Veronica Mars 301: Welcome Wagon (No Spoilers)

Veronica Mars’s survival for the last two seasons despite middling ratings has been a triumph for quality escapism. Not only did UPN support the acclaimed show, but it even made the cut for that network’s merger with the WB over higher-rating contenders like Everwood. Now beginning its third season on the brand new CW, Veronica Mars is as joyfully entertaining as ever, and still wittily lambasts social cliques while never denying them their humanity.

Veronica (Kristen Bell), Logan (Jason Dohring), Wallace (Percy Daggs III), and Mac’s (Tina Majorino) arrival at Hearst College coincides with a change in the season’s format. Instead of a season-long mystery with numerous component threads, creator Rob Thomas has opted for three 7-8 episode arcs, the first of which will continue last season’s unsolved standalone mystery of a serial rapist at Hearst who shaves his victims’ heads, which prompts the premiere’s quite chilling final scene. That dark scenario is representative of this show’s secretion of a worm inside the American teen show apple. Despite a glossy, funny, and pulpy veneer, Veronica Mars has always had a more serious social agenda lurking inside, inverting the typical high school drama by portraying the rich kids as not just arrogant and self-serving, but having become that way as products of an American upper class that disregards those beneath it. Tellingly, the show’s prominent rich characters – particularly Logan – have endured distant and uncaring parents who they initially emulate but reject when their moral compass finally forms, usually following devastating events. Granted, melodrama again rears its head since Logan’s father is a murderous movie star rather than just a deadbeat dad, but it works on an allegorical level. With the premiere, it appears that we can add Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) to that crowd, as he finally shows a spark of humanity and fragility following his brother’s actions last season, which no doubt compounded his father fleeing the country upon being exposed for fraud. Dick was an odd choice for series regular last season, never moving beyond the sex and beer-obsessed jock stereotype. His depths and morality are finally being uncovered as, like Logan, we get explicit confirmation that the posturing has been concealing something deeper.

Dick’s progression will no doubt be one of the many character arcs and subplots that the show handily juggles, such as the inexplicable partnership of Keith (Enrico Colantoni) and Kendall (Charisma Carpenter), which takes an abrupt turn in the premiere. Sadly, it doesn’t improve matters for this storyline following this episode’s bland response to last season’s briefcase cliffhanger. Hopefully Thomas will speed past this now-unsatisfactory storyline to fully engage with the Hearst mystery while avoiding the incomprehensibility that the show was mired in for a while last season before capably emerging with a conclusive and cathartic finale.

Some new characters are also introduced, including Parker (Julie Gonzalo), who initially seems a baffling choice for a series regular since she’s a carbon copy of the valley girls that the show has lampooned before, but an unexpected role in the larger mystery looks to ensure that her character is much more than one-note. There’s also Wallace’s roommate, Piz (Chris Lowell), who is being touted as a rival to Logan for Veronica’s affections. He’s a pleasantly dorky guy, and thus a much more interesting and credible alternative for Veronica than the cardboard Duncan Kane: his down-to-earth nature should prove a tempting counterpoint for her to Logan’s brooding complexities.

Mac and Sheriff Lamb (Michael Muhney) thankfully aren’t going anywhere though as they’re now included in the radically transformed opening credits – these things have gotten weird! The theme song is now much slower, and the cast are showcased in some quite avant-garde still images (the first image above is one of them). It doesn’t really suit the show, but is no doubt a statement about its new direction. It’ll take some getting used to, but the show itself won’t: this is the Veronica Mars that those in-the-know have come to love despite the format upheaval: a teenage comedy-drama that uses its high concept to offer a broad perspective on class division and the complexities of any individual. Plus, it’s just damn entertaining, the kind of superior escapist fare that doesn’t make you feel like an idiot afterwards. Support this show – it could use the help.

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