Investigating Veronica: More on Mars

Nostalgia, that longing for a place and time that no longer exists, was once considered a sickness, a curable homesickness akin to the common cold. Now it’s a market-tested tool of sales and merchandising. It’s just so much easier to sell something with a built-in audience than it is to build an audience around something new. While I’m no fan of a remake or a reboot, we all have our weaknesses. That’s why the ploy works.

Rewatching the first two seasons of Twin Peaks (1990-1991), it’s easy to see the pieces of that strange world that informed the ontology of Veronica Mars (2004-2007). The kids are in control of the investigation as much as the adults. The technology is different, but its use is integral to the plot. In the 15 years between the two shows, that might be the main thing that’s changed. The human drama and intrigue certainly remains intact. They’ve both come back in their various ways: Twin Peaks with a third season on Showtime in 2017 and Veronica Mars with a fan-funded movie in 2014. With a new season of the latter coming to Hulu this summer, it’s time to return to Neptune.

At first glance, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) might seem an unlikely hard-boiled private investigator. Simmering between the extremes of an endless summer, she might seem soft-boiled at best. As much as she claims to be a marshmallow, Veronica has seen more than most her age: Her best friend was murdered, her alcoholic mom is gone, her dad has been relegated to private investigator after the corrupt local power structure removed him as sheriff, and he might not even be her real dad! Neptune, California, a town without a middle class, prefigured the rest of the country when it was introduced in 2004. Now, unfortunately, perhaps more of us can relate to its problems of parity. Veronica Mars and Philosophy: Investigating the Mysteries of Life (Which is a Bitch Until You Die) (Blackwell, 2014), edited by George A. Dunn, which was already being compiled when the movie was announced and came out before its release, ponders Veronica’s too-young pessimism.

A few of the Big Issues discussed in the book include Neptune’s socioeconomic inequality and status anxiety, anomie, memory, victim-blaming, race, and gender, as well as Veronica’s conflicts with identity, feminism, friendship, truth, trust, and reason. Her sense of self within these conflicted conditions fills the story with many of philosophy’s core concerns. It’s deep.

Though it takes up many of the philosophical interrogations mentioned above, Investigating Veronica Mars: Essays on the Teen Detective Series (McFarland, 2011), edited by Rhonda V. Wilcox and Sue Turnbull, takes a more academic angle. It’s not all philosophy and theory though. Both of these books also talk about the show itself: its origins, its style, its ratings, its writers and their writing, its fans and their support. There’s something about the mix of detective noir and high-school drama that makes this show connect with people on so many levels. Re-watch and read up and you’ll be ready for Season Four by July.