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I Heart "Veronica Mars"

I woke up this morning to discover something truly shocking and upsetting: due to the dismal performance of the dreadful drama South Beach, UPN is pulling the new episodes of Veronica Mars until the next cycle of America's Next Top Model starts up again in March, providing the show with a stronger lead-in.

The news upsets me for two reasons: (1) now I have nothing to watch after Lost tonight and (2) those of us wise enough to realize that Veronica Mars is the best damn drama on television won't get any new episodes for nearly a month... Far too long to find out what is going on in Neptune.

I will admit that I was, er, skeptical when I first heard about the show two years ago. A teenage P.I.? On UPN of all places? But I sat down to watch a copy of the pilot with very low expectations and instead found myself sucked in immediately to Veronica's world. I was instantly hooked. And instantly smitten. And two years later, the plots continue to come fast and furious, the mysteries have become more engaging, and the characters unexpectedly rewarding (Mac & Beaver, I am talking about you!).

For those of you not up to speed, a quick Veronica Mars primer: In the small fictional enclave of Neptune, CA., Veronica is a spunky high-schooler whose best friend Lily Kane is suddenly and brutally murdered. Veronica's dad, the town sheriff, goes on a personal vendetta to bring Lily's killer to justice but instead loses his job as a result and opens a private detective agency, where Veronica, now a social outcast, works after school. Veronica has her own agenda--namely clearing her dad and discovering who really killed Lily--and ends up solving a lot of nifty mysteries along the way, while navigating the traumas of adolescence and the difficulties of high school.

If that last part sounds a little like Buffy, you're right: Veronica Mars is far and away a worthy successor to the throne of Very Important Teen Drama that's really about growing up and entering adulthood with certain responsbilities (i..e, saving the world, upholding truth and justice) thrust upon you.

Veronica Mars stars Kristen Bell as the spunkiest, wittiest, and cleverest heroine this side of Sunnydale and yet imbues Veronica's every action with heart, soul, and a hunger for truth. Fortunately, Veronica is no crusading journalist (they dropped that subplot early on) but a teen P.I. with a hunkering for quick cash (especially as her no-good alcoholic mother ran off with her college savings last season) and an outsider in a racially- and economically-divided town who's not above charging her wealthier clients an arm and a leg for her detecting services.

One of the things I love about the show is the alternate world that showrunner Rob Thomas has created, where a girl as smart, cute, and feisty as Veronica would be a social zero. Yet week after week, Veronica finds herself fending for herself (sometimes aided by best-friend Wallace and computer geek Mac), caught between with local hood Weevil and his bike gang and the world she used to know, embodied by rich boys Duncan (her ex-boyfriend and Lily's brother) and jackass Logan. But at the end of the day, she always finds time to exchange side-achingly funny bon mots and snappy banter with her dad.

Said dad, Keith Mars (played with aplomb by Enrico Colantoni), is the best dad on television: funny, embarassing, and willing to jump through flames to rescue his beloved daughter. While the mysteries may be interesting, it's the realness of their affection and the tenderness of their bond that grounds the show and keeps me coming back for more.

That and to see how Veronica yet again manages to outwit everyone around her each week.

"Veronica Mars" airs Wednesday evenings at 9 pm on UPN (for now).

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