“But I will confess that I am really worried about fan reaction. I’m absolutely prepared for a percentage of fans to have a strong reaction against what we did. That, I’m fine with. But I will have made a really bad bet if, en masse, the fans turn on the show. That would certainly be a tough lesson to learn.” – Rob Thomas
How Veronica Mars went from a nuanced show about a kick-ass female character to emotional torture porn that betrayed its fandom and broke their hearts.
Why do people watch television? While I can only speak for myself, I watch television to be entertained and escape in a story about another world, particularly with how dark the real world is at the moment. Sometimes I like to watch things that are dark and gritty because then when the hero wins in the end, it’s that much better. The thing is, I like to watch things where the hero wins in the end because I don’t watch television to make me anxious and depressed. I can watch the news for that. I don’t want to feel worse about the world and to feel unnecessary grief for people that I love as if they are real, because I met them in a way that I thought was one thing, but turned out to be something different. To feel manipulated by storylines about characters I love and betrayed by artists I have supported.
According to Rob Thomas, and in a line that has been parroted by the cast, Logan had to die at the end of season four of Veronica Mars in order for Veronica to be able to be the underdog and grow. Many fans are calling bullshit on this decision, and there are many reasons why. First, and most obviously, Veronica and Logan were apart for a decade, and during that decade, Veronica did not change and evolve. She did not grow. That was the entire focus of the movie, Veronica growing into herself, and realizing that the self she was running from was her actual self, and she made the active decision to stop running towards what she perceived as her perfect ideal of who she was supposed to be, and who she actually was, which was still a smart, sarcastic detective who wants to use her education to help others. The growth that occurred during that decade was all Logan’s. The growth that occurred during the movie occurred when Veronica was with Logan. He was the foil that made her change and grow.
Rob Thomas also cites a fear of nostalgia. According to the dictionary, nostalgia is: “A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” Rob, I hate to break this news to you, but what you just did is turn Veronica Mars into a nostalgia show. Most fans now feel nostalgia for when Veronica Mars was good and had a writer(s) with confidence in the lead character, not an inability to write her without further baptisms of trauma.
On season four: “These episodes are a bridge to what Veronica Mars is going forward.” I apologize in advance for the sarcasm, but is Veronica Mars going forward a show no one watches about a really sad detective with a pathetic or non-existent personal life?
The reasoning is that they wanted to keep doing the show as what they’re calling an anthology, an example cited being Sherlock, which is not an anthology show. The odd thing here is that Veronica Mars has now done four seasons and a film, and it has never been an anthology show, so it sounds like what he and Kristen Bell actually want to do is a completely different show then the one they’re doing. Thomas keeps citing Murder, She Wrote and Agatha Christie. Putting aside the fact that Murder, She Wrote was about a serial killer, because no way did every place Jessica Fletcher went just happen to have a murder, if Veronica Mars viewers wanted to watch Murder, She Wrote or Agatha Christie movies, they would watch those shows, not Veronica Mars. Perhaps Thomas and Bell should consider pitching Hulu an entirely new show, as that is obviously where their interest is.
Thomas said, “The thinking is that we need to survive as a noir detective show.” He says the word “noir” so many times in interviews that it seems important to explore what noir is. Noir is: “A style of filmmaking characterized by such elements as cynical heroes, stark lighting effects, frequent use of flashbacks, intricate plots, and an underlying existentialist philosophy.” And now, let’s explore existentialism, which is: “a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.” So if we break this down, Rob Thomas wants Veronica Mars to be a show that has a cynical hero, frequent use of flashbacks, intricate plots, and a hero that is emphasized through her actions as a free and responsible agent determining her own development through acts of the will, more simply described as a stubborn character with full agency. I’m trying to think here, because I’m almost positive I’ve seen a show like that before, but the name is just escaping me…Damn…It’s on the tip of my tongue…
Thomas went on to say, “I think there’s a reason you don’t see many hard-boiled detective shows where the lead detective has a boyfriend or girlfriend; it kind of limits your options. It was like we were cutting off a limb to save a life.”
There are many problems with this statement. I don’t know about any of you, but I can’t name you too many hard-boiled detective shows at all. Sherlock is not something I would described as “hard-boiled.” A large part of what makes Sherlock work is his relationship with John Watson, who humanizes him and brings some humor. I’m not sure I want to watch Sherlock without even the relationship with Watson, if that is what would make it a hard-boiled detective show. But also, Thomas says he doesn’t think they would ever be as pure a detective show as Sherlock. So I’m confused as to what will take up the rest of the show, as he has made it clear that it wouldn’t be character drama.
