TV discussion

TV Rewind… Veronica Mars 1×19 – ‘Hot Dogs’

If watching “Hot Dogs” is going to accomplish anything, it’s that the Dean Martin song That’s Amore will never be the same again.

Don’t you just love it when television shows or movies, but in particular television shows, take somewhat upbeat songs and apply them to scenes that are incredibly dark and violent? It’s become something of a cliché in the last few years, particularly with cable television shows, but there was a time when to see it done on the small screen was something of a novelty.

Arguably The X-Files and Millennium, in particular the works of Glen Morgan and James Wong, were the most infamous for its use. The X-Files episode “Home” and its use of the Johnny Mathis song Wonderful, Wonderful made for a blisteringly dark effect, while its sibling series used Bobby Darin frequently, usually when someone was murdered.

Although not as famous for doing it, Rob Thomas deserves credit for also being able to use music so brilliantly and in a contrapuntal way. His recent series iZombie has done it really well, and there are times when Veronica Mars does it too, but I assure you that no other moment in the series applying some famous song to a contrapuntal moment is anywhere near as powerful as when Aaron Echolls beats the hell out of Trina’s (a pleasingly wonderful return appearance from Alyson Hannigan) boyfriend with a belt while Dean Martin sings joyfully over the soundtrack.

It once again reminds the audience that in watching Veronica Mars, one is not merely watching a teen show. In fact, it’s fair to say by this point that the series had effectively become a drama/thriller with teen protagonists within it rather than just a teen show. Dawson’s Creek this ain’t, and it’s probably reaching beyond in ambitions than what Buffy the Vampire Slayer had done.

“Hot Dogs” is another excellent episode, and while it may not hit the heights of last week, it still manages to do that wonderful thing of facilitating a mystery of the week that seems like typical fodder for a teen mystery drama and then opening it up beyond those limits, but it does this thing of churning the audience morals into deep knots.

Make no mistake, Aaron Echolls is not a nice guy. Sure, he’s trying to be a better father and he appears to be listening to his daughter and taking into consideration the prospect of starring in her boyfriend’s movie, a role that she pitches as doing for her father what Pulp Fiction did for John Travolta, but the episode builds to a sequence that reminds the audience of his history of doling out brutal abuse to his son, but does so when he beats the hell out of someone who actually deserves it and who we actually want to see get hurt.

It’s a complex set up that many other shows would best avoid but then again Veronica Mars never does anything simply, or take the easy way out. Hell, it would be easy to take Aaron as having reformed or having changed his ways here, but make no mistake, the guy is good at beating someone with a belt and we know this because of Logan.

Of course, one cannot distill the excellence of an episode simply due to one scene, and this week’s mystery taking in a missing pet and a potentially annoying student at the school becomes incredibly entertaining and goes off in wonderful rabbit holes the like of which this show does all too well and which it can practically do in its sleep by this stage.

Thankfully, though, it doesn’s sleepwalk through a plot like this and instead devotes every inch of its emotional core to it as well. The character of Mandy could have been super annoying in the hands of another actress, but Claire Titelman goes and makes what could have been a run of the mill plotline involving a missing pet and a kidnapping plot involving pets gone wrong into something just that little bit deeper.

Even more brilliantly as all this is going on, we get a further exploration over the relationship between Weevil and Lilly that throws more fuel to the fire of the series’ ever-deepening mystery. The series throws in another curveball for the audience here as over the course of the season Weevil has been shown to be a pretty decent guy despite his somewhat violent attitude in the “Pilot”, but his developing respectful friendship with Veronica and his more sympathetic characterization over the season has helped the audience love him more. There’s a gentle, dark reminder that he wasn’t always so, even if both he and Lilly had real feelings for each other.

Francis Capra, III is just wonderful as Weevil, having a demeanor of someone you want to trust, but just carrying a little bit of darkness that you know can possibly tip over when it needs to.

It’s another piece of icing on the cake that helps make the episode another thoroughly entertaining instalment from one of American television’s most underrated and brilliant television dramas.

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