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"Veronica Mars" To Do Away with Season-Long Mysteries?

After the high I got from watching the fall finale of Veronica Mars, that thrill was shattered the following day by reading the interview Rob Thomas gave E! Online's Kristin about the future direction of the beloved series (in the Televisionary household anyway).

One of the things that I love about Veronica Mars is the sprawling, overarching mysteries: Season One had the murder of Lily Kane; Season Two brought us the bus crash (and a sundry list of other smaller, interconnected mysteries); and so far we just got the resolution to the Hearst College Rapist mystery, one that played out in nine episodes this time around. While they are not exactly new viewer-friendly (to put it mildly), it's these mysteries that keep loyal Mars watchers guessing and hypothesizing... not to mention looking for clues in each episode with a fervor and dedication that's more akin to a Lost fanatic.

And then I read Rob Thomas' interview and was struck in the gut by his answer to the very first question:
"There has been talk--more than talk--about dropping the whole big mystery idea after this middle mystery and to do all stand-alone episodes and sort of a combination of a few things. The network is behind it, and I am interested in heading in that direction."
Uh-oh. Suddenly, I was worried.

After all, isn't this exactly what happened to Alias after three seasons as well? The whole bigger picture season-wide arc was scrapped in favor of stand-alone episodes that diluted the value of the entire series and never quite had the intended effect: namely, drawing in new or casual viewers who might be put off by the commitment required to such shows. (Of course, such commitment issues could be greatly allayed by the fact that previous season DVDs are now available with greater regularity.)

I went to bed Wednesday night and was greatly disturbed by the implication that Thomas and the CW would be tinkering with the series' format. While some might complain that the big mysteries are the "least successful" thing about Veronica Mars (according to Thomas), I often find that some of the stand-alone episodes (unless written by Thomas, Diane Ruggiero, or John Enbom) are a little lackluster, compared with the, er, big mystery/"mythology" installments.

What is a Veronica Mars-obsessed fan to do? Well, I have to say that I've been thinking it over in my head these past two days and I'm trying to come around to Thomas' way of thinking, especially if the decision to go stand-alone was his rather than Dawn Ostroff and the CW's.

While I do love the big, complex, and sprawling mysteries, I can sympathetize with where Thomas is coming from. I can only imagine how hard it is to plot and structure a 22-episode season around an intricate and sometimes perplexing mystery and be able in the end to not only tell the story you set out to tell but make sure to line up all of the clues as well.

The structure worked much better in Season One because there was a real emotional core to the mystery behind Lily's murder. "My design in season one was that Veronica’s best friend was dead, and every season regular had an integral role in the mystery," said Thomas. "And unless they wanted every year to kill Veronica’s friends, it’s hard to have the same emotional connective that’s worth spending seven, eight, nine episodes on a mystery."

However, there wasn't that same emotional impetus behind Veronica solving Season Two's mystery of the bus crash (other than frenemy Meg behind aboard the bus when it crashed and the possibility--quickly disproved--that the entire thing was a set-up to kill Veronica). Yes, her schoolmates died on the bus and she was haunted by nightmares of their deaths, but there wasn't the same visceral hook there. (Similarly, I think back to old favorite Twin Peaks; once Laura Palmer's killer was unmasked there wasn't really anything much for Donna and James to become invested in.)

In the same vein, it's difficult to imagine every season behind about one of Veronica's friends getting murdered. Season Two pulled a neat trick by having the killer--Cassidy Casablancas--turn out to be the guy who raped Veronica at Shelly Pomeroy's party, a reversal of the Season One episode "A Trip to Dentist." That revelation catapulted Veronica into solving the mystery of the Hearst College rapist in Season Three, giving her an ideological and emotional hook (based on her own experiences, in addition to her need for justice) to the crime itself.

Other than killing Papa Keith (which I thought nearly happened twice this season already), it's difficult to think of anything that would be as compelling to watch unfold over the course of 22 episodes... or even nine. (As the series moved into its third season, it was structured originally to present three shorter mysteries, told in multi-episode chunks.) If the series can find its narrative hook in the individual mysteries and link them (or use them as metaphors) to the greater mysteries in life--namely relationships romantic, platonic, and parental--I think that Thomas' plan could possibly work. That is, if the single-episode mysteries are compelling and don't seem needlessly neatly wrapped up after each episode. Still, I am sure I will miss the complex, multi-layered plots of the last few years. After all, I can't imagine trying to solve the a murder in a single-episode and hope that the series doesn't lose its blend of humor and noir chic. (Imagine trying to structure the plot of Brick into a 44-minute episode.)

