What 'Veronica Mars' Meant to Me As a Have-Not Growing Up in San Diego
With all the fanfare over Veronica Mars and her triumphant return at the South by Southwest premiere of the Veronica Mars movie, the non-marshmallow (the Beliebers of the Mars Universe) population may have a hard time stomaching the manner in which a plucky teen detective captured and held onto the hearts of so many people. She's just a pixie blonde with a big camera and a lot of moxie, right? Harriet the Spy with better tools and snarkier one-liners? Nope, not even close.
Veronica Mars was not just a television show with grand conspiracy theories and a mystery a week. It wasn't just a chance for shippers to get their Veronica-and-Logan-Forever chants on. And it certainly wasn't a vapid CW drama despite the fact that its final season landed on the teen-skewing network. It was a somewhat revolutionary teen show and for me, it was the series that finally gave me a television character who felt like home.
As a teen growing up in San Diego County, where the series' fictional town of Neptune is supposed to be nestled, I found a hero in Veronica. The series was not only a weekly brain-teasing jaunt through problem-solving nightmares and twisty mysteries, it was a realistic depiction of life as a have-not in a highly divided high school environment of the very wealthy and the very poor. And Veronica was the level-headed guide who helped us wade through all the muck.
Before Veronica, I didn't see many women or young women on television who truly reflected my station in life, even my favorite teen heroes before her — women like Dawson's Creek's Joey Potter and Gilmore Girls' Rory Gilmore — were similarly poor, but raised in idyllic little bubbles full of breezy folk songs and small town charms. They weren't my people, but Veronica felt like someone I might meet in the laundry room of my dad's tiny apartment complex. She was someone who came from my side of the tracks.
Like Veronica's, my parents were always the poor ones, and while I never found myself dating the richest boy in school or a movie star's son like Veronica, my cousins lived at the top of a perfect, picturesque hill in a sprawling, beautiful home. I had my own constant side-by-side comparison; my family was practically a microcosm of Veronica Mars' 09ers and their money-strapped counterparts. I constantly felt the pressure of our financial situation at school and with my cousins. Our tiny apartment wasn't unlike Keith Mars' seaside abode and I was no stranger to coming home to nefarious activity on my street. Police helicopters frequently patrolled my neighborhood for criminals on the run. Sure, I wasn't exactly running with motorcycle gangs like Veronica does on the show, but all that exposure to misdeeds certainly gave me a similarly thick skin.
But this is all a bit narcissistic. It was comforting to find a female character with whom I could relate on a teen show for once in my life, but what was really striking about the series' depiction of financial disparity in a community such as Neptune was how accurate it truly was to actual Southern California communities. Even the sensational plots like the Lily Kane murder don't seem all that far-fetched when you scan through old newspapers from my hometown — except, perhaps, for the part where a movie star was involved.
There is a subtle tension between the classes in Southern California towns like Neptune, most of which suffer from a severe lack of urban planning, meaning pockets of spacious mansions are often nestled across the street from low-priced apartment complexes and down the street from 99 cents stores. A trip to the bank might create a meeting between the poorest guy in town and the wife of a CEO. The town shopping mall is split into two halves with high-end shops like Coach and Hermes on one end and a run-down JCPenney next to a dirt cheap knock-off boutique on the other. Every inch of the city carries the pressure of a town divided by something as simple as money and no place better reflects that feeling than the petty world of high school. So, for all its silly stylistic flourishes and Paris Hilton cameos (a very real thing, unfortunately), Veronica Mars is the first series I can recall that truly captured that delicate and often infuriating balance in a manner that was not exploitative or cartoonish.
When the CW finally cancelled the excellent series, my college roommate expressed to me her staunch indifference: "So what? It's just a dumb mystery show," she scoffed. Her attitude reflected much of the CW's young audience base, who rejected Veronica Mars' smart, semi-noir take on the realities of a town like Neptune in favor of silly, vapid drama on America's Next Top Model and One Tree Hill. It was a devasting loss for the TV world, and not just because creator Rob Thomas insisted on writing the Season 3 finale as if a renewal was certain. We were left hanging in agony after that final episode, but the real loss when Veronica Mars went off the air was this piece of the world that had yet to see the television-based light of day.
So, while the Veronica Mars movie may simply be a comfort to marshmallows everywhere who are hankering for a satisfying conclusion to Veronica's rocky journey, it's also proof that while not every member of the CW's young audience found value in Veronica Mars the fantastic, smart series did have a significant impact. Its voice — and the voice of the communities represented on the series — were heard by a very passionate group of people after all.
If we couldn't enjoy the six-plus seasons of Veronica Mars that we longed for, knowing that the series' legacy impacted highly-engaged fans who loved it enough to reach into their own pockets to finance Veronica's return is a damn decent consolation prize.
Image: Warner Bros.