What a long and strange trip it’s been for Veronica Mars. After first debuting in 2004, the show’s initial three-season run was split between two networks (UPN and The CW) before it was ultimately canceled with a cliffhanger ending in 2007. Cut to seven years later, when a movie continuation was released by Warner Bros (after being largely funded by fans via Kickstarter), followed by a series of novels and a comedy web series that lasted all of two months before ending.
Now the series is back, thanks to a revival on Hulu. A brand new season following the no-longer-a-teen detective Veronica Mars premieres on the streaming service on July 26. Is it worthy of the very vocal fanbase that has kept interest in the series alive for 15 years, though?
No, it’s not. This isn’t the Veronica Mas you know and love. Instead, it’s a toxic nightmare that exists in the husk of the old show that makes me–a fan of the series since the first episode aired on UPN–hope that it’s never brought back again.
The problems with the new Veronica Mars are easy to miss at first, especially since the show looks mostly the same. The major players are there, with Enrico Colantoni and Jason Dohring joining Bell as series regulars, playing her dad Keith and her on-again/off-again boyfriend Logan, respectively. And familiar faces are scattered throughout the episodes, including sporadic appearances by Percy Daggs III (Wallace), Francis Capra (Weevil), Dick (Ryan Hansen), Max Greenfield (Leo), and far too many more to name.
Once you dig past the surface, though, these episodes feel all wrong, and it all starts with the rocky relationship between Veronica and Logan. As always, it’s not the healthiest. The big difference between this take on Veronica and Logan and where we’ve seen them in the past, though, is that it’s not Logan making the relationship incredibly unhealthy; it’s Veronica. In the new season, she’s become fixated on the troubled and sociopathic person Logan was, rather than the adjusted and happy person he’s striving to become through therapy. It makes her the toxic ingredient in a relationship that was always potentially poisonous for both characters.
This is one of the new season’s biggest sins. In the past, rooting for Veronica was never difficult, even when she made questionable choices. In the end, she was always trying to do what was best, or at the very least, wasn’t acting out in an attempt to harm others. This new Veronica exists in a space where she seemingly isn’t happy unless the person she loves most is miserable. In the story of her relationship with Logan, she’s the villain. To be clear, she’s somehow worse than the guy who produced bum fight videos as a teenager.
Trying to evolve Logan into a well-rounded human is a wise call for the series and something that should have been done much earlier, when he became the ongoing love interest for Veronica. Doing so at the expense of the titular character, though, is a mistake that is hard to bounce back from.
The other main relationship in Veronica’s life, the one she shares with father Keith, isn’t as bad as it is completely strange. At first, it’s exciting to see more of the father/daughter banter that drove their scenes in the original series, and the duo of Bell and Colantoni still has great chemistry. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that the dynamic between these two characters hasn’t evolved one iota since Veronica was 16 years old, which is very odd. Teenagers and adults in their 30s have different relationships with their parents, and that’s something that probably should have been reflected in their interactions. Still, it’s hard not to love Colantoni’s Keith. He remains TV’s coolest dad.
There are also a handful of new characters in the mix, including ones played by Patton Oswalt and JK Simmons. Both actors appear in recurring roles, as a pizza delivery person and an associate of “Big Dick” Casablancas (remember him?), respectively. Izabela Vidovic plays a teenager named Maddy that seems to have the same instincts Veronica did as a teenager. The actress, who has appeared in episodes of Supergirl and iZombie, shines in her role as a young girl who loses a loved one and looks for her own brand of justice.
Let’s talk about the story, though. My biggest issues with the new season center on how the characters fans have grown to love are used–or barely used, in the case of Wallace. And while a great plot might be able to salvage that, the mystery on display in this new season is messy and confusing because the writers try to do way too much in only eight episodes.
The main storyline revolves around a series of bombings terrorizing the citizens of Neptune during the coveted Spring Break season the town relies upon–something that has never been mentioned in the franchise before. As is usual with this franchise, there are a number of twists and turns that unfold as Veronica attempts to figures out who’s behind the bombings. While some of those twists may keep you briefly engaged, there are others that are completely unnecessary. If they don’t serve the story, they have no business being there.
There are also several branching subplots. One deals with a Mexican drug cartel, while another with the never-ending class warfare in Neptune. Then there’s the aforementioned Maddy’s quest for vengeance, a subplot in which Veronica makes a new friend, and there’s even some time dedicated to the internal politics of a conspiracy theory club’s meetings. In the end, it’s just too many stories to try to tell in eight episodes, especially when creator Rob Thomas and the show’s creative team is also dedicating large amounts of time to Veronica and Logan’s relationship as well as a side story about Keith’s health.
As with many revivals, there’s also a parade of cameo appearances, some of which are tied to the ongoing plots and others that happen for no rhyme or reason. They’re fun to see in the moment, but they happen too late in the season, so any excitement at seeing those characters is lost amidst trying to stay on top of various concluding plots.
In the end, this is Veronica Mars in name, but feels like a season of the show that isn’t meant to appeal to the fans who have yearned for more. Back in September 2018, Thomas tweeted a message to fans about the revival, which hinted at that. “I will say this: the movie was nostalgic. The Hulu limited series isn’t going to be,” he wrote. “Hardcore So-Cal noir. One big case. Eight episodes to tell the story. This is a detective show.”
He’s right. This is, at its base, an eight-episode story about a detective trying to solve a case. And sometimes the way she goes about it might remind you of Veronica in years past. However, when looked at in that light, it’s a mediocre story on its own, due to the show’s insistence on doing too much in a mere eight episodes. As for his insistence that this isn’t about nostalgia, outside of the innumerable cameo appearances–all of which are for nostalgia’s sake–that’s a fair statement to make. Not because the new season is trying to be something new, though. Instead, it’s because the way the titular character is written often makes her feel like a stranger.
It’s possible that, should Thomas and Bell decide to run one more lap with the property, Veronica Mars could return to some form of its former glory. Figuring out how to rebound from this season, however, might be too big of a mystery for even Veronica to crack.
Veronica Mars Season 4 premieres July 26 on Hulu. The first three seasons are also available on the streaming service.