Veronica Mars: Take the Long Way Home

No surprise: Veronica Mars: The Movie plays to the strengths of the franchise: Veronica’s chronically conflicted convictions, Keith’s ever-watchful eye, Logan’s inability to avoid controversy, the stability of Wallace, Mac, and Piz, and the loyal support of its fans. Full disclosure: I am one of the 91,585 Kickstarter backers of this movie, I watched it three times in as many days, I am a card-carrying Marshmallow, so spoilers and gushing abound below.

Veronica and Logan take the long way home.
Veronica and Logan take the long way home.

So, when the day comes to settle down,
Who’s to blame if you’re not around?
— Supertramp, “Take the Long Way Home”

Though the movie is fully enjoyable to the non-fan, there are plenty of nods to the nerds: the ever-charming Leo’s mention of Veronica’s supposed stint in the FBI, a reference to the trailer for the un-filmed fourth season of the show in which Veronica joins the FBI after college; the New York street musician playing The Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” as Veronica and Piz leave the NPR studio; a squeaky clean Weevil getting caught up in a seedy subplot; Piz getting in another dig at Matchbox 20’s “solo” Rob Thomas; sleepy-dog Clemmons claims that Neptune High has been boring since Veronica graduated; Corny pitches Veronica his homemade wallets, which of course he’s making a killing from on Etsy; when Veronica takes too long to return with drinks, the insinuation that she may have joined a cult arises; Piz and Veronica’s sextape resurfaces at the reunion, revamping both the salaciousness scandals of her Hearst College days and the relentless backstabbing of her high-school years. Not a single on-screen mention of Lilly Kane. Though she is mentioned in the script, the scene is shortened in the movie. Her absolute absence feels stronger than a brief cameo would have.

Veronica Mars

“I find it almost impossible to imagine Veronica Mars played by anyone other than Kristen Bell,” writes Rob Thomas (2006, p. 6), and he’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees. The studio didn’t want Bell, but Thomas fought to keep her. “Had we lost that argument, there would be no show…” (p. 6). Her craftiness carries the movie as it did three seasons of the show. Movie critic Peter Travers (2014) writes, “Plot has never been the attraction in Veronica Mars… [I]t’s how she thinks that draws us in…” (p. 73).

The mystery in the movie is familiar ground for Veronica Mars: a single night of bad decisions buried by a long, elaborate cover-up that includes obsession, blackmail, and murder. As the golden-voiced Cliff would say, “I like this case, it’s tawdry.” Veronica’s unearthing the truth requires the usual hi-tech tools and toys, ill-gotten gadgets and police files, and the help of both friends and enemies. The prescient premise of Neptune, California, “a town without a middle class,” provides just enough social structure and economic disparity to guarantee what criminologists call an anomic ethics: The have-nots will do whatever is necessary to get theirs with no evident moral dilemma (Rosenfeld & Messner, 1997). This conflict view includes the local sheriff’s department, which having never been the beacon of legality has now found a way to leverage its place in the gaping space between the socioeconomic classes.

With such a gulf between the two classes and constant reminders of that gulf, crime is a political concept in Neptune, by definition in place to keep the privileged protected from the poor (see Bonger, 1969 and Vold, 1958). The sheriff’s department, now run by Don Lamb’s more inept younger brother Dan, mediates the disparity by offering protection and service, “to the highest bidder,” as Keith Mars puts it.

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Speaking of, one of the main aspects of the movie that I appreciate as a fan of the show is the consistency with which the characters are handled. Keith is still Keith, the protective father and righteous citizen we all know and love. Gia was present on the plot’s night in question, but she maintains her presence as mildly annoying but harmless. Though he was there as well, Dick is still Dick: aloof but innocent. Vinnie Van Lowe is mixed-up in the mayhem—of course—but not in a way that implicates him as anything other than sleazy as ever. Lamb is just like his brother—only worse. The bad guy is not a character from the show (expertly played by Martin Starr, who played Roman in Rob Thomas’s short-lived but well-worthy Party Down), so we don’t have to hate anyone we already adore from the original series.

