Veronica Mars - Season 1 (2004-2005)
I was a bit skeptical about watching this show, primarily because it had been likened to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by many a pundit. I've never liked Buffy (although I think I may have to give it another shot, since I've only seen a few of the early episodes), so the comparison didn't bode well. I decided to give it a shot nonetheless, and I have to admit it's pretty darned good.
'Veronica Mars' is a mystery/teen-drama series about a teenage girl, the titular Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), who attends high school and works as an amateur detective for her father's detective company in her spare time. The show revolves around her school and domestic life and the cases she works on, with the three areas often overlapping. While many episodes feature standalone cases, there's a season spanning mystery surrounding the murder of Veronica's best friend Lilly Kane that is the focus of many episodes and that is touched upon in pretty much every episode. The mystery involves virtually all the main characters in the show, including Veronica's father Keith (Enrico Colantoni), her ex-boyfriend Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn), former friend turned nemesis Logan (Jason Dohring), and biker gang leader and ally 'Weevil' (Francis Capra). A main character unrelated to the case but vital to the story is Veronica's best friend Wallace (Percy Daggs III, the sequel to the acclaimed Percy Daggs II. I jest, I'd love to have a number in my name as well). There are also some additional recurring supporting characters who round things out.
The show maintains a fine juggling act between disparate elements - drama, humour, mystery - and I attribute this to the excellent writing, which integrates and balances these elements together well. The whole thing has an offbeat tone, with sharp dialogue and biting humour, attributes that are exemplified by Veronica Mars's narration. The balance of plot and character is also excellent and the plotting is very strong, with the mysteries being fairly complex and Veronica's investigations being surprisingly logical for a TV series. I can't think of any episodes where I rolled my eyes with incredulity; even the techie aspects are above par.
There are surprises aplenty as the season progresses, and the layered approach to the Lily Kane mysteries is well handled - the balance between standalone and arc episodes is good enough that I never felt the show was losing focus or killing time. There are frequent flashbacks that fill in background details of the plot and characters (which are shot with a somewhat surreal look). A surprisingly welcome aspect of the show is the fact that the story arc is actually resolved within the season, a rarity in the era of multi season never ending stories that may not be going anywhere (*ahem* Lost *ahem*). My only major complaints are the final resolution to the mystery, which felt strangely contrived and unrelated to everything that had happened up to that point (though you could call this a twist), and the incongruity between the Veronica of the flashbacks and the 'current' Veronica, which just feels too extreme.
The characters in the show are complex, interesting, and human, especially Veronica Mars, who is infinitely resourceful but never in a clichéd way. The primary cast is very strong, with Kirsten Bell in particular being exceptional in the lead role - completely convincing as both a bright kid and a tenacious, savvy, and often manipulative detective. Just as good is Jason Dohring as Logan, a character who starts off as despicable but who transforms completely into someone sympathetic by the end of the season. Enrico Colantoni is excellent as the plucky and resourceful Keith Mars, and Percy Daggs III is great as the loyal best friend. The rest of the cast aren't quite as good, but the only one who's really weak is Teddy Dunn, whose portrayal of Duncan Kane is bland and forgettable.
An excellent show overall, one that quite amazingly finds its stride right from the start of the first season. It's smart, funny, and full of character, and I have to wonder whether the second season can continue in the same vein. Needless to say, I look forward to finding out.