FAN-TASTIC

03.14.14

A Fan Night Out: The Return of Veronica Mars

Fans funded the big-screen version of Veronica Mars, and at one of the first midnight screenings the “Marshmallows” were out in force. They were mostly ecstatic to see their favorite detective reunite with old friends, even if “Logan’s not cute anymore.”

“The cold open for Season One, Episode 12 is the greatest thing that has ever happened.”

“Ohmigod yes.”

“So, Cassidy was gay, right?”

“Yeah.”

“But he still gave Veronica chlamydia?”

“Yeah.”

The crowd at the midnight showing of Veronica Mars was on the verge of wetting itself. These fifty or so twentysomethings had waited seven years, more than twice the lifespan of the show itself, to see their favorite girl detective dust off her trusty Nikon DH2 and go all Angela Lansbury on the tony Southern California town of Neptune. They, the Marshmallows, as Veronica Mars superfans like to be known, had made this happen.

“So, because there was no way I was going to be able to marathon the third season, I just skipped to the last three episodes. They were so good.”

“What happened to Keith, again? I haven’t re-watched in so long, I feel terrible for asking…”

“Keith becomes sheriff again and then un-becomes sheriff again.”

They’d raised more than $7,000 to rent a plane that would fly over The CW offices asking to save the show; they’d streamed millions of hours of the show’s three extent seasons online; terrifying fanfiction was created. In the end, 91,585 Marshmallows raised $5,702,153 on KickStarter to bring Veronica back. They were not disappointed.

“So, because there was no way I was going to be able to marathon the third season, I just skipped to the last three episodes. They were so good.”

As a result of this fondness for the good ol’ days, or maybe in response to it, Veronica Mars (film) is largely an homage/greatest hits/pastiche of Veronica Mars (TV series). But playing like a fan-crafted YouTube compilation of the show’s best moments isn’t a crime, especially since the movie is, literally, a fan creation itself. Following the series’ cancellation in favor of a reality series about the Pussycat Dolls, producer Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell launched the Kickstarter campaign. It attained its $2 million goal in less than ten hours, the most famous example of fans resurrecting a show in Hollywood history.

Other attempts to bring cult favorites back from the dead have had more ghoulish results. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a prequel to another blink-and-you-missed-it detective show, was met with boos and near-universal derision. The fourth season of Arrested Development, produced seven years after the too-soon cancellation of the comedy series, received a resounding “Meh.” Jericho, saved from the brink of cancellation at the conclusion of its first season, was given a second chance on the strength of its fanbase (they had sent more than 20 tons of peanuts to CBS headquarters) only to languish with even worse ratings in its next season.

From Firefly to Pushing Daisies to Freaks and Geeks, the intensity of fan support has attempted to save or revive genre shows. In every case, the communities that loved the show suffered the most—just try asking a fan of Heroes how they feel about the fourth season. Seven years later, most Marshmallows with any sense should have given up.

On its surface, there’s no obvious reason why Veronica Mars was able to escape the gravity of other SoCal-centric teen-geared dramas in the mid Aughts. The cast of The O.C. was hotter; Weeds had better writing. It was the eponymous Veronica, former popular girl turned social pariah in pursuit of her best friend’s killer, who elevated the series above its neutered pop soundtrack and occasionally hammy acting. Buffy had slayed her last vampire the year before, leaving girls (and guys) without a single kickass television heroine, and roughly the same number of shows that respected the intelligence of a teenaged audience.

Veronica’s rejection of high school bullshit in favor of solving murders, bus crashes, her own rape, and acts of terrorism, as well as the show’s implicit criticisms of income inequality (the term “one-percenter” wouldn’t be used for another seven years, but the pilot episode set the stage as “Neptune, California: A town with a middle class.”) and its smart, sleuthy dialogue filled the Sunnydale-shaped hole in our hearts and spawned a new genre. Best described as “high school hardboiler,” these neo-noir mysteries featured offbeat-yet-attractive protagonists, peripheral weirdo sidekicks, and an unattainable hottie who may or may not be the Big Bad, all set in suburban high schools. Brick took the genre seriously, Assassination of a High School President made it a farce, but Veronica Mars was always the gold standard.

