The beginning of the third season of Veronica Mars marked the beginnings of several new chapters for the series; a new setting in the shape of Hearst College; a new central mystery for our heroine to solve, one that had been set up in the second half of season two; and most importantly, a new television network.
When The WB and UPN decided to merge to create The CW, it came with it the question of what shows from each network would make the move. The WB had several series under its wing that was incredibly successful for it; Smallville, Supernatural and Gilmore Girls. UPN, on the other hand, hadn’t as many, although it did become the home to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Roswell, two series that originated on The WB but moved to UPN when the 20th Century Fox, who produced both those series, had contractual disagreements with The WB.
On its own, UPN had been the home of Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise, but when the network merger happened the highest-profile moves to The CW would end up being America’s Next Top Model and Veronica Mars.
It is always strange to find out, if you didn’t already know that is, that Veronica Mars started off on UPN; the series felt very much like something that could have come from the home of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and Smallville; teen characters, in well-written narratives with great production values, so it really doesn’t come as a surprise that it would stay the course and make the move to an uber network that was the creation of Warner Bros and CBS/Paramount.
Veronica Mars was a series that always struggled commercially and was the age-old story of being a series with a devoted following, great critical acclaim but with an inability to translate those things into commercial success, even though really it ought to have been given that the series has all the makings of what should have been a hit series. Even being on a low rated network like UPN, the series had the feeling of being a small fish in a small pond.
With a move to a new network of sorts came changes and they were changes that would affect the third season in the long-term. We get a revamped credit sequence that comes as a jolt the first time you watch it but which by the end of the season you’ve gotten very much used to, but it was the change in the storytelling format that would have the biggest impact on the series, and not for the best.
Amazingly, despite the season premiering in 2006, at a time when 24 and Lost were gaining huge ratings for the Fox Network and ABC, The CW wanted Veronica Mars to ditch the season-long story arc format that had managed to garner critical acclaim and such a brilliant body of work over its first two seasons, and as a result Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero and the writers room would conceive of a season split into three smaller story arcs, starting with a return to the storyline that had begun in the previous season’s “The Rapes of Graff“.
A teen drama series making the move to college can be a time of great upheaval for a series. While Veronica Mars only spent two seasons in high school, other teen dramas sometimes spent three or four years at high school before making such a move and it’s that move to a college setting that can see a previously loved high school drama start to lose its way or charm as previously younger characters start to grapple with the onslaught of adulthood.
Nearly every major American teen drama on the small screen has seen audiences complain or criticise a series more when their characters move out of the family home and into the world of college dorms, drinking and sexual intercourse. Veronica Mars had always had that more adult feel to it so the move to more adult-oriented problems doesn’t feel like a major hurdle for it; if anything here is a series that was preparing for it as far back as halfway through the second season, and which hadn’t been afraid to go into darker emotional territory right from the beginning of its “Pilot” episode.
As a season premiere goes, “Welcome Wagon” gets of to a pacey start and introduces some new characters as well as finally promoting Tina Majorino to regular status. However, once again with the series, one has to question how tasteful it is to parlay a narrative involving sexual assault into a story arc that asks the question of “who done it?”.
New addition to the season Parker (Julie Gonzalo) wakes up to find her hair shaved off and the victim of the same, unknown, rapist from “The Rapes of Graff” and while Rob Thomas’ teleplay is incredibly engaging and asks some tough questions of the audience and Veronica, it does leave one a little uneasy that the series is returning to this storytelling well again for a third of the season.
Admittedly the story arc is more than enough to sustain an entire season, but given that its main focus this season is on violence against women as well as its problematic portrayal of feminism on a college campus, one cannot help but feel that the series might be straying into territory it might best avoid.
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