Before she was singing about building a snowman in Frozen, and before she was the voice of Gossip Girl, Kristen Bell was Veronica Mars.
It was a simpler time back then. The neo-noir teen detective show Veronica Mars first aired in September of 2004 and ran for for seasons, ending in 2007. This was before the #MeToo movement by about a decade, but the show still took a progressive look at rape culture. In addition to defending rape victims throughout the series, Veronica Mars was also a victim of sexual assault. The fact that Veronica Mars represented and stood up for victims meant something to a lot of people. During its original pre-Donald Trump run, the series also never shied away from dealing with issues of classism, sexism, or racism.
But although the show was canceled in 2007, no one, not even creator Rob Thomas nor Kristen Bell, was ready to let this show go. The show came back for a crowd-funded (hello, I was one of the crowd-funders) movie in 2014. And now in 2019, 15 years after the show originally aired, Veronica Mars and most of the original cast of characters are back.
But how does Veronica Mars update its message for a post-Donald Trump America?
The most noticeable update: Season 4 is darker. Yes, it is true that from the start, Veronica Mars has been a neo-Noir detective show about a teenage girl who had a best friend who was mysteriously murdered, was the victim of sexual assault, and lived in a town full of wealthy and corrupt people. Even so, Veronica Mars always had a been of that teen television show CW sheen to it that made you know everything was going to work out in the end. If you were ever worried about Veronica Mars during an episode, it was only until you remembered she could outsmart anyone and also she carried a taser.
In Season 4, Veronica Mars is no longer a CW teen who seems invincible. Now Veronica Mars is brought to us by Hulu, the same streaming network that devastates us on the regular every time they release another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. Is everything going to be okay for Veronica Mars anymore? Can we trust Hulu to protect our girl?
Aside from the network change, Veronica Mars has grown up along with its viewers. Veronica was a 17 year-old junior in high school in the first season of the show. Now, she and the rest of her crew are adults. Our once-teen private detective is now a thirty-something with her own home and domestic issues with her boyfriend Logan, who is trying to get her to see a therapist to deal with her trauma. Wallace, Veronica’s best friend since high school, is now happily settled down with a wife and kid. Keith Mars, Veronica’s father, is aging too. The man who had once been her safety net is now dealing with memory loss and walks with a cane.
These changes in Veronica Mars’ storylines reflect the changes in the audience’s storylines as well. When I first started watching this show, I was getting my undergraduate degree, and now, like Veronica, I am in my 30’s and freaking out as I watch everyone around me settle down, buy houses, get real jobs, and have kids.
But enough about me. The show is doing more than just reflecting the personal shift in the audience as it appeals to a Millennial crowd that has grown up with the show. The shift to a darker tone of course also reflects the viewership’s general uneasiness of the world we live in now. 2004 Veronica Mars maybe had its dark moments, but comparatively, looking back at it now in light of the new 2019 Veronica Mars, it seems like Sesame Street. Likewise, the political climate in America in 2004 seemed bad. George W. Bush had just been reelected for a second term. The war in Iraq had just begun. But now… in 2019… well, you know.
And before you tell me that I’m reaching, there are subtle (and not so subtle) digs at American politics throughout the season. For instance, when Veronica Mars asks, “How the hell did we let a crooked real estate tycoon come in here and seduce us into longing for a bygone era?” Who is she really talking about here?
Without giving away too much of the plot of Season 4 for those who have not watched it yet, the new season also examines a culture that is perhaps more obsessed with true crime than ever before. Now in Neptune, there is a group of true crime-obsessed citizens who call themselves “Murderheads.” These people meet up once a week to discuss crimes happening in Neptune and offer up their theories. Are they an obstacle to Keith and Veronica as they investigate? Or are they allies? Turns out, a little bit of both. And it doesn’t seem like sheer coincidence that the leader of the Murderheads is played by Patton Oswalt, whose wife penned the posthumously bestselling true crime novel I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.
Veronica Mars has always been a feminist show, and so that feminist message and questioning of gender stereotypes remains. One of my favorite moments of gender norm-questioning is when Keith asks Veronica what you would call a “bromance” between two women. Veronica answers, “A friendship?” This quick exchange is funny and simple and yet, in the way Veronica Mars often does, it reminds us how idiotic terms like “bromance” are. Men should be able to openly care for each other and share a friendship without fetishizing that close bond and/or laughing at it.
Veronica Mars has also always been fairly inclusive in representing different sexual orientations, classes, races, and so on; however, aside from supporting characters, the central characters are still rich/middle class, straight, and white. With that being said, the new season adds a lot more racial diversity to the cast: Dawnn Lewis as Neptune sheriff Marcia Langdon, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as club owner Nicole Malloy, and Mido Hamada as senator Daniel Maloof, just to name a few.
Ultimately, there’s a reason the people involved with this show all came back to do it again so many years later, and there’s a reason Marshmallows (for the uninitiated, that’s what Veronica Mars fans call themselves) keep coming back for more. This is an intelligent, thoughtful, and fun show, and Rob Thomas and crew smartly updated that smartness for 2019 audiences who wanted to reconnect with their old pal Veronica yet again.
Was the season without faults? Of course not. Many blog posts have been written specifically critiquing the ending of season 4 alone (beware, these links contain spoilers). My main issue was some of the dialogue, which seemed cute and snappy for a 2004 CW show but seems like it might play better with a bit more realism in 2019. Overall, however, reviews of this season have been great, and with good reason.
2019 sucks. I’m just glad I had a new season of Veronica Mars to help get me through it.