The trailers that preceded Veronica Mars were in competition for which one would emerge as the most embarrassing to watch. The trailer for Make Your Move (#MakeYourMove! the audience is prompted to hashtag) rips off the Idiot Dance Movie genre ten times more egregiously in two and a half minutes than Veronica Mars ripped itself off in 108 minutes. Previews of Neighbors, Mom’s Night Out, The Fault In Our Stars, and Tammy were received alternately with dismissive groans and contemptuous silence. Unlike Veronica Mars, not a single person ever asked for these movies to be made.

“V-MARS!” a guy behind me shouted boisterously as the lights dimmed. Onscreen, the opening credits explained the backstory: After the death of her billionaire best friend, high school student Veronica Mars moonlights as a private eye to solve the crime, and in the process, discovers the dark underbelly of Neptune, California. Hearts are broken, bad guys are busted, and Veronica leaves Southern California, seemingly forever.

The movie began as Veronica Mars always has: Veronica is on the verge of getting her life together, until someone ruins it by getting brutally murdered. Teaming up with the same fan-favorite father (a Marshmallow screamed “KEEEIIIITH!” when he first appeared onscreen) the same platonic friend, Wallace, and the same bad-boy ex, Logan, Veronica takes on the same mean girls and bad boys as she did seven years ago. The repetition is a little irksome to a casual fan—even Keith saying semi-creepy catchphrase “Who’s your daddy?” didn’t seem so funny upon its nine-millionth use—but the Marshmallows were largely ecstatic.

The biggest fanboy/girl reactions were largely reserved for appearances by favorite characters onscreen—when Veronica gave ex-fling Leo D'Amato a pizza, a girl behind me made a sound aurally indistinguishable from orgasm. When now-kinda-chubby Dick Casablancas made a joke about surfing stoned, the Marshmallows couldn’t have been more pleased (“It’s so old-school!” “Classic!”). The biggest laugh of the night was actually a nod to an even older and more storied cult hit: a character referenced Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

A few Marshmallows expressed disappointment, even quiet embarrassment, at how the show’s humor or characters had aged. When Veronica’s troubled ex-boyfriend first appears onscreen, a girl sitting next to me gasped in horror. “Oh my god, Logan’s not cute anymore. I don’t know if I can go through with this.” For the most part, though, the Marshmallows were ebullient. Few new lines or plot twists elicited audible responses; the audience just wanted to laugh about the same things they’ve been laughing about during seven years of reruns. This is the same generation that has created Facebook groups with hundreds of thousands of supporters advocating for the return of Kim Possible, Rock’s Modern Life, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Life for this generation has sucked since 2007 anyway.

So far, no show has successfully replaced Veronica Mars. The CW, successor to The WB and ground zero for teen-oriented genre programming, is stuffed with “reality” programming and superhero shows desperate to fill the post-Smallville void. The Carrie Diaries, another prequel that nobody asked for, features a great deal of shopping, nineteen eighties-era AIDS hysteria and not much more. Mary, Queen of Scots on Reign is more likely pop off a bustier than a one-liner. Veronica Mars fans may owe the resuscitation of Neptune to this vacuum—there’s not a single spunky California loner strong enough to hold Veronica’s camera.

If Marshmallows at this screening are any indication, Veronica Mars might be the one to beat the trend. As the credits rolled and the show’s theme song, “We Used to Be Friends,” played, the Marshmallows stayed glued to their seats. It took about three beats before the theater started a singalong. “A long time ago, we used to be friends / But I haven’t thought of you lately at all. / If ever again, a greeting I send to you, / Short and sweet to the soul is all I intend.”