‘Un-American Graffiti’ marks a turning point of sorts for Veronica Mars. It is the first episode of the series to have nothing to do with a larger story arc and the first of a series of stand-alone mysteries of the week that will take Veronica Mars to what was, at the time, its series finale.
It’s always interesting when a series that previously had a strong pull towards story arcs that took whole seasons, sometimes whole runs, opts to go in a direction of stand-alone tales, leaving the characters and their journeys as a means to keep connective tissue between episodes.
Alias did so in its fourth season, and it’s not usually regarded as a popular season, while on the other hand, Angel turned towards self-contained stories in its fifth and final season after the previous three seasons were arc heavy, and ended up giving itself a boost and restoring a freshness to the series after a problematic fourth season.
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Three seasons in, or two and three-quarters to an extent at this rate, Veronica Mars pulling away from story arcs shouldn’t really hurt it after only being on air for a short period of time, but its reliance on story arcs that lasted a whole season was a defining factor and to watch this episode after two seasons of sustained arcs and two shorter storylines this season is a somewhat disconcerting experience at first. You’re waiting for something majorly dramatic to happen that’s going to set up some new drama to run the rest of the season and it never does.
It’s an episode that gets terrible reviews from some quarters and it’s easy to see why. Its intentions are honourable and coming at a time when the majority of Muslim characters on US television series were portrayed as terrorists (24, Sleeper Cell), means there is something refreshing about a show that presents a Muslim family away from clichés involving bomb threats and terrorist activity.
In a way, it’s defined as something of a noble failure, but it never quite hits the dramatic heights it’s aiming for, as if the episode is missing some deeper, connective tissue that it would get from a larger story arc in order to sustain it or maybe even make it more memorable.
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The character stuff is what keeps any sense of forward momentum going as an ongoing plot between episodes, and it’s here that the script from Robert Hull resorts to the usual love triangle, or in this case love quadrangle (thank you, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) clichés as Logan starts a new relationship with Parker, and Veronica kisses Piz.
It’s a shame, because Chris Lowell as Piz and Julie Gonzalo as Parker are great in their roles, but ever since the end of the campus rapist storyline it feels as if the series has run of things for Parker to do. So now they’re pushing her into the realm of a love rival for Veronica, albeit a more sympathetic one, while Piz, who has really had nothing to do outside of being Veronica’s best male friend whenever Wallace isn’t around, is now a love rival for Logan.
Airing after a two-month hiatus in the US, this was not the best of episodes for Veronica Mars to return to in order to try to get new viewers – which the move away from story arcs was meant to do – or to even get its new self-contained format off the ground. The good news is that it’s not for nothing. There are some enjoyable episodes coming up (including the one with Paul Rudd), but it still reminds viewers that Veronica Mars was at its best whenever it had a bigger picture that lasted all season long.
That this season has been all over the place because of the change in format and probably setting, is a clear indicator as to why Rob Thomas was opting to change the format of the series radically when he pitched the fourth season to The CW, but that’s a story for another time.