I tried to come up with shows about characters trying to solve a central mystery where the character(s) has a boyfriend/husband, girlfriend/wife, but all I could think of was Bodyguard with Richard Madden (wife, girlfriend), Criminal Minds (wife, husband, boyfriend) Mindhunter with Jonathan Groff (girlfriend, wife), Luther with Idris Elba (wife, girlfriend, whatever the hell Alice is other than awesome), Bones (boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife), Broadchurch (husband, unfortunately for Olivia Colman who is awesome), The Closer (boyfriend, husband), Castle (boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife), Beauty and the Beast (boyfriend, husband), Killing Eve (husband, other?), Alias (boyfriend, husband). I think the writers really struggle, so they do one of a couple usual things that you might have seen. What they end up doing is making the romantic partner either a part of the show and plot, or a minor character that exists outside the main mystery element of the show, usually bringing either lighter moments, providing the main character with a sounding board, or to show the strain their life as a whole is taking on them. It’s funny how that is…
Perhaps the most offensive and upsetting part of the season four ending is the implications about women, relationships, and success being sent by Rob Thomas. To say, “It’s just hard to imagine a detective show with a 35-year-old woman with a boyfriend,” is kind of amazing. That is probably close to the average age of Veronica Mars viewers, so I’m not sure what he’s setting out to say. Are women with boyfriends uninteresting? Also, why are single 35 year-old women interesting? I don’t even have a sarcastic remark for this statement as it is genuinely puzzling, particularly as he goes on to say, “I don’t want to write that.” Really? Wow. So you only want to write about teenage girls that are victims of sexual assault or adults who are completely traumatized. There is so much wrong with that, particularly if you unpack the amount of sexual assault of women that exists in the Veronica Mars universe.
From his own words, it is clear that he doesn’t think a woman can be both a badass and in a healthy relationship. This is the sexism prevalent in romantic comedies where women are successful in their jobs, but a mess in their personal lives, and they can only become happy in their personal lives by giving up something in their career. Thomas just reversed it. The only way Veronica can be successful in her career is by literally blowing up her personal life.
And now, here is where I just get confused. Thomas also said, “If you can’t have your detective have romantic interests, it’s hard.” Wait, back up a second and WTF? You spent a paragraph telling fans that 35 year old women are uninteresting with a love interest and now you say you need your character to have a love interest or it’s too hard to write. I think you might have taken a wrong turn in your own bullshit, there.
During the run of Veronica Mars, Keith and Logan have always been the characters that grounded Veronica into her storylines and her life. Keith was the rock, and Logan was the character that made Veronica reach for personal growth, whether it was to rise above Logan’s bad behavior, or to help him when he is older.
To continuously refer to Veronica’s romantic relationship as “teen drama” is condescending to the audience. Any show that has non-crime related interaction would be deemed teen drama if Veronica Mars with adult characters is teen drama. Most shows about characters that I’ve ever seen are just described as drama. I’ve never seen a show about adults described as teen drama. Moving on, Veronica being an underdog is not defined by her alone. It’s defined through her relationships to other characters, and only two of those characters really challenge her, Keith and Logan. And throughout the show, only one of those characters has shown growth from the pilot to season four, and that’s Logan. Veronica has grown up, but most of her teen girl instincts are still there. She still wants unhealthy things and doesn’t want to be an adult, but just wants to play grown-up. Speaking of the underdog, it’s the experiences that Veronica has had that could be argued to cause this lack of growth. That’s something interesting that could be explored that doesn’t involve torturing Veronica more.
