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Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

Warner Home Video presents
Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season (2004-2005)

Wallace: I thought being a private eye was all about shooting dudes and making out with sexy widows.
Veronica: The sexy widows come later.

- Percy Daggs III, Kristen Bell

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: October 28, 2005

Stars: Kristen Bell
Other Stars: Percy Daggs III, Jason Dohring, Teddy Dunn, Francis Capra, Enrico Colantoni, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Amanda Seyfried, Brandon Hillock, Michael Muhney, Alyson Hannigan, Tina Majorino, Harry Hamlin, Kyle Secor
Director: various

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language, violence, sexuality)
Run Time: Approx. 935 min.
Release Date: October 11, 2005
UPC: 012569727748
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-A-B+ C-

DVD Review

In a slightly skewed version of our universe, Veronica Mars is, I'm sure, a huge hit on the Disney Channel. What kid wouldn't enjoy watching a TV show about a spunky high school girl whose chief extracurricular activity is solving her classmates' problems with her private investigator skills, a modern day Nancy Drew? Except, luckily, we live in this universe, in which the show, which premiered in the fall of 2004 on UPN, has the same basic premise—the daughter of a P.I., Veronica makes extra cash following her dad's lead—but is oh so much more than the setup suggests (I'm reminded of the years I spent defending my affection for another show about a talented, blonde teenager, though Veronica hasn't killed any vampires... yet).

Veronica (Kristen Bell) is a have-not in a world of have-mores, one of the poor kids attending Neptune High, a public school in one of the richest areas of California. She wasn't always an outsider. At one time, she was an "09er" (a reference to the rich kids' 90909 zip code), and dating Duncan (Teddy Dunn), the most popular boy in school and the son of billionaire software magnate Jake Kane (Kyle Secor). But that was before Lilly (Amanda Seyfried), Veronica's best friend and Duncan's sister, was found murdered, and Veronica's dad, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), then the sheriff of Neptune, figured Jake for the guilty party, despite the fact that all evidence pointed to someone else. With Keith soon fired and forced to take up P.I. work, Veronica became an outcast from the 09er world, and quickly became a target of derision from her peers, like Logan (Jason Dohring), the entitled son of a famous movie actor (Harry Hamlin). When they label her a slut after she's drugged and raped during a party, she pulls away even further.

Unless they need something from her, that is. Because whatever they say about her behind her back, all of Veronica's classmates know she's the one to talk to if you want to know if your boyfriend is cheating on you, or who rigged the class election. All of this is established in the pilot, by the way—this is one of those shows that demand your undivided attention. And that, basically, is your show in a nutshell. Veronica works a "case of the week," either for someone at school (though the jobs aren't always school related—in Drinking the Kool-Aid, she tracks down a student whose parents believe has joined a cult) or for one of her dad's clients (though Keith isn't always aware that his daughter is taking on often dangerous cases in her free time). Sometimes these mini-mysteries are a little cheesy, but they usually work quite well. But what really drives her is the search for Lilly's murderer, after events in the pilot force her to question the guilt of the man actually behind bars for committing the deed. She'll also try to figure out who raped her, among other cheerful mysteries. And for all you Lost-haters out there, yes, Veronica actually finds all of the answers by the final scene of the season finale (and, I might mention, in an enormously satisfying fashion).

Despite the underlying plots, replete with sometimes shocking violence (tonally, if not in terms of what's onscreen), Veronica Mars is tremendously entertaining, even escapist at times, thanks to inventive plotting, an elastic premise, and some wonderful, witty dialogue. Series' mastermind Rob Thomas (whose much-loved Cupid lasted only a few weeks on ABC in the late 1990s) has created a fascinating, complex character that it's nearly impossible not to care about, and surrounded her with a diverse and equally compelling cast. It is a teen show, to some extent, with all the soapy trappings thereof: romances, love triangles, breakups and reconciliations. But, as they were on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these elements are handled exceptionally well. They aren't shoehorned in, but seem to grow organically out of the overarching plot and never become the series' focus, rather than one of its aspects. If you're the type of fan who watches TV to root for your favorite characters to fall in love, this show provides a few swoon-worthy match-ups. If not, believe me, there's plenty else to distract you.

The cast, for instance. If your show is called Veronica Mars, you damn well better have a good actress playing her, and relative newcomer Kristen Bell is an instant star—I haven't fallen so hard for a TV character so quickly since the first few episodes of Felicity. Bell manages a perfect balancing act with what is, really, a pretty difficult role. Sure, Veronica, resourceful and thick-skinned, is a quippy smartass, but her humor is always tinged with sadness, a "me against the world" attitude that developed in the fallout of her best friend's death and her dad's public humiliation (the whole "alcoholic, deadbeat mom" thing didn't help either, I'm sure). Even when Veronica is acting irresponsibly or even unethically (in the course of her investigation, she'll be forced to betray some of her best friends), Bell keeps her grounded and relatable, and she handles big jokes and big, tearjerker moments with practiced ease.

