Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON TWO, EPISODE ONE 'Normal Is The Watchword' (2005)...Plus some words on how we got here...

The biggest surprise about Veronica's lovelife is that it doesn't
include Duncan or Logan...no, wait....
"This is Neptune. Nothing happens accidentally."
To the surprise of everybody--including series creator Rob Thomas--Veronica Mars was renewed. At the time, it was the lowest-rated drama series to ever be picked up for a second season, and the only new show on UPN's 2004 schedule to be on its 2005 schedule. Part of the reasoning was because the show had garnered some celebrity fans. In an article in Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King of all people praised the show as being 'Nancy Drew meets Philip Marlowe.' Kevin Smith posted on his blog called it the best show on television, and Joss Whedon actually expressed envy over how well-crafted the season finale was. This resulted in both Smith and Whedon taking small parts in Season Two.

But I have to think somebody at Viacom, which owned both UPN and CBS, took a shine to the show. During the summer, key episodes of the first season were presented on CBS during prime-time on Friday. And a new advertising push spurred on by these celebrity endorsements preceded the show's return in late September of 2005. It's obvious that there was a desire for this show to succeed.

Which leads us to....

1) Well, it's the second year and even though Thomas and company decide to try to fool us into thinking we're back in the 'done-in-one-mini-mysteries' structure at first, it doesn't mean that things haven't been shifted around. And it's clever how Thomas is able to hold off some of the major revelations--especially the ones about the way the Veronica-Duncan-Logan-Meg rectangle has shifted--until late in the episode.

2) Now knowing he has another full season, Thomas chooses to make a few changes--primarily ratcheting up the '09er/PCHer tension through one of the loose ends in last season's finale. It allows for him to comment on then-current concerns, like the introduction of metal detectors in inner-city schools, without venturing out of Neptune proper.

3) We also get a couple of new additions to the cast. Along with Ryan Hansen and Kyle Gallner's Casablancas brothers being fully promoted to regulars (and we'll see the genius of that as we go along) and the addition of Charisma Carpenter, fresh from Angel, as Kendall Casablancas, Dick and Cassidy' stepmom, we get Steve Guttenberg's Woody Goodman. Of course, the brillance of introducing Guttenberg up front as a recurring character is that we're automatically assuming he's this season's Aaron Ecchols, a bad guy who will somehow be involved in the overarc. As we'll learn....yes and no.

There are ways to introduce Whedonverse actresses to
bolster ratings, and there are ways....
4) On the other hand...the presence of Goodman also introduces a puzzling new aspect to Neptune--namely that it's a large enough market for it to support an MLB team, The Sharks. This is really peculiar given how close Neptune has been established as being to San Diego, and how Keith Mars was depicted as a Padres fan (there was even a subplot in one episode last season that had Veronica saving up to send her dad to Padres Fantasy Camp). This element really adds nothing to the season's overarc, and it simply muddies the continuity between the two.

5) Okay, I lied...the Sharks angle does give Thomas an excuse to introduce the Cooks, Jeffrey D. Sam's Terrance and his daughter, Tessa Thompson's Jackie. I suspect that Jackie was introduced to give Wallace a concrete love interest this season, but as we'll learn. this character is so badly written that we'll wish the Cooks weren't bolted onto this season's overarc so awkwardly. but then....

6) As we'll see, the series doesn't quite know what to do with Wallace this season. While he's a major portion of this episode, once more acting as Watson to Veronica's Holmes, his role gets reduced quite rapidly to the point where he literally drops out of sight for the middle portion of the season. It's a criminal underuse of Percy Daggs.

7) I have to admit...when we get the story about how Veronica and Duncan got back together, I love that we never find out what was written inside the birthday fortune cookie. Thomas is confident enough in the audience that has followed this show to this moment to know they will come up with the right answer to that question.

8) I appreciate that Thomas doesn't let Veronica and Weevil stay buddy-buddy like they were in Season One...but that the relationship and the respect hasn't degraded to the point where they're not there for each other. Yes, the words in their scene get heated (and sets up one of the sub-plot threads for this season), but in the end it is Weevil who offers Veronica a ride--not because he has to, but because he recognizes that she is one person he can count on.

Believe it or not, what precedes this shot is the biggest
suprise of this episode....
9) Of course, mention should be made of the sudden, blink-and-you-miss-it uncredited cameo by Amanda Seyfried as Lily, running out of the corner of Veronica's eye to lead her to Weevil. It's an indicator that the magic realism aspect of the series is not quite going away just yet...

10) And here's where Thomas pulls the rug out from under us...after all the indication that this season's mystery was going to involve the murder of a PCHer apparently at Logan's hand, we get the actual start of this season's overarc--the crash of the school bus and the death of all within. And it becomes apparent from the one quick, horrific shot of the path the bus took to its watery grave that what Thomas has in mind is a lot more grandiose than what he's been letting us in on.

Overall...if we ignore how some of these plot threads sour, this is an excellent start to the second season, climaxing in that one moment of magnificent misdirection that makes it clear that things are going to get darker...maybe even darker than they were last season.

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