East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The night of Mars


OK, so the flesh is weak. I’ll be the first one to admit it.
I have this friend, we seldom see each other. We were supposed to go out for an ice cream and some talk, but when I got to her place things took a different course, and I ended up spending the night at her place.
In my defense I can say she’s a great person, she’s got air conditioning and she’s got Hulu.
So we spent the night binge-watching the fourth season of Veronica Mars.

I do not like binge watching. I belong to a generation that used to get its TV entertainment in weekly installment, and that’s fine with me.
But I’m ready to make an exception for Veronica Mars.

Being both fans of the old series, we plopped down on the sofa with some crisps and iced tea, and we went through the whole eight episodes of the Fourth Season – with a pause in which I paid for my entertainment by cooking my renowned killer French omelette.
It was about midnight, and it felt wonderfully decadent.

During the omelette pause we discussed the series, and tried to decide why it was not working for us. Because it was not – much as we would have liked to be wowed by the show, we were both pretty cold.
This led to much debate, the resolution of the mystery way ahead of the main characters, and a discussion of writing and structure.

Because it’s not that Varonica Mars, Season Four, is a bad show.
But… OK, Season One was A LOT better.

So, what did not work?
Here’s our own post mortem notes…

In part it was the characterization.
“You know,” my friend said at a certain point, “Veronica was a lot smarter and a lot more mature when she was a teenager.”
And it’s true.
The characterization seems to replace the spunk and charm of the teenage character with some routine “Kristen Bell being a raunchy chick” stuff that’s really out of character.

Paradoxically, this makes the new show a lot more conventional and tamer than the old show – true, we get a few sex scenes, but the interplay of the characters is really flat, and our heroes do most of their stuff by sitting in rooms and talking.
“Back in the day,” my friend said, “she’d have solved this one in two episodes.”

But what really lets down the show is the overarching structure.
The first and second seasons of VM had a very well defined structure: three “heavy”, season-long mysteries, which were introduced in the first, second and third episodes and solved in the last three episodes, plus a “minor” mystery-of-the-week for each episode.
The series was therefore like a braid: the three main investigations that rolled up on themselves, punctuated by the individual episodes.
There was a lot happening, and while the season-length plots kept you hooked, the mystery of the week gave you a nice payback at the end of each episode.
Here the structure is a lot simpler – and basically the fourth season is an eight-hour film, rather slow, in which there is only one mystery that is investigated. The fact that it is not very good, as mysteries go (come on, we solved it halfway through!), does not help.

The acting is the major plus side of this season – the actors are great and do the best they can with the material that was given them.

In the end, while as fans we did appreciate the re-appearance of old characters, we were generally let down by the story.

But if it’s a hot summer night, you are in good company with plenty of refreshments, well, it’s not that bad.
Pity it’s not that good either.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “The night of Mars

  1. Seasons 1 and 2 sound like the structure to a six-book series. Interesting. Glad you had a good time and got to enjoy some air conditioning.


    • Yes, the air conditioning and the company were good.
      As for the structure of the first two seasons, I agree, it’s quite a solid structure for a series of books – and such a structure justifies a certain length: one needs the space to cover all the points of all the plots, and keep the things moving.
      Conversely, a six-book series with just one overarching plot – unless that’s a really good plot – ends up feeling overlong and “padded” (just like the show I watched last night).


  2. I long ago gave up on VERONICA MARS. I’ve got friends who worship the show but outside of the obvious talents and charms of Kristen Bell there is absolutely nothing that interests me about the show. I’ve tried on more than one occasion to get into it but I can never make it past Ep. 2 or 3 or S1.

    And while, yes…I also grew up watching my favorite TV shows in weekly installments but now I’m a confirmed binge watcher. I much prefer waiting until the season is over then blasting through that season in a weekend.


    • I discovered Veronica Mars late, and after liking very much the first season (probably because I still have bad dreams about my high school years), saw the show slowly sink into a pit. From what I read, there were pressures on the writers to dumb down the plots and play safe, but the end result is sad.
      I had great hopes for the fourth season, but alas, it was disappointing.

      The thing I do not like about binge watching is, I already live holed up at home most of the time, should I start to binge watch the shows I like, I’d end up like King Tut 😀


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