Does it feel that your life’s become a catastrophe?
Oh, it has to be for you to grow, boy.
When you look through the years and see what you could
Have been oh, what might have been,
If you’d had more time.
— Supertramp, “Take the Long Way Home”

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan LineUpon first viewing, I didn’t understand why Rob Thomas insisted that the characters all end up about where they started ten years ago as opposed to having things go in an entirely new direction. As it turns out, a sequel had already been penned, but its story-line requires everything in Neptune be back to “normal.” The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Vintage, 2014), which was released today, picks up where the movie leaves off. Veronica is back in Neptune, plans for a big-shot New York lawyer gig scrapped for a return to the sun and sin of Southern California:

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

“In writing an ongoing fictional creature I’m tugged in a couple different directions,” writes Rob Thomas (2006). “There’s the part of me that thinks Veronica should… get past her pettiness. She should learn how to forgive. The other part of me wants to keep her complicated. Difficult. Testy” (p. 148). Some writers and directors have a theme they tend to stick with throughout their work. Darren Aronofsky tells stories of obsession David Cronenberg’s films revolve around the body or the grotesque. Aaron Sorkin writes shows about the inner-workings behind the scenes. If I had to pick a theme for Rob Thomas, it would be getting pulled back in. His characters—Logan, Weevil, and especially Veronica—are always trying to escape their nature or their social milieus. Fortunately for us, they just can’t seem to stay away from trouble.

References:

Bonger, William. (1969). Criminality and Economic Conditions. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Davies, Rich & Hodgson, Roger. (1979). Take the Long Way Home [Recorded by Supertramp]. Breakfast in America [LP]. Santa Monica, CA: A&M Records.

Rosenfeld R. & Messner, S. F. (1997). Markets, Morality, and an Institutional-Anomie Theory of Crime. In N. Passas & R. Agnew (Eds.), The Future of Anomie Theory (pp. 207-224). Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Thomas, Rob (Ed.). (2006). Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars. Benbella Books.

Thomas, Rob & Graham, Jennifer. (2014). Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. New York: Vintage.

Travers, Peter. (2014, March 27). Kick-Start or Die! Rolling Stone, 1205, 73-74.

Vold, George B. (1958). Theoretical Criminology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Twin Peaks: The Forest of Symbols

Setting the screen for shows such as Picket Fences (1992-1996), The X-Files (1994-2003), Six Feet Under (2001-2005), Veronica Mars (2004-2007), Pushing Daisies (2007-2009), The Killing (2011-2013), and games like Alan Wake (2010), Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990-1991) was easily the oddest hit show in television history. Set among the trees and mountains of my beloved Pacific Northwest, the show hosted themes of dangerous dreams, reckless teens, and the paranormal, parallel, and perpendicular. With recently debunked rumors of its return and a Blu-Ray release imminent, it’s time to go back into the woods.

The Black Lodge

How in the hell this show was ever a hit is one of its many mysteries. Twin Peaks invaded the living rooms of America just as the Zeitgeist was shaking off the awkward, neon discomfort of the 1980s. The world was “wild at heart and weird on top,” in the words of Barry Gifford, and even if everyone knew it, no one was saying it. We let Frost and Lynch make our unease explicit. Collective pre-millennium tension notwithstanding, our anxiety never really relented.

Incest and child molestation are as American as apple pie. Or should I rather say cherry pie, the dessert choice of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks? Leland Palmer is the all-American Dad if there ever was one, so it’s more than appropriate that he is the one to be possessed by the evil spirit BOB, and to rape and murder his daughter Laura. This deed is necessarily something of a ritual, the founding gesture of the American nuclear family. — Steven Shaviro, Doom Patrols

twin-peaks-guideRitual abounds in Twin Peaks. Its liminality, the “between and betwixt” of Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner, is evident in Laura Palmer’s double life, “none-more-purposeful” (Neofetou, 2013, p. 77) Special Agent Dale Cooper’s limbo while investigating her death, the transubstantiation of BOB, and his toggling of Leland Palmer’s consciousness. The ephemeral existence of the Black Lodge is itself a flickering signifier of ritual. The coffee and doughnuts, the family dinner, even the recording and sending of messages are imbued with the gestures of ceremony.

The time of Twin Peaks wasn’t run by social media and cellphones. Secrets traveled via letters and landlines, diaries and cassette tapes. The latter of these played very important roles in the show and helped define the drama surrounding the two main characters. Laura Palmer’s secret diary and Special Agent Dale Cooper’s microcassettes respectively recorded the weaving mysteries of Laura’s short life and their postmortem unraveling. Both have been published as companions to the show. In addition, Frost and Lynch collaborated with Richard Saul Wurman to put together an Access Guide to the town of Twin Peaks. More than mere merchandising, these books prefigured the internet-enabled transmedia narrative of many 21st-century television shows.

