I couldn't disagree more. In fact, going back and watching the third season on DVD, I'd state that this third season - in many ways - is the most confident and self-assured season of Veronica Mars; and that's saying something considering the high bar established by the first two seasons. But let's re-cap before diving in to a discussion of Season 3.
Veronica Mars is a highly-addictive contemporary mystery series is set in and around the town of Neptune in sunny Southern California, a virtual playground for the very rich kids of privilege and wealth. There, cynical, sharp (but sweet...) teenager Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) and her detective father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) work together in his detective agency, solving petty, occasionally sleazy cases about adultery and the like.
But delightfully, this premise is only the starting point for something far richer than a crime drama. Informing each and every mystery featured on the series is a two-pronged social commentary (or more accurately, social observation). One level of the tale focuses obsessively on class warfare, the battle between the haves and the have-nots at Neptune High as Veronica - an outsider - navigates between worlds. She's a woman with no nation, distrusted by the rich and poor alike.
Secondly, Veronica Mars is a colorful, brilliant (and extremely tech savvy.) updating of the film noir genre, replete with femme fatales, a private dick, labyrinthine mysteries, laconic voice over narration and other staples of the form. Noticeably, however, the mysteries featured in the series revolve around a unique central conceit: how 21st century gadgets impact crime and crime solving. Wireless computers, I-Pods, blogs, web pages, cell phones, etcetera, are crucial tools (and crucial clues) in Veronica's universe. Veronica is thus Sam Spade for the Wikipedia generation, and thus she's very true-to-life in an important sense: like many youngsters of her generation, she's "connected. Not to all the people around her, necessarily, but to the vast amounts of information now available for the grabbing...if you know how. Personally, I find this "tech" private eye conceit a welcome change from all the forensic nonsense on TV. This is a show where the detectives still do the detecting.
In the third season, Veronica attends Hearst University. She’s still dating the millionaire bad boy son of a movie star (and convicted murderer) Aaron Echolls, the angst-ridden Logan (Jason Dohring). Veronica also maintains her “Scooby gang” of helpful associates and hangers-on, which this season includes old friend and tech girl Mac (Tina Marjorino ), a kid from the wrong side of the tracks named Eli "Weevil" (Capra), and the loyal and trustworthy Wallace (Percy Daggs). New to the squad this year: Wallace’s dorky roommate, Piz (Chris Lowell). Oh, and there's also Mac's uncomfortably perky roommate, Parker (Julie Gonzalo).
With Veronica out of high school, one might suspect that a critical element of the series format is sacrificed: the central location of the class-warfare subplot. That's true, perhaps, but the third season has pinpointed a good and welcome corollary that shifts the series' debate a bit.
In particular, the Hearst College campus is a hotbed of competing interests and agendas and Veronica very soon finds herself a woman without a nation once more, viewed suspiciously by all those bearing entrenched, closed-minded points of view. In particular, the first run of episodes, from "Welcome Wagon" to "Spit and Eggs," involves the pitched battle between a politically-incorrect fraternity (and by association, the Greek system...), and a group of radicalized, hostile feminists. Now, at first glance, you might expect a series entitled Veronica Mars to reflexively, mindlessly adopt the point of view of the feminists; but Veronica Mars is a post-feminist efort in a glorious and illuminating way. Polarization is the true enemy, the series appears to conclude, and in the course of several exciting episodes, Veronica discovers that although the fraternity jocks are a bunch of neanderthal sexists, the feminists - though different in their concerns and agenda - are really no better. Each side is committed to the humiliation and destruction of the other side. Veronica's only commitment? To the truth. The first several episodes deal persuasively with the idea of parody (or free speech), sexual assault, hypocrisy and more.
For her courageous stand against entrenched agendas, Veronica wins no popularity contests on campus; she doesn't toe to the feminist party line when she helps to prove that a particularly nasty fraternity house was not involved in series of campus rapes. And on the other hand, she gleefully goes after the fraternity system - and those involved - when necessary to find the truth. Veronica's stance points to a fascinating facet about modern America, and one that I've only seen dramatized on Veronica Mars. Which is: no cause is honored when one takes glee in the destruction of an enemy; or more accurately, when one lies, maneuvers, plots and manipulates to see that the enemy - no matter how bad - stumbles and falls. Veronica even comes to realize this herself in one story. In "There's Got to Be a Morning After Pill," she is given a golden opportunity to seek glorious revenge against an enemy named Madison Sinclair, but Veronica chooses an interesting (and new) path.
It isn't merely the competing ideologies of feminism vs brain dead fraternities that are exposed on the third season of Veronica Mars. The series features a great episode about human nature and why it is all to easy for some people to commit torture in "My Big Fat Greek Rush Week," a story that assigns characters roles as either guards or prisoners as part of a sociology class experiment. Another story, "Show Me The Monkey," pits animal rights activists against researchers experimenting on animals. What I like about Veronica Mars is that, not unlike South Park (except without the profanity), the series permits both "polarized" sides to get their say, and then - in the end - with a minimum of preaching or sanctimony, Veronica comes in and devastates both sides with a dose of common sense, logic and clarity. It is...cathartic.
At this point, I can only say this: Veronica Mars for President of the United States. Seriously. If the last fifteen years have proven anything in this country, it is that intense polarization is a dead end for the country. Because what are we left with? Half the country on one side, angry. The other half on the other side, equally angry. And whoever ekes out 51% does a victory lap and gets its way...regardless of the fact that 49% of the people voted against them. Environmentalists versus business, feminists versus sexists, pro-life vs pro-choice. In the end...where does it get us as a people and a country? Veronica Mars deals with this idea in an intelligent fashion. I hate to reduce it to platitudes, but the message seems to be: truth above all.
Watching Veronica Mars' third season this time around, I am reminded not just of the film noir format, nor class warfare, nor snarky teen drama, but rather - surprisingly - the Western genre. In some sense, Veronica Mars -- with that heroic sounding name -- is herself the stranger who rides into town, unattached and unsullied by politics, who seeks and then metes justice for the townspeople. The trappings are all different, of course, but Veronica Mars speaks to the same hunger that superhero films and TV shows often do. It speaks to this deep longing in America - this long-standing myth - of the lone individual who rides into a society and fixes the problems. Unlike Superman or Spider-Man, Veronica doesn't have superpowers, however. Her standing and power and authority arises from the fact that she is a member of "no party or clique" (like my favorite blogger Andrew Sullivan). She is unattached and thus susceptible to...the truth.
Veronica Mars also concerns the love life and personal experiences of the lead character, not merely the mysteries she routinely solves. But the approach on the "home front" is just as intelligent and cleverly written. It is even-handed to the same high degree as the social observation. One thoroughly impressive episode this season, called "Of Vice and Men" thoroughly dissects the male of our species. Yep, men - in all shapes and forms - find themselves under Veronica's microscope in this episode, and her conclusions are witty, fascinating, canny, and I must say, all together fair. How many other series can say the same thing?
Veronica Mars is a character I admire (and love) on a series that is brilliantly-written and well-performed. Television of this quality doesn't come around very often and it's hard to say goodbye...especially after this terrific season. But Veronica...we'll always have Neptune. And Hearst College.