I was in middle school when “Veronica Mars” was airing live on The CW’s froggy predecessor, The WB. The show originally ran for three seasons before being canceled, and in 2014, a Kickstarter campaign funded a movie sequel. It took until I was in college, when the show became available on a streaming service, for me to watch it, and I binged the first two seasons as God intended.
Then, it disappeared from streaming sites; I wept (metaphorically). But last year, Hulu announced an eight-episode fourth season of “Veronica Mars” and brought back the show’s first three seasons before the latest season’s July 19 premiere. And I cheered (literally).
The series follows the titular Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), a plucky and indomitable force of snark, as she solves various mysteries at her high school in Neptune, California. Veronica is whip-smart, unstoppable and unafraid to break the rules to right wrongs, and Bell plays her sassy, take-no-BS attitude to a T. If I had watched this as a middle schooler, I probably would have been a different sort of kid.
The first season follows Veronica as she tries to solve the murder of her best friend, Lilly. Veronica’s private investigator father (an amazing performance by Enrico Colantoni) used to be the sheriff, until he accused Lilly’s father in her murder and was run out of office. Veronica crosses swords with Lilly’s ex-boyfriend, Logan — who steps into the bad boy/love interest role that continues throughout the series — as well as the leader of the local biker gang and the current sheriff.
The second season centers around a school bus crash that kills a group of Veronica’s classmates, the rising tensions between the rich and poor of Neptune, and some shady dealings done by the mayor. The third season covers Veronica’s first year at college, where she works to catch a serial rapist in the first half and the dean’s killer in the second.
The 2014 movie picked up at the high school's 10-year reunion when Veronica returns to Neptune to clear Logan of a murder charge, and Hulu's new fourth season has Veronica solving a series of bombings over spring break.
The series is full of appearances by actors before they were famous, both in smaller parts (Michael Cera, Armie Hammer, Aaron Paul, Leighton Meester and Adam Scott to name a few) as well as larger roles: Amanda Seyfried appears as Lilly; Max Greenfield (“New Girl”) does an adorable turn as a sheriff’s deputy and love interest; and Krysten Ritter (“Jessica Jones”) and Tessa Thompson (“Thor: Ragnorak”) play high school classmates introduced in the second season.
But the show’s true strength comes from Bell’s performance and the chemistry between Veronica and Logan (Jason Dohring), who manages to be appealing despite his puka-bead necklaces. Bell and Colantoni’s father-daughter relationship will call to mind the Lorelei-Rory Gilmore dynamic from “Gilmore Girls,” with its witty banter and strong, us-against-the-world bond. But this parent-child relationship involves distinctly more life-threatening situations.
The series also manages to cover sensitive topics with care; an arc in the first season is Veronica trying to solve her own rape, and the episode that covers it heavily is one of the show’s best.
Where to start: Season 1, Episode 1
While the show follows a mystery-of-the-week setup, the larger arcs build throughout each season, so start from the beginning. The first and second seasons are amazing — the mysteries payoff in fulfilling, shocking ways. But the third season is a definite downturn, and isn’t necessary viewing (if you do watch it, just watch the first half, as the serial rapist is introduced in the second season).
The movie is a great bridge to the present, with most of the main cast and the big supporting roles returning. The new season is also worth watching in its entirety; it’s sexier, darker and more violent (a benefit of being on a streaming service and not network TV), with just as many hey-it’s-that-guy appearances as the original seasons.
“Veronica Mars” seasons 1-4 are streaming on Hulu, and the “Veronica Mars” movie is available through HBO.