as Lily Cane.

Season 2

When a school bus that Veronica was meant to be on crashes and kills everyone on it, a body is found with Veronica’s name written on his hand. Veronica sets out to discover if the bus crashed deliberately to target someone on the bus, maybe that someone was her?

While not as compelling as Lily's, the mystery still has a lot of twists and the reveal of the killer is actually more shocking than the last.

This season did feature a great cast in supporting roles, such as Steve Guttenberg, Tessa Thompson, Charisma Carpenter and Krysten Ritter.

Season 3

This is the weakest point of the entire franchise, instead a season-long mystery arc this has two mini-arcs, the college campus rapes followed by the murder of the college dean. Both mysteries feel pretty under-written and the revelations feel pretty anticlimactic.

With Veronica and her friends at college, it tries to go for a more mature look, with an updated title sequence, but ultimately feels less complex and lighter by comparison. The standalone cases were mostly forgettable and several of the subplots just drag. The finale was pretty decent however, as it was a major callback to the first two seasons and Veronica resorting to her old extreme measures in a quest for revenge, which does kind of bring things full-circle in a bittersweet way.

The first two seasons are still some of the best-written murder mysteries on TV and are worth your time. The flawed third season can be forgiven as it’s at least proceeded by a superior movie – next review.

Written by Jack Parish

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