Veronica Mars - Season 4
“Veronica Mars makes a one-to-one correlation between Mexicans and criminality.”
Title: Veronica Mars
Episodes Reviewed: Revival Season 4
Creator: Rob Thomas 👨🏼🇺🇸
Directors: Scott Winant 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Michael Lehmann 👨🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), Michael Fields 👨🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), Joaquin Sedillo 👨🏽🇺🇸 (1 ep), Rachel Goldberg 👩🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), Tessa Blake 👩🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), and Amanda Marsalis 👩🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep)
Writers: Rob Thomas 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Diane Ruggiero 👩🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Heather V. Regnier 👩🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), David Walpert 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 👨🏾🇺🇸 (1 ep), and Raymond Obstfeld 👨🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
When the thermometer hits 100 degrees outside and all you want to do is hug your air conditioner for dear life, Hulu’s revival of Veronica Mars makes for the perfect excuse to hole up and watch TV all day. Equal parts silly, nostalgic, and substantial, the show reveals its roots on The CW through a balance of camp and darkness—qualities that persist today through works like iZombie or Riverdale on the classic teen network.
It’s been 12 years since Veronica Mars left The CW, but the cheeky P.I. drama (and its showrunner, Rob Thomas) returns with formula intact. Our intrepid hero, played by Kristen Bell, still investigates whodunnit capers while grappling with matters of romance and heartbreak. Surface candy like the sun-drenched backdrop of fictional Neptune, CA, or the hammy banter between Veronica and her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni), distract from the fact that crucial elements like cohesive plot-building or believable dialogue all lack conviction. Actors are given overly droll lines that sound like a series of punchlines, rather than an actual conversation. And some returning cast members have outgrown their roles more than others. Veronica’s beau, Logan (Jason Dohring), feels especially ill-suited as a jacked up military officer, whose triangle-shaped torso confusingly clashes with Dohring’s goofy, guileless smile. On the flipside, Veronica’s friend Wallace, played by the magnetic Percy Daggs III, has surprisingly little to do all season, beyond the occasional cameo.
Without a stronger foundation of more sophisticated writing and an intentional cast, the revival season of Veronica Mars floats by on frippery alone. But for a summer fling, that’s enough.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YEP
Similar to its earlier seasons, the revival of Veronica Mars does nothing to reinvent the “badass” female protagonist. Whether it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Scandal’s Olivia Pope, Veronica exudes the same sarcastic, wit, sky high mental acuity, and general air of infallibility, underpinned only by an Achilles heel of emotional baggage. But at the end of the day, they’re essentially superheroes.
Don’t get me wrong, I love an iconic superhero that happens to be a woman. But this can sometimes feel like a simplistic take on feminism. For example, when Veronica gets jumped during a late-night jog along the beach, she handily tases her mugger then steals his stash without skipping a beat. Is this fun to watch? You bet your ass it is. But creator Thomas and his stable of writers and directors—who skew male—take on the patriarchy with only the bluntest of weapons. Would-be rapist? Explode his head! Greedy, capitalist fat cat? Throw his ass in jail! Meanwhile, the more complicated yet essential task of exploring misogyny within entrenched systems, and all the gray areas that entails, are blithely ignored.
Female relationships feel rare and far in between, as Veronica’s main emotional threads concern her romance with Logan and the health of her father, who suffers from memory loss. Luckily, the ones that do exist feel thoughtful. I love the nascent mentorship between Veronica and the recently bereaved Matty (Izabela Vidovic), who loses her father in the show’s first bombing plot. The passing of the torch feels right, showing that Veronica won’t be the only clever female P.I. to exist in Neptune, CA. In addition, Veronica befriends bar owner Nicole (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) as she balances the tender beginnings of a true connection with the hard-nosed suspicion required of a P.I. who must put friends in her investigative crosshairs, if necessary.
Overall, Thomas has created a wonderful and compelling icon in Veronica Mars. Memorable, likable, and comfortingly flawed, Veronica represents exactly the sort of protagonist all TV shows could stand to add to their rosters.
Supporting characters of color like the aforementioned bar owner Nicole, who is British and Black, occupy integral roles and generally avoid stereotypes. However, Veronica Mars remains firmly in the grasp of white protagonists: our titular hero, her two love interests Logan and Leo (Max Greenfield), her father, and her new protogée Matty. Further padding the white cast includes the self-professed Murderheads, a hokey gathering of mostly white nerds and misfits who investigate alongside the Mars duo. And the show’s many beachfront crowd shots or club scenes are made up of predominantly white partiers.
Hispanic characters—specifically, Mexicans—do make a robust showing as the second largest ethnic group in Veronica Mars. This falls in line with real world demographics; Thomas has mentioned that Neptune, CA was based off of Orange County, where over a third of the residents are Hispanic. Unfortunately, this same group becomes the show’s most overt failing in matters of inclusion. Literally every single Mexican character holds some tie to either the local PCH gang or drug cartels across the border. Even those with a heart of gold, like the returning character of Weevil (Francis Capra), or his pragmatic, civilian sister Claudia (Onahoua Rodriguez), cannot escape the one-to-one correlation Veronica Mars makes between Mexicans and criminality. Sigh.
On the flipside, it feels good to see a Middle Eastern family, the Maloofs, occupy a non-stereotypical role as a political family. German-Egyptian actor Mido Hamada plays Daniel Maloof, a U.S. senator who deals with a blackmailer intent on keeping him in politics. Daniel’s wife Amalia, played by Jacqueline Antaramian who was born in Soviet Armenia, skirts closer to villainy as a manipulative and ambitious, rich housewife, but she never comes across as a caricature. Their son Alex (Paul Karmiryan) exemplifies the cultural differences between an immigrant mother and U.S.-born son, whose decision to marry a white girlfriend causes strife. Overall, the Maloofs feel tangential to the key plot but their inclusion—as well as the linguistic inclusions of spoken Arabic and Spanish dotted throughout the season—feel naturally woven in, and accurate to the code-switching that bilingual Americans employ on an everyday basis.
Queer characters are entirely absent from Season 4 of Veronica Mars. The short run, with just eight episodes to draw from, helps keep this score from rock bottom. But if the Hulu revival picks up a fifth season, the continuation of an entirely straight and cis worldview will get increasingly difficult to make excuses for.
Mediaversity Grade: C 3.31/5
For a quick shot of entertainment to keep you going through the television dry spell of summer, Hulu’s Veronica Mars is where it’s at. Ending on a much talked-about finale twist, I couldn’t be gladder for this reset button. Nostalgia has its uses, but too much of it bogged down this season and I’d love to see what Thomas can come up with, given an official renewal and a clean slate from which to pick up Veronica’s journey.