When your favorite TV show returns 12 years after its series finale and five years after its fan-fueled movie, you worry.
Will our plucky heroine still be the beloved character we met all those years ago? Will her reformed, former bad-boy boyfriend still deliver the sardonic one-liners with aplomb? Can the show possibly live up to the anticipated hype?
Well my little marshmallows I’m delighted to inform you that the answer to all three questions is “yes.” The fourth season of Veronica Mars, which premieres July 26 on Hulu, is fantastic. Obviously, I’m a little biased. I gave to the Kickstarter campaign. I own a #TeamLogan t-shirt.
But, in this age of revival-palooza, much has been lost. In the quest for a quick money grab, revivals often leave their characters in a state of perpetual arrested development. I don’t think my heart could have taken another Gilmore Girls fiasco which found Rory Gilmore—more selfish and privileged than ever—acting like she was still in high school, not in her 30s. Or say, Will & Grace, which reset its character to basically where they were in the pilot.
Veronica Mars’ creator and executive producer Rob Thomas has clearly thought about where these characters would be as adults; more than most revivals, the years since we’ve last seen Veronica and her friends feel palpable. So my “yes the show is still awesome” comes with an asterisk. Gone is the happy-go-lucky breeziness of the Kickstarter video. Gone is the assurance the movie provided that almost everyone is living their best life. The result, which is an exceedingly honest look at adulthood, might not be the Veronica Mars we thought we wanted, but it is the Veronica Mars that we need. This is, after all, a show that began with the murder of a teenage girl. It has never been happy, happy, joy, joy—and the pall cast over this season is inescapable.
Picking up about five years after the movie, Veronica (Kristen Bell) is back living in Neptune running the private investigation business with her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni) and living with her boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring)—when he’s not off on some super-secret mission as a Navy intelligence officer. She hangs out with her best friend Wallace (the still under-used Percy Daggs III) and spars with Weevil (Francis Capra). The status of Weevil and Veronica’s current relationship is epitomized by the show’s theme song, now sung by Chrissie Hynde: “A long time ago, we used to be friends.” Keith is still recovering from the car accident he endured in the movie and struggling with memory issues, but their father/daughter relationship remains one of the best on TV.
Season Four kicks off during spring break in Neptune (don’t try to fight this idea or that spring break seems to last forever, just go with it) and someone is setting off a series of bombs. There are a slew of familiar faces in these episodes, including fan favorites Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen), Leo D’Amato (Max Greenfield), Big Dick Casablancas (David Starzyk), Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino) and Cliff McCormack (Daran Norris), all of whom are back in a way that feels organic to the series. Also, let’s be honest, we’d all be upset if we didn’t get to see Leo (who is more charming than ever) and the always sleazy Vinnie again. (Alas, Mac isn’t around as Tina Majorino wasn’t available; all we get is a quick “Mac is in Istanbul” line to explain her absence).. But other character cameos, which will certainly be fun for fans, feel a bit awkwardly wedged in.
Wisely, the series introduces new characters to carry on the overarching mystery of the season. Pizza delivery man Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt), teen Matty Ross (Izabela Vidovic), bar owner Nicole (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Sheriff Marcia Langdon (Dawnn Lewis), Congressman Daniel Maloof (Mido Hamada) and two hit men (Clifton Collins Jr. and Frank Gallegos)—who act like they just strolled in from a Tarantino movie—all weave in and out. Predictably, J.K. Simmons steals the show as Big Dick’s former prison mate Clyde, but Oswalt is also perfectly cast as the nebbish amateur crime solver, and Clark Duke is a hoot as one Penn’s frenemies.
But let’s talk about Bell for a moment, shall we? Obviously, she’s extraordinarily talented and her career has taken off since she first appeared on UPN. Not once while watching did I think of Princess Anna of Arendelle or Eleanor Shellstrop on The Good Place. Veronica is a character Bell owns wholly. Her performance here is fantastic. Still, there’s a running joke that Veronica and Keith have an ongoing bet about not swearing and who will be the first to break. And while Hulu reportedly didn’t want the new season to be profanity laced (which is cute and leads to lines like “What the cuss?”) even if it wasn’t intended, it’s a little too forking reminiscent of Bell’s other show.
Yet overall, the writing on the series remains top notch. Few shows can so seamlessly integrate the delightful humor (“Alexa, who’s the bomber?”) with the real pathos that all the main characters encounter. For example, one of my favorite moments came when one of Weevil’s buddies extols the virtues of Weight Watchers and its zero points foods minutes before a dramatic showdown.
What’s going to be tough for fans, though, is that an older Veronica is not a happier Veronica. She’s a bit lost and a bit depressed. The pain of her past (murdered best friend, a mom who abandoned her) is evident. And with the first sighting of Logan, while delightful (he spends his first six minutes on screen shirtless) and steamy (TV characters couldn’t have sex like this in high school on broadcast television), the cracks in Logan and Veronica’s dysfunctional relationship are evident. But Bell and Dohring’s chemistry is still crackling even if he does, at times, feel like “Logan minus the Logan”—one of the insults Veronica slings at him during a fight.
There are a lot of threads left hanging as the final credits roll leaving the door wide open for a Season Five. But honestly, I don’t want to say too much more. The joy of the fourth season was watching it unfold spoiler-free and I want the same for you. Check back in this space after the show premieres where I will be PROCESSING this season in full. We’ll have a little support group. Until then, marshmallows.
All eight episodes of Veronica Mars premiere July 26 on Hulu
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).