Twin Peaks: Fan Phenomena

The newly published Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks, edited by Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulègue (Intellect Books, 2013), expands the between and betwixt of Twin Peaks-inspired writings by fans and crtics alike. It’s the first such collection aimed at fans rather than academics. For instance, In his Fan Phenomena essay, Andrew Howe catalogs the cultural artifacts of the series: posters, coffee cups, dolls, sculptures, and so on, while David Griffith confronts the show’s misogynist aspects with waves of feminism, what Diana Hume George (1995) facetiously calls a “double-breasted approach”(p. 109). Fran Pheasant-Kelly explores the physical spaces of Twin Peaks, and there are three Fan Appreciation interludes in between the essays. It’s a must for any fan of the franchise. Fan Phenomena collections are also available for Star Wars, The Big Lebowski, Doctor Who, The Hunger Games, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn, among others.

Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks is yet another testament to the lingering legacy of Frost and Lynch’s vision of fucked-up family life as well as the power of good television.

References:

Frost, Scott. (1991). The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes. New York: Pocket Books.

George, Diana Hume. (1995). Lynching Women: A Feminist Reading of Twin Peaks. In, David Lavery (Ed.), Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, pp 109-119.

Lynch, David, Frost, Mark, & Wurman, Richard Saul. (1991). Welcome to Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town. New York: Pocket Books/Twin Peaks Prod./Access Press.

Lynch, Jennifer. (1990). The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. New York: Pocket Books.

Neofetou, Daniel. (2012). Good Day Today: David Lynch Destabilises the Spectator. Winchester, UK: Zero Books.

Shaviro, Steven. (1997). Doom Patrols: A Theoretical Fiction about Postmodernism. New York: Serpent’s Tail, p. 147.

Turner, Victor. (1967). The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Turner, Victor. (1969). The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

von Gennep, Arnold. (1961). The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nubile Noir: Veronica Mars

One writer described Veronica Mars during her pre-fandom days as “outrageous,” writing that the writing was “clunky,” the one-liners too “crisp,” and the teens too “clever and in charge.” The show was saved in her book when someone called it “camp.” That made it all click for her. I only take issue with that designation because I have a narrower definition of camp (I immediately think John Waters), but by her estimate, if Veronica Mars is camp then so are the Scream movies. The thing she’s referring to is the over-the-top, in-your-face stance of the show. It’s not as if Andrew WK wrote the dialog, but you know everything is not this well-scripted IRL, and dramatic events don’t self-organize into perfect act breaks. Well, that’s probably because… It’s a fucking TV show!

With that said, it’s one of the best TV shows I’ve ever indulged in. Kristen Bell’s depiction of Veronica Mars is more than enough to carry this show, but the inimitable Enrico Colantoni (Just Shoot Me and Flashpoint; as her dad Keith Mars), Percy Daggs III (as Veronica’s sidekick Wallace), Jason Dohring (as complex pretty boy Logan Echolls), and Francis Capra (as bad boy Weevil) as well as minor characters like Tina Majorino (Napoleon Dynamite; as the aptly named computer wiz Mac) all do major heavy lifting.

Annoy, little blond one! Annoy like the wind! — Logan Echolls

Rob Thomas (not to be confused with that lame Matchbox 20 dude) put this show together during a five-year dry spell in what had been a flood of good fortune in Hollywood. According to Neptune Noir (Benbella, 2007), the critical essay collection he edited, it saved his career and his soul.

The series so far (I wanted to wait until I watched the whole thing to write this, but I’m only on the second season, and I’m convinced. I also wanted to wait until I finished the book, but the book keeps spoiling the series!) mixes elements of Heathers (snarky, dark humor), Twin Peaks (the haunting of the show by Lily Kane, just as Laura Palmer did in Twin Peaks), 21 Jump Street (whip-smart whippersnapper detectives), American Beauty (stereotypes on the surface, crazies underneath), and several other teen dramas and comedies. The writing is razor sharp, the plot twists are white-knuckled, and the characters are as multidimensional as they are memorable. It’s everything I want from a TV show or a movie.

And speaking of, the way we watch hath changed. If it weren’t for the streaming of TV online, I wouldn’t know the first thing about this show. This is important for a show like Veronica Mars, which is available on Netflix Instant, or other cult favorites like Twin Peaks: The ratings don’t matter online. A show that critics loved but mass audiences barely got can thrive in the minds of millions through internet-enabled rediscovery. In the case of Veronica Mars, this is good.

So, while I’ve never owned a television, I do love the medium done brave and done well. And Veronica Mars is a prime example of that. I am hereby recommending it to you.

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Here’s a fan-made trailer for season one [run time 2:16]:

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