The idea that Veronica, or any woman, can only be interesting if she’s broken and tortured is toxic sexism. This is particularly disturbing when you look back at the show from the beginning. The pilot opens with Veronica telling the audience that she’s a rape victim, though she doesn’t know who her rapist is. She’s also trying to solve the murder of her best friend, Lily. In season two, there is another rape storyline at nearby Hearst College, which picks up again in season three when Veronica is almost raped again, and the new female character introduced in season three, Parker, is a victim of the season three rapist. For Thomas to then say women in relationships are boring gives the impression he only likes writing female characters that he can victimize, particularly sexually. “It’s just hard to imagine a detective show with a 35-year-old woman with a boyfriend.” Are you f-ing kidding me? Change that line to it’s hard to imagine a detective show with a 35-year old man with a girlfriend. Is it hard to imagine? I can imagine it fine, probably because I’ve seen it before and probably so have you. She’s probably wearing a bikini or an evening gown, or just there between important scenes to provide the detective sympathy and give him advice, maybe make him dinner. You could stretch your imagination a little, and maybe come up with something. A great example of this type of character when a man plays the lead character is Elizabeth Burke on White Collar, though her character is never presented in a sexist way, something that you might want to take notes on.
The reason season four exists is because Veronica Mars fans paid for it, literally, with their money. The Veronica Mars movie was funded through kickstarter, and without that renewed interest, it seems unlikely Hulu would have picked up a season four 12 years after the show ended.
Another weird thing is that Kristen Bell has almost always talked about the Veronica and Logan relationship in a negative way. And that’s understandable. In real life, you probably wouldn’t want your friend in a relationship with teenage Logan, but since it’s not real, and the interaction of those characters is entertaining, people like it, and Bell has acknowledged that. But now, she says, “As it turns out, Logan and Veronica were in love, they were the perfect couple and because we discovered that, unfortunately, we had to tear it down.” I know this response is probably getting repetitive, but wait, what?
According to fans, the reasons they love the show are: the father/daughter dynamic, Veronica’s bravery and the fact that she wasn’t afraid to do the right thing; while she was/is jaded and angry, she wasn’t hardened by life when she had every reason to be and Logan’s character growth. Veronica represented perseverance and that you could learn to thrive in the midst of pain. And Veronica has been through a lot of pain.
(A quick refresher on the bad things that have happened to Veronica, excluding anything in season four: her mother left her, her high school boyfriend broke up with her with no explanation, only for her to later have to help him escape with the baby he had with her friend after he and Veronica had gotten back together, her best friend was murdered, the murderer tried to kill her, she was ostracized by all of her friends, she wasn’t sure if her father was her biological father, Veronica falls in love with her dead best friend’s boyfriend, only to then suspect he murdered her best friend and then have him framed for murder, a busload, literally, of her classmates die by getting driven off a cliff, Veronica finds out who raped her and it is a classmates brother, who then tries to kill her and Logan, she learns Logan slept with the girl responsible for drugging her at the party where she was raped, a sex tape is made of her without her consent and broadcast, twice, she causes her father to lose the election for sheriff again, her father is almost murdered, she is almost murdered, etc. as I’m sure I’ve left some things out.) Can’t a woman get a break? There’s a point at which too much bad stuff takes you from being the underdog to being ridiculous storytelling. Dealing with all of that alone makes Veronica more than interesting enough without adding more emotional torture porn to the character.
The idea that there is nothing interesting in a show after the main leads get together is a tired trope because 30 years ago the writers on Moonlighting weren’t very good. Shows that have had their main characters get involved romantically and remain interesting include 12 Monkeys, A Discovery of Witches, Alias, Arrow, Bones, Buffy, Chuck, Friday Night Lights, Once Upon a Time, Parks & Recreation, One Tree Hill, Nikita, Beauty & the Beast, and Prison Break. (FYI, 12 Monkeys, One Tree Hill, and Prison Break are all available on Hulu, so if I were Rob Thomas, I might want to study up.)
Some of the most puzzling aspects of season four come from Kristen Bell herself, who has said, “This is the story we need” and “I want my daughters to live in a world with Veronica Mars.” I’m not sure a story of someone suffering even more misery is something I’d describe as something we need.
Personally, I’d want my daughters to live in a world with Nikita, Buffy, and Emma Swan, not all of whom end up with a fairy tale ending with a relationship, and those that do fought like crazy to get there (if you missed the hint, that’s the interesting drama part one would write, hypothetically speaking).
Even if you decide to write a story where Veronica is single and no longer with Logan, there are so many better ways to do it than by pulling the rug out from fans for shock value. See: Buffy, Alias. If you want to kill a character, at least give their death a purpose, make it worth the pain for the characters and the audience, particularly the character who is no longer alive. Don’t just toss them into the fireplace like old newspaper. That’s just lazy writing. Write better.
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