The Complete Third Season
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Reviewed by David Medsker
t must have been devastating for producer Rob Thomas to give the newly reorganized CW network two perfectly viable – and drastically different – scenarios for a fourth season of “Veronica Mars,” and watch both of them be rejected in favor of another season of “7th Heaven.” From a numbers perspective, the decision was an easy one. “Mars” never made big waves in the ratings, but then again, that will happen when your network’s programming is pre-empted in a significant number of the markets that deign to carry it in the first place.
So marks the end of “Veronica Mars,” unless Thomas follows up on his threat to make “Mars: The Movie,” which we’re currently filing somewhere between doubtful and ho, ho and indeed, ho. The finale has an open ending (more on that later), but unlike the second season, which had one gargantuan story arc at its center and a considerably darker tone than the show’s first season, “Veronica Mars: The Complete Third Season” gets back to the show’s core strengths: self-contained episodes, two smaller story arcs instead of one long arc, and a much-needed dose of humor.
Now that the gang has graduated from Neptune High, the action moves to nearby Hearst College. The one thing Veronica (Kristen Bell, wowzers) wants to do above all is make some friends, but before she knows it, she’s neck-deep in a date rape scandal and finding herself defending Dick Casablancas (the awesome Ryan Hansen) and his fraternity goons against a blood-thirsty group of angry women. Also, her criminology professor might be a killer, her boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) repeatedly beats people up in her name, and her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni) finds himself in an unlikely battle with sleazy private dick Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino).
It’s a given that “Veronica Mars,” much like its kindred spirit “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” had oh-so-timely (read: instantly dated) dialogue, with its multiple references to “South Park” and “The Simpsons.” Still, just try to not laugh when Veronica quips -- upon seeing a suspect get popped for tens of thousands in stolen merchandise by the police -- “And boom goes the dynamite.” Bell sells these lines better than anyone, which is why Thomas could create an entirely new universe for the show when he was pitching the network on a fourth season and it would work. Bell is just that good.
That, of course, is not to say that her supporting cast isn’t equally as good. Colantoni more than holds his own as Keith Mars, and no one makes hot-headed as charming as Dohring. What really makes the show special, though, are the second-tier performers. Along with Hansen, whose character has surprising depth for someone so shallow, props must go to Michael Muhney and his unforgettable portrayal of Sherriff Don Lamb. His Lamb is like Chief Wiggum with self-awareness, and he was a marvelous foil to Keith, who was superior to Lamb in every possible way other than job status. And in tradition with the show’s tendency to stunt-cast, the mid-season performance by Ed Begley Jr. as Hearst Dean Cyrus O’Dell was deliciously nasty, a significant step up from Steve Guttenberg’s blandly menacing mayoral candidate from the previous season.
The loss of “Veronica Mars” is, for the moment, a gain for “Heroes,” thanks to Bell’s stint as the electric daughter of company man Bob. But this is a short-term gain, to be sure. A world without “Veronica Mars” is a slightly darker, duller place than it was when the show was landing in the top 140 shows on television. It’s never easy to say goodbye, we suppose, but this one stings.
Special Features: Even with an entire DVD dedicated to extras – made possible by cutting the show to 20 episodes when all was said and done – the pickings are slim. The deleted scenes take longer for Rob Thomas to explain than they take to watch, and the gag reel is, well, a gag reel. The jewel of the disc, and ultimately the set, is the short film Thomas put together as a last-ditch effort to save the show, featuring Veronica as a new agent for the FBI. She has an entirely new cast of characters around her, and even Bob Gunton (the warden in “The Shawshank Redemption”) appears as Veronica’s first target. It’s a fascinating, painful reminder of what might have been.