There is no shortage of brilliant, smooth, and sardonically funny detectives starring in popular fiction these days, but I stand by my point that Veronica Mars remains the very best of them (sorry Sherlock fans).
The show Veronica Mars was a star that burned brightly but faded fast, running from 2004-2007. Though viewership was low, it was a critical hit and still managed to develop a die-hard fan following in its short run, which later led to the creation of a Kickstarter-funded film in 2014. The film was then followed by two novels written by show creator Rob Thomas and a one-season revival series by Hulu in 2019, proving that even many years after its initial premiere, Veronica Mars was still in demand.
Season one of Veronica Mars takes place in the fictional town of Neptune, California, and follows seventeen-year-old Veronica as she attempts to unravel the year-old mystery of the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane. When the town sheriff-who happens to be Veronica's father, Keith-named Lilly's own rich and powerful father as the prime suspect, things went very badly for Veronica and her family. The opening of the season shows Veronica trying to adjust to her new status as the town pariah. When it comes to her attention that there's more to the story behind Lilly's death, she realizes it's up to her to find out what really happened.
Aside from the central mystery of the murder of Lilly, the first season features Veronica using her amateur detective skills to solve many smaller mysteries. There's also the inevitable drama that comes with Veronica trying to navigate a "normal" high school experience, which is hard to do in a town like Neptune. Especially when you're wise to all of the turmoil and corruption swirling around the entire place. It's a testament to the excellent writing that it balances lighter, humourous tones with the elements of a gritty, dark, noir show.
And though the main characters in Veronica Mars may be young, some of the problems they must address are very, very intense. Aside from the murder that serves as the engine behind the whole first season of Veronica Mars, the show tackles even more incredibly heavy subject matter including addiction, domestic violence, and sexual assault. But the show does an excellent job of handling all of the content carefully, sensitively, and without being exploitative.
Kristin Bell is truly exceptional as show lead and narrator Veronica, portraying her as dynamic, whip-smart, and almost always one step ahead of her peers and the adults around her. But even the sharpest detectives occasionally make missteps and Veronica is no different, which makes her more well-rounded and realistic as a character.
And Bell makes Veronica more than simply an excellent detective. She gives the character real vulnerability and shows how difficult it can be to navigate trauma and losses. Veronica has endured so much in her short life, but no matter what is thrown her way, she's unwavering in her pursuit to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions.
Veronica Mars may be nearing its twentieth birthday, but I hope it stays in the pop-culture consciousness for many, many more years. Maybe we'll see an older incarnation of Veronica in the years to come, still solving mysteries (though hopefully far away from Neptune!) and ready to take some new sleuths under her wing.