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If I have to wait this long for my fix of Veronica Mars each week, I might get cranky.

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It would not be an exaggeration to say that I'd been dreading the season premiere of Veronica Mars as much as I'd been looking forward to it.

Spoilers below, obviously.

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I just finished watching the first season of Veronica Mars. Everyone had said, 'oh, it gets much better in the second half of the season'; I'd been enjoying the first half so much that I'd basically ignored them, but they were right. Somewhere around what I guess must have been February sweeps there's a tipping point, and you just have to keep watching. I went through the last, what, eight? Nine? episodes in three days. Five of them today. I haven't had that sort of visceral reaction to a TV show for a while.

And yeah, you get worried, because you think there's no way they can do the setup justice. Answers are always less interesting than questions. And saying 'but this case is an exception!' is always risky, because it raises expectations still further. I know that. And the true test of something like this season of Veronica Mars is whether it stands up to rewatching. But since I'm looking forward to finding out if it passes that test--and I'm pretty sure it will--I don't feel too bad about saying:

I think the first season of Veronica Mars is the best piece of sustained storytelling I've ever seen on television.

It's not my favourite TV show. Not quite. But the plotting, the pacing, the characters, the complexity--they all make for a hugely dense, rich, vibrant, emotionally satisfying, balanced text, one that shuffles an amazing number of plots and characters and ideas on a weekly basis, managing to work in strong single-episode stories while advancing the ongoing plot in a way that no other show I've ever seen has done. It answers the questions it raises, and it does so without feeling either falsely drawn out in the middle or inelegantly rushed towards the end.

I'm not saying it's perfect: there are always niggles. That's part of the fun, after all. But it's really, really hard to believe that season two can match the level they've set here. It's hard to imagine they can come up with a story with as much personal involvement for Veronica, with parts for all the existing characters, without seeming contrived. Plus, the show is no longer new, and nothing is ever as special second time around. But hey, that doesn't matter: this season stands alone. I'll be buying the DVDs as soon as they're available, and I'll be tuning in in September hoping for the best.

In the meantime, two things:

1. Link me! I need reviews, commentary, discussion, and (aside from a few peoples' memories) I don't know where to look.
2. I'll be at the ton on Thursday. Anyone want copies of the pilot? :-)
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So this is me, publicly jumping on the Veronica Mars bandwagon. And if you find mindlessly fannish blather tiresome you should look away now, because this post is going to be full of it. I'm not nearly past the crush stage yet, and until I am I'm going to be short on analytical thinking.

The setup: welcome to Neptune High, school for the kids of the rich and famous. And everyone else, of course, but in this town they don't matter. Meet Veronica Mars, daughter of Keith Mars, local private eye and ex-town sheriff. The aforementioned rich and famous ran him out of office when he accused a local computer software billionaire of murdering his own daughter. Said daughter was also Veronica's best friend; the brother of the daughter was Veronica's boyfriend.

So Veronica had to make a choice, and she chose family, and that cost her dear. Now she's an outcast, more likely to be found helping her Dad out on a case than hanging with her former peers; and you should hear the things they say about her, behind her back. It really doesn't help that her Mum left town, either, for parts and reasons unknown. And though a murderer has been found, arrested and convicted, there's something about Laura Palmer Lilly Kane's death that doesn't quite add up ...

So far, so Buffy-meets-Beverly Hills? Wrong. Or right, but in the best possible way. Here are a half-dozen things I love about this show:

The town. The place feels real, and it's got fathoms under the surface; it's not named after the god of the sea for nothing. Veronica Mars gets to have its cake and eat it, because they can show us lifestyles of the glamorous and lucky, but in this show the fact that some people don't matter matters. There's a real dissection of race and class going on, and it can be uncompromising.

The metaphor. You remember the one-line pitch for Buffy, right? 'High school is hell'. Boom, you've got it, as David Hines once said. You can see the stories. What I only just realised is that Veronica Mars does the same thing--using a genre as a metaphor--but with crime instead of fantasy. The one-line pitch might be 'growing up is solving the mystery of who you are'. There are several ways in which Veronica literally does not know who she is; things in her past she doesn't have answers for. And where in a regular teen show they'd be played straight, here they're tied into cases she has to solve. And you can broaden it, too, if you like, because nobody in Neptune is quite what they seem; 'growing up is figuring people out', maybe. Personal development through sleuthing, is what it is; and I like it. A lot.

The style. There might be--ok, there are--all sorts of dubious things going on under the surface, but to look at it you'd never know. I've seen the description 'high school noir' bandied around, and it seems to be apt; there are the voiceovers, the sleuthing, the desperate ambiguity and moral murkiness. But for the most part the episodes are all bright colours and SoCal sunshine and sparkling wit, and that really works for the show, because when the bad things happen they hit your gut that much harder.

The plotting. Stuff happens. It's only when you see a show like Veronica Mars that you realise quite how much most American network TV messes around with nothing-stories, waiting for sweeps period. Of course there's an element of that, but from episode one there's always something that matters. Events build on each other, new things are revealed, people develop. And here's another impressive thing: they're all good. I've watched eight episodes now, and none of them have sucked. I haven't seen a first season this consistent since season one West Wing.

The relationships. Whether it's Veronica and her father having a functional relationship (and god that's refreshing after--much as I love those shows--umpteen years of the MEverse), or the friendship between Veronica and the new kid, Wallace, or the evolving animosity/respect/whatever the hell between Logan Echolls and Weevil, these are interesting dynamics, written with freshness and (overused word coming up, but it's true) honesty.

And lastly, of course, Veronica Mars. Oh, how I love Veronica Mars. She can be rash, and impulsive, and judgemental, and she walks eyes-open into some deeply grey areas, but she's sharp, and capable, and perceptive, and determined, and loyal, and I could go on all night about what a brilliant lead she is, but I should stop.

Beg, buy, borrow or steal this series. That's all there is to it.

(One thing I have been wondering: how exactly does Bechdel's Rule work for TV shows? Because Veronica certainly has conversations with other women about subjects other than men on a weekly basis, but I think I'm right in thinking that none of them are members of the regular cast. So does that count, or not?)

(And did I mention that when they show computer screens, they are recognisably computer screens? As in, running identifiable bits of OSX software? It's the little things that make me happy.)

(And the theme tune's ace, too.)

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