As for what all of this means for Season Three, Thomas offered the following:
"What I think we might do is the final mystery we were going to run instead of running it as our final five is just to play those as stand-alone episodes and maybe contract that big mystery into a two-episode thing with a cliffhanger as just a trial balloon. And hopefully before season four, we’ll see how it works. It seems like a good time to do it--a good fun test balloon. Try it over five and see how fans and non-fans react."
I'm curious to see how this plays out but the likelihood of obtaining non-fans this late in the game seems, to me anyway, slim to none. With a decision on ordering a fourth season of Veronica looming and an episode order of only 20 this season, I think it's more essential to satisfy the long-term fans than try to bring in new viewers (even though that's the inane modus operandi of every network). After all, Veronica Mars isn't a procedural show and it's those big mysteries that keep long-term viewers tuning in each week (and hopefully turns casual Mars watchers into rabid ones).

However, I trust in Rob Thomas (like Joss Whedon before him) to make the best decision necessary in order to keep the series going, both creatively and logistically. And at this point, with all of the networks so cancellation trigger-happy, I'm just happy for Veronica Mars to continue in any form that keeps it on the air.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ice Wars 2006: USA vs. The World(CBS; 8-10 pm); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); The Polar Express (ABC; 8-10 pm); Justice (FOX);Desire(MyNet)

9 pm: Las Vegas (NBC; 9-11 pm); Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy (FOX); Fashion House (MyNet)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Doctor Who on Sci Fi.

It's the second season of Doctor Who, with the latest incarnation of the Doctor played by the talented David Tennant. On tonight's episode ("The Satan Pit"), it's Part Two of the double-parter begun on November 17th ("The Impossible Planet"), wherein Rose must battle the now rather murderous Ood and the Doctor is forced to make a sacrifice in order to save the entire universe.

8 pm: Hardware on BBC America (11 pm EST).

It's the US premiere of Britcom Hardware, starring Martin Freeman of the original UK version of The Office, taking place at a small (you guessed it!) hardware store. On tonight's episode ("Nice"), when a customer tries to commit suicide after being insulted by Mike (Freeman), he vows to be more friendly.

8:30 pm: Black Books on BBC America (11:30 pm EST).

It's the third season premiere of the scathingly sarcastic Black Books, one of my favorite Britcoms. On tonight's third season premiere ("Manny Come Home"), Fran returns home from a Cornish holiday only to discover that Manny has left Black Books and taken a job at the new bookstore next door, leaving Bernard living in his own filth.

9 pm: Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode ("Unfinished Business"), we finally get to see what really happened down on New Caprica when the crew of Galactica reflect on their memories during an impromptu boxing tournament designed to dissipate hostile feelings among teammates. Ouch.

9 pm: Spaced on BBC America (Midnight EST).

If you missed it the first time around (and I don't know why you would do that to yourselves), BBC America is giving you another shot at catching the first brilliant and hysterical season of Spaced, written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson as Tim and Daisy, two 20-somethings so down on their luck that they pretend to be a couple in order to rent a flat... On tonight's episode ("Beginnings"), see how it all began as Tim and Daisy meet cute in a cafe and soon launch a plan to land the perfect flat, only to realize they've moved into a house with a bunch of absolute nutters.

9:30 pm: Peep Show on BBC America (12:30 am EST).

Starting tonight, BBC America is reairing the second season of the so-painful-it's-hysterical Britcom Peep Show. On tonight's episode, , Mark believes that true love means hacking into would-be lover Sophie's email account, while Jeremy deals with an American girlfriend (guest star Rachel Blanchard). It's funny and it's so sick at times that you may just need to take a shower afterwards.


Anonymous said…
Honestly? I am just not that upset about it. Something I really missed last season were stand-alond eps. I think there is a line between having every ep be part of the season-long mystery, and showcasing individual cases, and it can be done. i don't mind if next season is more stand-alone w/some bigger mystery weaved through slowly. I think the stand alones show off V's detective prowess better.

Plus, if the CW is even asking for this, does that maybe bode well for another season?
Anonymous said…
If it had been the network's idea to do stand alone episodes I would be more worried. But I have faith in Rob Thomas and think this might be the right move for now.

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