Welcome to the Veronica Mars television club! As I’ve written here before, I grew up as a devoted reader of Rob Thomas’s young adult novels, particularly the exemplary Rats Saw God and Slave Day, but not as a television watcher. By the time I had television and a cable subscription for the first time, Veronica Mars was off the air, and when I began remedying the gaps in my television education, I prioritized shows that were still running, like Mad Men, or whose creators were currently working on projects that I’d need to review, like The Wire and Deadwood. But now that the Kickstarter to fund a Veronica Mars movie has been so successful, and has opened up such interesting questions about funding models for cult hits and the role of fans as investors, I’m pleased to have a chance to catch up. As I mentioned when I announced this project, we’ll be doing two episodes on Mondays and Fridays. So let’s start with the pilot and the second episode of the first season. Be cool, Soda-Pop…
“This is my school,” Veronica explains at the beginning of the pilot. “If you go here, either your parents are millionaires, or your parents work for millionaires. Neptune, California. A town without a middle class.” It’s a phenomenal thesis statement for a show, even without the murder mystery and private eye schtick that follows, given the class homogeneity of most shows about teenagers, whether it’s the overwhelming wealth of the kids on Gossip Girl, the kooky security of the families on Suburgatory, or even the cookie-cutter comfort of The Neighbors. And there are other intriguing details that Veronica offers up. “The day the company went public, Jake Kane made a billion dollars,” she explains of her ex-boyfriend’s family. “Everyone who worked for him, down to the secretaries, became millionaires.” The sudden transformation of working people into the extremely wealthy is a major change for a community to go through, particularly one with such sharp inequality.
But through the first few episodes, that’s a bit more thesis than a paper that’s ready to turn in. Veronica’s dad may joke that they can eat steak like “the lower-middle class to which we aspire,” but Neptune is a town where even poor teenagers have cars or motorcycles. Veronica tells us that her mother left after her father lost his recall election because “The loss of status, the loss of income, was too much for her,” though the show doesn’t really have time to show us what their lives were like before and after the election, and it’s hard to imagine that the sheriff’s job actually lifted the family up into the upper-class, given that we’re told that a respectable middle class doesn’t exist. Rich kids may use a code* to set up their parties to avoid infiltration by people outsider their clique, but they end up drinking on a beach in Eli’s neighborhood rather than doing something that would be genuinely inaccessible to the teenagers they want to exclude. Rich people in Neptune may have captured the sheriff’s department, but through the first two episodes, given the ease with which Veronica and Wallace subvert the sheriff’s department, the show’s set up a fairly equal contest. It’s not clear what inequality actually means for life in Neptune yet.