We Could Be Heroes

If you have any kind of life at all, there is a strong possibility that, even if you have heard that both Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are making a return to television, you haven’t had a moment to give it much thought. Luckily, I’m here to think for you!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an iconic show, like Star Trek or…Star Trek the Next Generation. You may not be a fan, you may never have seen it, but if you’re over fifteen and speak a romance language, you’ve heard of it. Buffy spun off into a sister show, Angel, that had a long run of its own. It also continues to this day in a comic book series that’s considered canon. I bet there are a few books, too. There are always books.  And boy does BTVS have a fan base, which doesn’t make writing about her here at all terrifying.

Veronica Mars, on the other hand, is less iconic but pretty great, like Star Trek: Deep Space 9...I’m told. I never really watched that one. That said, Veronica Mars also has a solid fan base that will always be looking for more. She too lived on after cancellation. There are no comics I'm aware of but there should be. There were, however, a few books, and Veronica got crowd-funded film. So there, Buffy. 

Also, there’s a related project on CW Seed called “Play it Again, Dick” that I’ve not checked out myself, but is set in the Veronicaverse. I would like props for bringing the deep cuts here, thanks.

Sadly, I missed Veronica when she was showing up on Tuesday nights. Why? No vampires. It seems “high school girl slays vampires” was an intriguing premise to me, while “high school girl solves crimes” was silly teen stuff.

Given that, how did I ever come to watch Veronica Mars, you ask? My friend, Les, said it was "like Buffy, but without vampires." I trust Les, so I accepted the slim possibility that something could be both "Like Buffy" and "Without vampires".

I soon discovered that what I like about both shows has nothing to do with crime or vampires. It turns out, I like shows about the difficulties of being a teenage girl. I imagine this might be because such shows, when done well, are about being forced into adulthood, which is a middle-aged man's worst fear. 

Ich bin ein teenage girl!

If you haven’t seen Veronica Mars, hopefully, Hulu will start streaming it again as they rev up for its return. Few shows hit the ground running the way this one does. The only way you’d know the pilot is a pilot, is that one character has much bigger hair in episode two than he did in episode one. That, and Veronica gives Willow back her haircut after episode one.

It’s tightly written with a minimum of contrived moments. (You try and set up a whole show in forty minutes without a contrived moment. Go ahead. Try. I'll wait right here.)  In fact, the second episode is much rougher than the first. It's like they got the green light, but only if they started shooting that afternoon. And, for some reason, Paris Hilton is in it?

Veronica, as a show, is also way scarier than Buffy. I’ll get to that.

Speaking of Buffy and first episodes...oh Buffy. Poor Buffy started as a mid-season replacement with a budget of five dollars and a free sheet pizza. No toppings. I'm pretty sure Joss Whedon had to bring his own camera. Even knowing that I cringe at the thought of season one. I've seen amazing work done with no budget at all. Remember a few columns back, when I wrote about The Guild? They really did bring their own camera and get paid in pizza (I assume), and it looks so, so much better. (Also, I’d like to point out that Felicia Day,  of the Guild and semi-famous person I don’t know but wish I did, played a Slayer in Buffy’s final season. Small world. By then, of course, Buffy had several cameras available, so she didn’t have to bring one. I think. I guess I can’t know that. Like I said, I don't know her. She may well bring a camera everywhere.)

So, Buffy hit the ground stumbling and then threw up a little. But, the whole point of Buffy is that she's a survivor. It's a little fitting that she struggled through the first season and survived with no place to go but up.

And up she went. Pretty sure, if not for Buffy, Veronica wouldn’t have made it past the “idea Rob Thomas had at breakfast one Tuesday” stage, if he’d even have had the idea at all. I can offer a completely unsubstantiated hypothesis that Rob Thomas was inspired by Buffy to create Veronica Mars. This is the internet. It's what we do here.

Buffy built itself slowly, relying on the strength of its characters and a magical ability to make plots that were embarrassing to summarize to friends, addictively compelling for viewers. Also, it addressed the real misery of being a hero in a way that still isn’t done much. Buffy Summers was the Peter Parker/Spider-Man of whatever generation it was that grew up watching her. Buffy had money problems, relationship problems, friends who suffered from addiction, and she had to kill the love of her life and send him to hell just to save the world. Everyone can relate to these things. 

And let us not forget “the Body”, the episode when Buffy comes home and finds her mother dead. Just dead. No bad guy to blame, no long illness. Just suddenly, unexpectedly, dead, the way people die. I’ve never seen normal, everyday death portrayed so accurately. Not on TV, not in a book, not in the most tempting Oscar bait. 

Now, keeping in mind that the show has something like that to offer, please, oh please, if you are a Buffy virgin, and you want to see what all the fuss is about, DO NOT START WITH SEASON ONE. Also, you need to forgive the effects for the first couple seasons. They were bad, even for the time. Later, when they had a budget, they got pretty good, though they’re kind of dated now.

So, Buffy, as a show, started with nothing and built itself into something pretty amazing. I’m betting the pitch for Veronica Mars was a bit of a slam dunk while standing on the Slayer's shoulders. But, Veronica Mars is more than "Buffy solves crimes". I think it owes a huge debt to S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” as much as anything else.  Veronica Mars is set in Neptune, CA, a town that has two economic classes, the super-rich, and their servants. The show revolves around the tension between those groups and Veronica’s remarkable ability to be hated by both. Thank you S.E.

We’re introduced to Veronica a few months after she’s been shunned by every friend she ever had, except the one whose murder led to the shunning. Her Father was the Sheriff until he made the mistake of accusing one of the richest guys in Richville of the murder of his own daughter, Veronica’s best friend. 

And this is where we cross over into a story that’s a whole lot scarier than any vampire. Veronica is a glossy show. It’s full of quips and cuteness and pretty twenty-somethings pretending to be in high school.  It’s also built on a brutal foundation of sexual violence that almost anyone with two X chromosomes is way too familiar with. I was just re-watching a few episodes to refresh my memory for this. Holy Cow.

Veronica isn’t just enduring lonely nights at home, not being invited to parties with the other kids. I didn’t keep count, but she’s threatened with being beaten bloody and/or raped by her former friends, and a motorcycle gang, so often, I'm pretty sure she doesn't have a waking hour without a threat. One would think having former friends suggest they’d rape you if they could, would be stomach-turning enough, but no. It turns out Veronica knows they mean it, because, flashback to her early shunning, she goes to a party, gets roofied, and at least one of them does rape her. Then they all tell the world she’s a whore, which the world believes because the world is horrible, and my god, why can’t a meteor hit the planet and end all this already!

That sort of relentless cruelty would crush most people. It would crush me. Veronica seems to treat it all as a good opportunity for improv as she relentlessly seeks justice for herself and her late friend. She's one of those badass heroes who suffer the worst the villain has to offer and laughs in their face. Casino Royale’s version of James Bond has nothing on Veronica Mars.

Veronica is certainly every bit the hero Buffy Summers is, even if she doesn't save the world much. She’s powerful, sly, and sharp, and I’m so glad that Kristen Bell, who has moved on in her career to some pretty great things, realizes that Veronica deserves to keep going. 

I think Veronica Mars is exactly who we need right now. 

I like you too Buffy. I'll beep you if we ever elect a vampire president.

Also, I think there’s room in this world for a Buffy, Veronica crossover. I'm not sure how it would work, but I so want to introduce Buffy and Veronica. 

There’s probably already fan fiction, huh?

Okay, kids. Next week I’ll write about, well, hmmm.  Maybe we’ll do some books or comics? I’m supposed to be a writer, right?