Enrico Colantoni (best known from Just Shoot Me and a role in Galaxy Quest) was the perfect choice for Veronica's dad, and delivers a perfect blend of fatherly affection and parental authority (and all his years on a sit-com left him more than able to deliver a good punchline). Jason Dohring manages to turn what could have been a one-note character into one of the most arresting on the show (as evidenced by his rabid fan following), and any scene in which he faces off with leather-clad biker Weevil (Francis Capra, yes, a relative of Frank), a shaky ally of Veronica's, is a good one. While the ensemble isn't perfect, even the weaker actors are good, and share a chemistry that makes them seem even better. Percy Daggs III is a little awkward as Veronica's best friend and sleuthing buddy Wallace at times, but I totally buy him as her confidant. Teddy Dunn is a little wooden, but then, so is Duncan Kane. Even the show's own Laura Palmer, Amanda Seyfried as the late Lily Kane, makes a lasting impression (so much show that Thomas has said he would up using her character in flashbacks and dream sequences about four times more than he originally anticipated).

Veronica Mars has been called the new Buffy, and though the shows are vastly different in many ways, that's not too far off (incidentally, Buffyverse visionary Joss Whedon has been quoted all over the place professing his love for Veronica Mars, which he says is probably one of his favorite shows ever). Both are a careful balance of high school drama and actual danger (one without the demons), and both whip back and forth between smart, pop culture-laden dialogue and real pathos. Moreover, they both seem like teen shows, but have the ambition (and, more importantly, the ability) to appeal to a much wider audience. I can only hope Veronica Mars, now airing its second season on UPN, will last as long.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Presented in anamorphic widescreen, Veronica Mars is another great-looking TV show from Warner. Detail, black level, and color contrast are all spot-on (even during the digitally augmented flashback scenes), and the image is free of artifacting and noise. Some darker scenes look a little grainy at times, but the negative effect is minimal.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in a strong DD 2.0 mix that cleanly preserves dialogue while allowing sound effects and the pop song-laden soundtrack a bit of breathing room across the front soundstage. Surrounds provide atmosphere, but never really draw your attention. Overall, a nice mix for undemanding material.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 131 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
28 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: UPN doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to drama. Before Veronica Mars, Star Trek: Enterprise was the only hour-long series sans Tyra Banks that made it to a second season. So I'm guessing no one was more surprised than distributor Warner Bros. when the show got picked up for year two. Sadly, that meant the studio had to rush to get this boxed set into production, and creator Rob Thomas was given a choice. He could put together an extras-laden release, but it wouldn't come out until well after Season Two had premiered, or a bare-bones set could be cranked out to promote the new batch of episodes.

For the good of the show, Thomas took the latter option. But for whatever reason, we, the consumers, have wound up with the worst of both worlds, because not only is this set devoid of substantial extras, but it came out three weeks after Season Two began. Thanks a bunch, Warner! Still, the grade is better than you might expect, considering the circumstances, and the fact that 20 minutes of deleted scenes isn't too bad when it comes to extras for a TV show (plus, Warner includes another of their nice mini-episode guides, always a plus).

It's not a total loss, though as there are two extras. The first is a slightly extended version of the pilot episode, with a different opening that Thomas shot, but later cut when the network felt it was too dark. Now, his original vision is intact. I personally don't see what all the fuss was about, but then, you know TV networks, always assuming the audience is full of a bunch of morons. I mean, yeah, they are a lot of stupid people in the world, but none of them are smart enough to be watching this show anyway.

And though every disc includes a special features menu, only Disc 6 includes actual special features—a gallery of 28 deleted scenes, with a total running time of 22m:07s. The cuts, presented in finished form, are primarily character bits or extraneous plot points, but they're nice to see, regardless. There are two scenes for the Pilot, four for Meet John Smith, one for Wrath of Con, two for You Think You Know Somebody, one for The Girl Next Door, two for Like a Virgin, three for Drinking the Kool-Aid, three for An Echolls Family Christmas, three for Silence of the Lamb, one for Mars vs. Mars, three for Ruskie Business, two for Kanes and Abel's, two for Hot Dogs, and one for the finale, Leave It to Beaver.

Also, for those eager to hear from Thomas, the series' creator has posted a podcast commentary for the pilot episode on his production company's website. Direct links aren't possible, as it is a flash site, but the file can be found on the downloads section of www.slaverats.com.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

A series that consistently outshines its "Encyclopedia Blonde" premise, Veronica Mars is one of those great TV shows seemingly, sadly destined to hover outside the mainstream. Maybe it's too smart, or too unusual, to be a hit. But I could say the same thing about Lost, its current timeslot competition. And though I love both shows, this is the one I watch first every week. Or to put it another way: It's on UPN, yet it attracted a loyal fan base and enough critical kudos that not only did it last a full season, but it actually got renewed. Now that's saying something.

 


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