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Ace of Case

No. 1 fan Joss Whedon on ''Veronica Mars.'' The ''Buffy'' creator shares his thoughts on the teen-sleuth show

Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, ... | SUPER SLEUTHS Father-daughter detective duo Bell and Colantoni
Image credit: Veronica Mars: Ron Jaff
SUPER SLEUTHS Father-daughter detective duo Bell and Colantoni

No. 1 fan Joss Whedon on ''Veronica Mars''

Last year, Veronica Mars' best friend was murdered. Some months later, she was drugged at a party and raped in her sleep. Welcome to the funniest and most romantic show on TV, collected on DVD in Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season.

On the surface, VM is a simple Nancy Drew update: High School Girl Solves Mysteries. It's impressive how well it works as just that, because week to week, nothing is harder to pull off than a genuine whodunit, and no show does it better than VM.

But obviously, it's what lies deeper that not only makes the show remarkable but defines it. Mysteries are its central metaphor; Veronica solves little puzzles because she, like all of us, cannot unravel the bigger ones. Her life now turned upside down (additionally, her sheriff father's been fired, her mother's run out, and her True Love has inexplicably deserted her), she's developed a knack for seeing through people and their inevitable fictions. She also has cameras, audio taps, and databases, courtesy of the reduced-to-private-detective dad she works for. She's a super-sleuth, but the show never forgets that her power is born of pain, and that the kids who don't need to see — or avenge — every secret wrong are actually happier and more well-adjusted. Yet our identification is always strictly with Veronica, the girl buffeted by the base duplicity of her peers and the unfathomable vagaries of her own heart.

The teen-soap element of the show is just as compelling as the season-long murder mystery. Nobody is who you think they are. Everyone shifts, betrays, reveals — through their surprising humor as well as their flaws. The show is filled with deft, glorious wit. Creator Rob Thomas and his scribblers give VM more laughs than many sitcoms, and they never grate against the emotional brutality. (So where's a commentary, Rob? The extras are frustratingly thin.) Almost everyone in the ensemble shines, particularly Jason Dohring as Veronica's hypnotically incorrigible nemesis, Logan, and the always impressive (Galaxy Quest, anyone?) Colantoni as Keith Mars, the world's greatest dad. (Seriously. Greatest. There should be a mug.)

At the center of it all is Veronica herself. Bell is most remarkable not for what she brings (warmth, intelligence, and big funny) but for what she leaves out. For all the pathos of her arc, she never begs for our affection. There is a distance to her, a hole in the center of Veronica's persona. Bell constantly conveys it without even seeming to be aware of it. It's a star turn with zero pyrotechnics, and apart from the occasionally awkward voice-over, it's a teeny bit flawless.

Season 1 works as mystery, comedy, and romantic drama, often simultaneously. But what elevates it is that in a TV-scape creepily obsessed with crime-solving, VM actually asks why. It knows we need our dose of solution as a panacea against the uncontrollable chaos of life's real mysteries. And it shows, feelingly, that having the answers is never enough.

Originally posted Oct 07, 2005 Published in issue #844-845 Oct 14, 2005 Order article reprints