“Veronica Mars” And The Value Of Revisiting Pop-Culture Blind Spots

Now I understand the attachment to a show featuring a young woman who outwits nearly everyone around her with just her intelligence and a taser.

Warner Bros. Television / Courtesy Everett Collection

After Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell's Kickstarter campaign to create a Veronica Mars movie — which opens Friday — broke records last year, I decided to watch the series for the first time. I wanted to know more about this show that had fans clamoring to financially support a feature-length film. The revival launched a round of references to Marshmallows and a love story "spanning years and continents" that populated my Twitter feed. And it made me feel left out.

By the time Veronica Mars premiered in 2004, I'd already skipped my five-year high school reunion and my 10-year reunion was approaching too quickly. And now, the movie will showcase what's happened to Veronica and the rest of Neptune High in the decades since they graduated high school, and I'm wondering if I'll attend my 20-year reunion next year. High school isn't something I want to revisit in real life and definitely not again as a couch potato.

And I had hardly enjoyed shows heavy on children and teens even when I was one. Shows like Full House, Family Matters, or even Fresh Prince of Bel-Air didn't appeal to me. While Beverly Hills, 90210 was rocketing, I was holding on to the dying Golden Girls and Cheers. I missed My So-Called Life for Friends and Frasier.

Though I had shied away from shows and films set in high school, I wanted to move Veronica Mars out of my pop-culture blind spot. I love mysteries, especially those led by a female detective, and romance, and comedies, the elements of which are all present in the show. I realized the only thing that kept me from watching was the setting. As a feminist, I felt foolish for ignoring a potentially strong, leading female character because of her age.

Veronica Mars turns out to have been a perfect fit for me. Its combination of suspense, humor, drama, and romance was perfectly balanced. The nurturing love between Veronica (Kristen Bell) and her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni) was heartwarming. He gave Veronica room to develop as an investigator, but also protected her from attacks when her investigations went too far. And I was particularly impressed by the way the show highlighted class issues between the rich kids at Neptune High and the middle- to working-class students, like Veronica.

But what really stood out to me was the careful yet matter-of-fact way the show handled rape. During the first two seasons, the show used neo-noir elements to piece together lost memories for Veronica, who finally figures out who drugged and raped her at a party. In the final season, she investigates a serial rapist on her college campus. Even as she navigates these sensitive matters, Veronica is able to have relatively "healthy" sexual relationships with her boyfriends. The show doesn't allow her to move on and never mention her rape again because that wouldn't be realistic. Yes, Veronica is an intelligent, plucky gal who is mature beyond her years, but she still has to deal with the consequences of sex without consent, including contracting a sexually transmitted disease. And when she tries to discover who is attacking women on campus, she doesn't allow her experience to overshadow the others' need for justice. The series was able to shine a light on the frequency of rape and sexual assault without overly sanitizing the issue to make it more acceptable to parents and adults.

Still, the show made some missteps. Even though the writers were not afraid to acknowledge the race of black and Latino characters like Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III) and Eli "Weevil" Navarro (Francis Capra), Veronica Mars suffered from stereotyping. Nearly every Latino student featured was connected to gang life, and Wallace could've easily been popular based on his charm and gift of gab — making him a star basketball player seemed reductive. And I struggled to understand the appeal of Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn), who was too slow for Veronica's quick wits, and Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), who was too violent and unstable. But, by the time I made it to the final season, I could acknowledge why Logan left such an impression on the audience: Everyone loves a bad boy who just needs to be loved properly.

When the Kickstarter campaign launched in March 2013, I admit I was guilty of shaking my head at those who contributed, not realizing the cultural impact of Veronica Mars. It's important for young girls and women to see images of heroines who aren't princesses waiting to be rescued and Veronica is just that: a young woman who frequently comes to the aid of people around her, including men like her father and boyfriends.

The beauty of opening myself up to a former blind spot is that now I understand the attachment to the show featuring a young woman who outwits nearly everyone around her with just her intelligence and a taser. I can join conversations about Duncan vs. Logan vs. Piz (Chris Lowell) or whether Keith Mars gave Veronica too much freedom. And I don't feel so lost anymore when fans call themselves Marshmallows. The show has been decoded and now I can enjoy articles about it without feeling like I'm reading gibberish.

After having watched the show, I felt silly for dismissing it as television for teenagers only. Now I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. At its heart, Veronica Mars is a feminist mystery series that can appeal to a wide audience. Yes, it's about teenagers, a demographic I never felt connected to (even as a member), but it's also about moving on from a traumatic experience and helping others do the same.

And thanks to Veronica Mars (and my need to figure out why the name "Jordan Catalano" kept popping up every time Jared Leto won an award for Dallas Buyers Club), I've since fallen in love with My So-Called Life, which I recently watched for the first time. Twenty years after its premiere, I found myself laughing, crying, cheering, and yelling as I'm confident I would have during my teen years.

Now I can admit that if the writing and characters grab me, I'm ready to commit to a show or movie despite its high school setting.

Harry Potter, you're next.

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