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Veronica Mars Review: Hulu’s Revival Turns The Teen P.I. Into A Hard-Boiled Veteran

Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars Season 4

As television’s ongoing fascination with reboots and revivals continues, Veronica Mars establishes itself as one of few series deserving of its intermittent reunions and suggests the show and its characters could be a welcome recurrence for years to come. The series, from Party Down and iZombie creator Rob Thomas, has enjoyed the benefits of a devoted, vocal fan base long before “Save Our Show” social media campaigns were a thing. As a result, the short-lived UPN teen drama (its original television run went three and out like it was a Netflix original) partially crowdfunded its own feature film in 2014, and though that was moderately well received, Thomas and his cast, including Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, and Enrico Colantoni are all back for an eight-episode stint on Hulu, which, given the show’s propensity for resurrecting itself, could turn into an irregularly recurring treat on the streaming service. 

In returning to the world of Veronica Mars, Thomas and the cast address the necessary passage of time the characters have experienced since those weekly high-school adventures from 2004-07, and again with the aforementioned feature film. Everyone is a bit older and a bit grumpier and worn down by their experiences both personal and professional. It’s an expected yet peculiar maturation for a series whose appeal, like, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was due in part to its title character’s youth and her precociousness with regard to following in her father’s footsteps as a private investigator. As such, Bell’s Veronica is years past her days as a high school P.I., and several years past her somewhat reluctant return to the profession and hometown of Neptune, California. The result is a character who is assured in what she’s doing (and has been doing for years now), but also one who has grown into an even more hard-boiled version of her former self. 

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In that regard, Veronica Mars differentiates itself from another show about private investigators who have been welcomed back to television after their own series came to an end. But whereas Psych (or Psych: The Movie) picks up with Shawn and Gus in different places in their lives, but still basically the same characters, Mars devotes a good portion of its eight-episode run to an examination of just how much Veronica, Logan, Keith, and even Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) have changed (though maybe not totally matured, in the latter character’s case) since audiences last saw them. In taking that approach, the show is aware of its status as a revival and is interested in using these sporadic reunions to explore how and why the show’s characters have become who they are.

Sure, there’s also a pending case or two that has the attention of Veronica and her dad, as well as the unique characters filling out the strange little world of Neptune, CA, but that is, by and large, secondary to what Thomas, Bell, and the rest of show’s ensemble are interested in discussing in what amounts to Veronica Mars season 4. That’s not to say there isn’t intrigue in the case(s) at hand. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the new season unfolds during a rowdy spring break when Neptune becomes party central for a bunch of college kids looking take part in the alcohol-fueled annual tradition. 

Spring break also opens the door for a few new characters, like pizza delivery man/online cold-case investigator Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt), and Nicole (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Barry, The Good Place), the no-nonsense purveyor of a local bar that caters almost exclusively to young, drunk college kids. The pair, as well as returning felon Richard Casablancas (David Starzyk), get caught up in a beachside motel bombing that kills four people, including relatives of a would-be senatorial candidate and the nephew of a woman with connections to a Mexican cartel. That brings Clifton Collins Jr.’s Alonzo Lozano into the fold, as he and another henchman take it upon themselves to discover and murder the party responsible. 

It’s a complex plot that never veers too far into complicated for its own good, even when the show veers off on tangents involving a potentially faked rat scare at one of the few locally owned grocery stores left in Neptune, as well as the mysterious felon Clyde Prickett (J.K. Simmons), who is now in the employ of Casablancas following their stint in prison. The latter’s situation is reminiscent of George Clooney and Albert Brooks in Out of Sight, especially with regard to the way the show cuts back to Prickett and Casablancas’s very different experiences behind bars. Simmons, however, makes for an interesting character, one who walks a fine line between hardened bank robber and reformed criminal. His interactions with Bell are particularly entertaining early on, when Veronica stymies Prickett’s attempts to reconnect with a woman from his past. 

Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni in Veronica Mars Season 4

Hulu’s Veronica Mars seems adamant to set itself apart from the seasons (and even the movie) that preceded it, mainly by eschewing the episodic nature of the series for something more serialized and therefore bingeable. But those differences go beyond storytelling mechanics, as the series invests itself early on in illustrating just how much its characters have changed and in determining who they have become — for better or for worse. That much is true with regard to Veronica’s relationship with Logan. Despite their commitment to one another, it would seem that Logan’s profession makes him as intermittent a figure in his partner’s life as she is in the audience’s. That strain is compounded by Logan’s sudden interest in where their relationship is going, and Veronica’s not-so surprising response. 

In all, the series marks its return to television with a welcome acknowledgement of the passage of time. That recognition, however, has done nothing to water down the series’ characters or its whip-smart dialogue. If anything, it suggests that, like too few series, Veronica Mars is the rare show that gets better with age. 

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Veronica Mars season 4 will stream exclusively on Hulu on Friday, July 26.

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