South Park Self

Annoy, tiny blonde one, annoy like the wind!

Readers of a nervous disposition may have been startled the other night by the faint, echoing cry of rage and frustration wafting across Cape Town's southern suburbs. My apologies. This was occasioned by an unhappy discovery: having cooked supper, served myself a plateful and a glass of wine, put the relevant DVD into the player, booted the cat off my tv-watching chair, settled down with a sigh of content and pressed PLAY, it was something of a kick in the teeth to immediately discover that the final DVD in Season 3 of Veronica Mars contained, not the climactic final episodes I was anticipating, which would sort out all the problems, discoveries and implications raised in Episode 20, but merely a fistful of somewhat lame special features. (Although I rather enjoy the extent to which Rob Thomas resembles Buffy's Riley: it's obscurely reassuring. I've always had a soft spot for poor Riley.)

Veronica Mars is another Firefly, an unhappily-truncated, prematurely-ended, excellent show whose cancellation is clearly the result of the unacceptable degree of intelligence in its writing. I've devoured three seasons over the last month, and despite the lack of ultimate narrative pay-off am unabashedly a fan: in my secret moments, I suspect it's actually better television than Buffy, which is truly odd given that I usually need a chunk of fantastic content in order to for a show to genuinely warm the cockles of my unrealistic little heart. (And Joss does a guest spot. He clearly likes it too).

I said in a tweet somewhere that VM is effectively "Buffy meets Brick", and that still holds: it's a high-school (and, in Season 3, college) series about a private eye who just happens to be a sassy blonde teenager, and its play with the thematic intersections is witty, perceptive and extremely effective. Despite its apparently fluffy school setting the series is dark; it doesn't flinch from dealing with death, murder, rape, abuse, violence, drugs, alcoholism, social divides, sexual orientation, gender politics and pretty much anything else that grabs its fancy in a given episode. In that it's very clever; the intensity and heartfelt trauma of the teen experience don't, after all, map so badly onto the threats and angsts of noir. The first two seasons present a beautiful balance between meta-plot, a detective puzzle which arcs across the whole season, and more minor investigations which are tied up neatly at the end of the episode. Season 3 isn't as neat; its meta-arc finishes too early, and the whole thing trails off a bit - I blame the cancellation, personally - but it's still satisfying television. And, while I called the bad guy early on in the first and third seasons, Season 2 blindsided me totally while being, in retrospect, totally inevitable. I love it when a detective story does that.

I think I'm enamoured of this series particularly because of Veronica herself, whose construction makes me realise that, Joss's feminism notwithstanding, there are points about Buffy that bother me. For a start, Veronica's "superpower" isn't physical (her idea of "backup" makes me laugh a lot), it's intellectual; Veronica's skills are equally about brain, application and hard-won experience, not mystical ability to kick butt. Secondly, the angsts it causes her are not the traditionally feminine insecurities: if she has flaws or problems they're more about arrogance, over-confidence, a certain predeliction to vengefulness. She has none of the traditionally "blonde" moments with which Buffy is occasionally plagued. Hers are flaws of strength, not weakness, and unlike Buffy, while she's also a social outsider, her response to that marginalisation is extremely together, defiant and often aggressive, the antithesis of the shrinking, hypersensitive outcast. Veronica's snarky one-liners cause me infinite delight; she insulates herself from the world and its all too frequent rejection with a screen of wit. Buffy is used to being the strongest and most cosmically important person in the room, but Veronica is used to being the most intelligent, and I find that I identify with that a lot more easily.

I am also struck by how far this series doesn't pull its punches: shit gets real. It's amazing to me to realise how far in my mental comparisons the impact of "world go boom" in Buffy is upstaged by smaller-scale, more real consequences in VM. The micro-world of Neptune is constructed in deliberately political terms, the well-rationalised site of class struggle, crime and corruption which provides a fertile ground for the show's investigative elements. And, while characters such as Dick Casablancas or Weevil are respectively poster-boys for frat-house dickwaddery or blue-collar bike-gang shenanigans, they're also developed in terms which make them complex and real.

