Normal is the Watchword


So, after I dumped Alias, I was cruisin’ for hot new shows with my main man Joss Whedon. We happened upon a show never seen on our Australian television stations (to my knowledge) — Veronica Mars. And Joss was like, “That show’s hot stuff, best thing on TV.” And I’m like, “You’re on thin ice, buddy. You’ve still got a ways to go until I forgive you for ‘Chosen’” And he’s like, “Oh, come on. You loved Serenity. Besides, I’m appearing in a cameo in the sixth episode of this season. I wouldn’t do that unless the show was good.” And I’m like, “Good point, Josseo.” And he’s like, “Nobody calls me Josseo.”


So, I went and found me a Veronica Mars or two. And do you know what? They’re actually quite good. It was only after episode three that I felt myself committed, but I’ll catch up with a brief and superficial set of comments about the first two stories.1

‘Normal is the Watchword’ was a bit tricky to watch due to the wrapping up of last season’s cliffhangers. I was unsure how much was recap, how much was resolution, and how much was brand-new. Which isn’t actually much of a problem when it comes down to it. I did like how we kept switching about between the flashbacks and the present, and how I was actually supposed to be unsure who Veronica’s boyfriend was. But now, I understand it all, mostly, so I’ll attempt to explain the show for you in only two hundred and twenty words.

There’s a town called Neptune, by the sea with excellent weather.2 There’s lots of rich people there, and lots of poor people, and not many inbetween — that space is filled up by an awful lot of tension and violence between “the young people”. Meanwhile, Veronica Mars is a senior3 at the local high school who moonlights as a private investigator. She’s the main character, so she’s cute, too. Her dad used to be the Sherriff of the town, but before that he was Eliot on Just Shoot Me, and he’s pretty funny here. She has the usual sidekick, who showed a tendency at first to just do the grunt work for Veronica, but in the second episode actually did some work for himself and redeemed himself from what I call ‘Pete Ross’ syndrome.

She’s got boyfriends too, one ex and one current. The ex is getting caught up in the afore-mentioned violence, the current appears to be caught up in being painfully bland. It’s possible his character’s just rather stoic, so I’ll wait before I condemn him completely. Her ex, on the other hand, is much more interesting but apparently a little psychotic. Actually, those two might be related. He’s also rebounding from Veronica to his friend’s dad’s hot trophy wife, as played with trademark sarcasm by Charisma Carpenter.

If these two stories are a reasonable look at what’s normal for the show, then it’s on a good footing. There’s reasonably witty dialogue and a slightly enhanced level of reality that allows them to sell some slightly crazier-than-reality ideas. Each episode has at least one plot/mystery that’s solved by the end, as well as some arc material, involving a tragic bus crash. However the best aspect of the ongoing stuff is that it moves in steps, so that what you find out one week is relevant primarily to what you found out last week. Presumably they’ll be making the whole thing tie in with itself, but this is a good way to keep the casual viewer interested in the ongoing story and not bored.

On the other hand, it might make it easier for things at the end to make no sense when compared to things at the start. We’ll see.

If I’ve got reservations, they’re probably that the show’s tone seems a little too sassy and confident — I can’t really put my finger on why, but I’d like some humility on the side. Everyone’s just a bit too witty in places, and I think we need some less confident people in the mix. And the blurry vision for flashbacks feels a little over-the-top as well. And the way Veronica takes pictures of people after she interviews them is irritating in a “This is my gimmick” kind of way. Not outstanding, these episodes, but promising. I’ll see how things go.45

  1. The second episode is called ‘Driver Ed’, but as this review was so superficial I certainly couldn’t be bothered fiddling with the inner workings of Grapefruit just to make the title “Veronica Mars: Normal is the Watchword / Driver Ed” fit on the front page.
  2. All sunny and such, no hurricanes. I reckon we need some American show to have a hurricane come through. Smallville could do it and then Clark could tidy up afterwards. Would that be tacky?
  3. I think that means year twelve. Not sure. I should know after all these shows set in American high schools, but I don’t.
  4. Since completing this review I’ve watched the next three episodes in an awful rush and so I shan’t be reviewing them. I might pop by later in the season and let you know how Veronica is getting on.
  5. I must mention that one of the greatest thing about Veronica Mars is her iBook. And no, not because it’s an Apple product, but because when you see her use it, it actually looks like a normal computer that normal people use, with email and bluetooth and such. Amazing.
Your dad drives one bus over a cliff and your days of flying under the radar are over. — Jessie Doyle

One Response to “Normal is the Watchword”

  1. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of society here at Grapefruit. Presumably a Network Ten executive has been reading this website, because they’ve just decided to show Veronica Mars during the non-ratings period.

    If they’re still here, may I suggest that they also cancel Big Brother? Just a thought.