Oh, How Things Have Changed

On September 22, 2004, I had been living in New York for just under two months, after graduating from college in June. I had always wanted to move to New York, so I found a job and did it, without really knowing anything about the industry or field I was getting in to—or, for that matter, without googling my future boss (a major error that would become obvious within hours of starting the job)—and without any friends other than my boyfriend, who had moved the month before. I had found a 6×10 room above a Mexican restaurant, which featured a giant light-up sombrero directly below my window, and I didn’t get along particularly well with my roommates.

Me and the sombrero and the bottom corner of my window, 2004

That day, I watched the premiere of Veronica Mars.

I distinctly remember why I sought it out: A capsule review in the AV Club’s fall TV preview, which I just spent half an hour searching for and does not appear to exist any more. It said something about teen detectives, and hardboiled noir, and that it had snappy dialogue. Sold.

Somehow, in the age before DVR, I managed to get home from my stressful job in time to turn on UPN every Tuesday at 9 PM. Plus I had to make sure my roommate didn’t want to watch TV at the same time. She had her own TV, but since we were splitting the signal, things got wonky if we were trying to watch separate shows in different rooms. It was a different time. No DVR. No pausing. Waiting a week between episodes. The fact that I was the only person I knew who had heard of this show, let alone watched it, seemed like another symptom of the general loneliness and out-of-place-ness that I associated with post-college life.

Here’s an email I wrote to my college roommates a month later, on October 20, 2004:

i’ve recently decided to take up Veronica Mars on UPN (the one network actually worse than the WB!).  it’s brand new, not bad, a sort of buffy the vampire slayer meets twin peaks meets clarissa explains it all, and since it’s UPN, there’s way more drugs and sex than on the regular networks.  who can say no to that?  the first episode featured a weird pseudo-lynching, a flashback where veronica is given a roofie and (presumably) raped, a preppy asshole caught with a buddha-shaped bong in his locker, and a mexican biker gang generally shaking shit up.  and it’s funny!

(All capitalization and double-spacing [sic].)

It’s obvious to me now that I was trying not to overhype the show so that I wouldn’t scare them away. I really, really wanted them to watch, and I blew that carefully faked nonchalance by following up only five days later, on October 25:

btw, I will pay someone–metaphorically speaking–to start watching Veronica Mars.  It’s no fun without having fellow fans.

It didn’t work. Not right away, at least. Ten years later, I’m pretty sure all six of the recipients of my 2004 emails eventually did watch it. But the first evidence I have that someone I know watched the show is from October 7, 2005, soon after the second season premiere. This was my response:

AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Finally! Someone! Has! Watched! Veronica! Mars! Quick, someone get my inhaler.

Of course I read the Television Without Pity recaps; back then they were the only recap game in town, and they were especially important before I got a DVR. The write-ups helped me notice and remember things, and they assured me that I was not a crazy person hallucinating an entire show. But I’ve never been much of a social person online, so I didn’t comment, and I didn’t join in discussions, and I didn’t seek out livejournals or other fan outlets. Veronica Mars became something that existed almost entirely in my head.

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This post is supposed to be a defense of Logan Echolls, since the rest of SportsAlcohol.com is heavily invested in #teampiz (or team anyone else). I am also forgiving and understanding and generally fond of poor Piz, but I am here to tell you why, from my personal experience, the Logan Thing became so overwhelming and satisfying, at least in that perfect first season.

(I call it a perfect season, and narratively I think it’s a thing of beauty, but we should never forget that Paris Hilton was in an early episode. That was something I was careful not to mention in any of my pleading emails to far-flung roommates.)

Watching the show week by week, I (and, I suspect, the other early watchers—and probably even the writers) found my/ourselves genuinely surprised by Logan Echolls. Jason Dohring gave a sociopath a heart in just a few smoldering glances, and the quick-witted chemistry between Logan and Veronica worked.

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If anyone had been around to ask me my opinion of Logan Echolls 2004-2005, I would’ve said he was a monster until after episode 6. Episodes 6-13, he was still a jerk, but one I could understand. Then by episode 18—bam. I loved him. This was pure magic. Alchemy. How on earth could they have managed this transformation?

I think it’s because Rob Thomas and the writers didn’t know what they had until they had it. They watched their own show and they saw what was percolating beneath the surface, and they exploited it. I don’t consider this fan service. First off, no one was pressuring them; practically no one was watching. Secondly, we (the fans) didn’t know we wanted it until it happened, or perhaps right before. How could they have bowed to “pressure,” with the schedules of network television being what they were, and the feelings of the audience changing practically week by week, based on they were giving us? It was smart, savvy storytelling; it was paying careful attention to not just the larger arcs but also the small, charged moments that only happen when the episode is actually shot and performed and edited.

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Logan surprised us all, including Veronica. If Veronica wasn’t able to allow herself to be surprised, she’d have been a bad detective and a boring character. Noticing Logan like this made her three dimensional. Yes, she could be rigid in her judgments, and sometimes let that blind her to the truth, but she wasn’t a robot. The world hurt her, but she hasn’t closed herself off from it completely. She felt things and noticed them and eventually acknowledged what they meant.

Neither Veronica nor Logan changed who they were at their core when they got together—they only added layers. Logan was an entitled monster and he wanted to protect her. Veronica was bitter and paranoid and she cared about him. Things got more complicated in later seasons, but I believe this relationship stayed central because it showed Veronica’s humanity and vulnerability, and reinforced the idea that even if we thought we had everything figured out, people could surprise us. What had seemed shallow showed depth.

A show on UPN could bring us just what we were looking for.

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My first year in New York, the first year of being an “adult,” I became obsessed with a show about a teenager solving crimes. Why? I probably would’ve gotten obsessed with it whenever I found it — it’s just the type of thing I like — but perhaps the show’s willingness to show change and evolution as scary but manageable made it particularly appealing. Veronica’s life had changed dramatically. It was still changing. Those changes were rarely good. Inevitably, surprises would come — not just (arguably) good ones like Logan. Things sucked, often, and people were jerks. But Veronica could handle it — she would be okay.

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In the summer of 2005, I moved out of the apartment above the Mexican restaurant and left the ridiculous job for one I loved. We got a DVR. I started making new friends. My old friends started watching Veronica Mars. My new boss at my new job was a fan. Veronica Mars got canceled, but love for the show would continue to spread. I fell in love with other shows; I discovered ones I’d missed. (I didn’t start watching Lost until the summer of 2006—and it premiered the exact same day as Veronica in 2004. There’s always new stuff to discover! Hooray!)

And now ten years later I get to revisit Veronica Mars, this time in a movie theater with hundreds people (including over a dozen close friends) and tens of thousands more across the country. People listened and watched and noticed. People fell in love.

Veronica Mars has surprised me again.

Maggie

Maggie

Maggie is a for-real writer. We're kind of surprised that she would lend her name and her words to SportsAlcohol.com, but we're certainly not complaining. Her first novel, The Cost of All Things, can be ordered here.
Maggie

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