The reality is in the people. The relationship between Veronica and her father is a delight, the warm and centred heart of the show, but it also means that they hurt, betray and damage each other with almost unbearable realism, the way that parents do to their children and vice versa, all the time, inescapably, even when their relationship is powerfully positive and supportive, because that's the power that people have over you when you care about them. The ending of Season 3 broke me. Of course Veronica's particular single-mindedness will do that to her father's life. Of course he'll protect her. Because of who they are, she is able to understand and appreciate that just as much as he's able to sacrifice himself without resentment. (And their playful, role-bending, often noir-influenced interchanges are deeply lovely).

But I think where VM really has me utterly invested is in its depiction of romance. It feels a lot more realistic than Buffy, a lot more genuine-teen: rather than these world-shattering forever-romances, there's a reasonable amount of drifting, mix-and-match, come-and-go with the relationships. Veronica/Duncan never really did it for me; he's a bit bland, and despite a lovely undercurrent of playfulness too little expressed, never felt like a genuine match for Veronica. Veronica/Logan, on the other hand, I ship very hard indeed. They are people identically damaged by their experiences, and similarly dealing with them by imposing a thick, verbal wall between themselves and the world. It's Beatrice/Benedick all over again: I am a total sucker for love affairs whose playpen is above all linguistic. And it's inevitably an explosive mix, a push-pull of mutual hang-ups and self-destructive urges. Season 3's lack of conclusion annoyed me because ultimately I can't believe they'll remain apart for long, and I wanted the series to confirm my hope.

One of the joys of Buffy is its currency, the extent to which its quotes and images and icons are rife among my friends. I want to watch Veronica Mars again, preferably several times, to imprint some of these quotes and people and catchphrases onto my wayward memory, but I also want everyone to go and watch it too so I can share some of that pleasure, and argue the 'ships, and have my references recognised. Please indulge me. I don't think it'll be a waste of your time.
  • Current Mood: amused sold
I have friends whose tastes I trust and who know their Buffy, but I couldn't get past episode 1. Those same friends were more successful in introducing me to Firefly, although I have to admit that it was almost too scary for me (but then almost everything is). I guess what I'm trying to ask is this: would you recommend VM to someone who, despite liking e.g. Dr Who very much and being sympathetic to geekery of all kinds, is not particularly literate in TV? (I wish I could put it more eloquently than that but I'm having a me-no-write-English week, as my phd supervisors will be happy to confirm. Your blog should be compulsory reading for all of us EFL typing monkeys - good for style and vocabulary. :)

That's an interesting question. I started watching Buffy when I also wasn't very TV-literate, but I think its fantastic component charmed me enough to pull me in sufficiently to acquire the vocabulary. And I have to say, its first season is a little shaky in parts - it definitely develops as it goes on. If I go back to watch Season 1 again it always feels clunky. So maybe you could give it another chance? I think it may need a few episodes to really work, and for you to feel its potential.

And as to VM, I'm actually not sure how far you need to be TV-literate. There are nuances and levels you won't appreciate unless you have a bit of a background in noir, but that's more film and book oriented. It's very teen, but very well done, and its issues and concerns feel very real - I think it might pull you in faster than Buffy. And its verbal play and wit is wonderful.

But it's nothing like Doctor Who. DrW is almost fable, its science fictional component drawn with such broad strokes that it's more fantastic than rational. VM's scripting is infinitely better, but it's a micro-level show where DrW is macro, if that makes any sense. If you want broad brush strokes and fable, try The Middleman.

My English teacher's soul is happy to think it might be assisting in matters of style and vocab :>. I hope my horrible polysyllabitude doesn't drive you to the dictionary too often.
Thanks, could give VM a go. And The Middleman, that was new. We'll see about Buffy... I just realised that I'm waaay behind on Dr Who, though - have been saving it for desperate times - and should catch up already. Priorities, priorities!

Am currently wading my way through "Supernatural" (season 4, love it when writers hit their stride in a series), will put Veronica on my list as next-to-watch-while-exercising.
I would like to borrow all your Supernatural at some point please. I promise not to lick the pictures of Dean too much :P.
Re: Supernatural
you are most welcome! they're all in my shelves. I still need to watch the last couple of episodes of the fifth season and all of the sixth, but I'd imagine I'll be able to do that before you catch up with me :>.
Your sales patter in favour of VM has won me over. I would love to snaffle S1 when it becomes available :)
Coolth! Season 1 has gone through jo&stv, who are now onto season 2, and thence to Andrew-and-Cara, I'll fling it in your direction when they've finished.

I'm not sure that "sales patter" and "rampant fangirling" are functionally identical, though.