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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Veronica Mars centers on a smart, independent teen girl who stands up for victims, but who often resorts to breaking rules to accomplish this. The series features violence and sexual references. Although the program is set in high school, it deals with very adult themes -- including murder, greed, infidelity, gang violence, date rape drugs, and rape -- and should be prescreened before allowing teens to tune in. Early seasons of the show were aired on network television and content was aligned to network standards, with subdued language, sexuality, and violence (though concepts and drama are often mature). Veronica Mars' fourth season was made by streaming service Hulu, and takes advantage of its freedom. Sexuality includes lots of frank talk about sex, with jokes about oral sex, trading sex for favors, a woman jokes with her dad about "scissoring" a female friend, and more. Characters also take off their clothes and have sex, with rhythmic movement and noises, though nudity is confined to a quick glimpse of a man's bare butt. Violence is also ramped up, with many (offscreen) deaths and some violent imagery, like a severed head that is thrown over a fence, though the show generally doesn't linger over gore. Drug use, particularly date rape drugs like GHB and Rohypnol, figures largely into early seasons, and on Hulu, adults are shown drinking irresponsibly at clubs. Veronica retains her toughness and sensitivity in the Hulu version of the show, while other characters are depicted with increasing complexity as they've grown to adulthood.
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What's the story?
Set in the wealthy California town of Neptune, VERONICA MARS is the story of a plucky 17-year-old detective (Kristen Bell) whose picture-perfect popular existence is cut short when her best friend/boyfriend's sister, Lilly Kane, is murdered. After a lowlife is arrested and convicted of the crime, Veronica's dad, town sheriff Keith (Enrico Colantoni), becomes convinced that Lilly's much-admired father is the real murderer. While Keith is deposed from office for his unpopular opinions and abandoned by his wife, Veronica remains steadfastly by his side. To support himself and his daughter, Keith sets up shop as a private eye. While he investigates crimes, a now-hardened Veronica does her own work on the sly for students falsely accused of crimes. In 2019, streaming service Hulu made an eight-episode fourth season, with a now-adult Veronica returned to Neptune, partnering with Keith in his private eye business, and looking into a series of bombings with political implications.
Is it any good?
On the surface, this may appear to be yet another teen melodrama, but thanks to witty dialogue, unique direction, and exceptional acting, this unpredictable neo-noir sets itself a cut above the rest. That said, Veronica Mars' storylines can often be dark, complicated, and scary for young viewers: one episode features a bus of school kids that goes off a cliff, while another features a rape with complicated implications about power, abuse, and misogyny (that said, this particular plot twist is justifiably lauded for the nuanced, sensitive way it depicts rape and its ensuing and often long-lasting trauma).
The tangled history of Veronica Mars also adds to its allure: the show first premiered on UPN in 2004, and though it was a critical hit and cult fave, wasn't a ratings breakout and was canceled after three seasons. In 2013, creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell spearheaded a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a Veronica Mars movie, the result was 2014's fan-service-heavy Veronica Mars. Then in 2019, Hulu released a fourth season of the show, with a now 39-year-old Bell as an adult Veronica, and many cast members reprising their roles. It's an unusual way to tell a story, over 15 years and counting, and fans will be delighted to know that the latest season is as sharp as Veronica ever was, with the same sharp wordplay and sense of fun. Now, however, there's an added layer of emotional complexity thanks to the long gestation period. In short, fans will be glad they hung in there. It's worth it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether they think Veronica Mars is a role model. Do you think her ability to stand up against the rich and popular kids is realistic?
What are the positives and negatives of high school popularity? How does Veronica's change in status affect her actions? They can also talk about the race and class issues that the show raises -- do teens see these types of problems in their own community?
How do characters and plotlines change over time on Veronica Mars? Do characters change as they become adults? How do past choices turn out in later seasons? How is storytelling affected when a show plays out over a long period of time like this one does?
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