It’s really hard to know where to start with “President Evil”. It’s another episode this season that is neither great nor particularly terrible, but it still leaves one feeling that the series is running on fumes a little at this stage in the third season. It’s difficult to decide whether or not that is down to the campus rapist story arc not being anywhere near as great as the previous two seasons, or if the series is simply having the trouble that every American teen drama has: Going to college.
It goes without saying that when US teen dramas make the move to a college campus, they run into some trouble. Inevitably one is left feeling that the series is nowhere near as good as it was when it was walking through the corridors of a high school. It’s not necessarily that a series loses a sense of youthful innocence – and that’s definitely not the case with Veronica Mars, which has always walked on a darker line of exploration of being a teen – as this has always been a series that hasn’t pulled punches, tastefully or not, on issues of rape, sexuality and murder.
Many other shows that have aired on US television, particularly The WB or later on The CW, have run into creative issues when it comes to the move to college. The later years of Gilmore Girls are never viewed as favourably as when the series was in Chilton; the first four seasons of Dawson’s Creek appear to have a more favourable reaction when it was in Capeside High as opposed to when it split its characters across several colleges (and really could have ended perfectly with its season four finale); when Buffy the Vampire Slayer went to UC Sunnydale it was during the second half of its run and those seasons, especially as they grappled with more grown-up issues, still bring on a split reaction amongst Buffy aficionados to this day (the most controversial season, its sixth, does appear to be going through something of a reappraisal).
Five episodes into Veronica Mars‘ third season and it’s clear that the world of Neptune isn’t going to be immune to such a polarising reaction, even though this was the one teen series that should have been more than prepared to be able to deal with the move into a supposedly more mature environment given how confrontational some of the storytelling already had been on the series.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the issues are here, but everything just feels off in a way that it never has done before. Whether or not that’s down to it being on a different network, albeit one which connections to the one it was on before, and having to change certain aspects of itself, but five episodes into this season, it’s hard to shift the feeling that the series has run aground a little.
Some of the plotting here is more than decent, and it has a wonderful set up for a mystery the type of which this show could do in its sleep; a college party is robbed and Veronica investigates, but even this gives way to some lazy plotting by the teleplay as Weevil comes under suspicion and Veronica immediately thinks its him.
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This aspect of the episode feels forced and wrong by the series at this stage. Yes, Weevil has done some unscrupulous things in the past and he’s the closest the series has to an anti-heroic character, but at this stage of the series Veronica should know him well enough to not suspect him outright of the robbery and yet it pushes ahead with some obvious drama in a way that it never usually does and it’s disappointing to see the series fall into obvious storytelling in this way.
The subplots going on around it are much more interesting, made even more so by the knowledge of where some of the new characters introduced here are going to go and how they’re going to affect the lives of others, but it’s almost not enough to completely save the episode, not even in retrospect, and that’s a real shame.