Thursday , February 29 2024
The show may be dead, but the investigations live on.

Book Review: Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars Edited by Rob Thomas

The world today moves faster than it ever has before.  Television shows have fanbases that rapidly rise and fall with the tide.  Incredibly vocal minorities decry the loss of characters, plotlines, and shows, all the while voraciously consuming everything written about the programs and hoping against hope that their pet show will become the next Lost (before the fall).  And, there is always someone willing to step up and explain why these fans are right, why the show they love is great and brilliant, witty and wise. 

For Veronica Mars fans that void has been filled with Neptune Noir:  Unauthorized Investigations Into Veronica Mars, edited by Rob Thomas (creator and executive producer of the show).  I am in no way saying that Veronica Mars, or any other show, is unworthy of such treatment, only that such treatment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent.  In any case, Neptune Noir includes 18 different essays, plus an introduction to the book by Rob Thomas, and a few paragraphs by Rob preceding each essay. 

The essays focus on the exact areas one would think:  girl power, class, racism, parental relationships, friendships, high school, noir, and story structure.  While individually many of them are well-written, they tend to cover the same ground over and over, using the same episodes of the series to support their opinions.  The essays all seem to come from the time between the end of the second and start of the third season (with Rob’s comments coming during the filming of the third season), so there really isn’t all that much material to work with (less than 50 episodes), and it shows.

By a large margin, the most interesting parts of the book are Rob Thomas’s introductions.  He is quite clear in them about what his intents were when creating certain scenes and story arcs and what the “happy accidents” were.  These introductions are the beginning point of a fascinating dialogue between author and producer, fan and creator.  Were it to be expanded (letters back and forth, transcripts of conversations between author and producer, etc.) it would make for an even more fascinating experience.  Even so, as it exists it is a wonderful highlight to Neptune Noir.

One of the best essays, perhaps for it being completely different than all the others, is Lawrence Walt-Evans’s “I’m in Love with My Car:  Automotive Symbolism on Veronica Mars.”  Walt-Evans takes a close look at the different type of vehicles that all the characters on the show drive (and they do all drive) and then applies those cars to the personality traits the characters exhibit.  His argument is that this show is the one show on television where every vehicle choice is thought out and defined and an extension of the character’s personality. 

However, even this essay is not without its flaws.  In discussing how Veronica Mars’s use of cars is different from every other show on television, he writes about how a number of other shows never show vehicles (except should they be essential to a plot point).  One of the shows he mentions as never showing characters having a car is How I Met Your Mother.  This is a bad choice for two main reasons:  a second season episode of HIMYM does in fact show one of the characters having a car (this mistake is forgivable as his essay was presumably written prior to this episode), and HIMYM takes place in New York City, a place where having a car can more often be a liability than an asset.  Veronica Mars, as a California show, requires that characters have cars in order to be mobile, it’s not a fair comparison, the New York City vs. Southern California lifestyle is different to such a degree that this comparison has no validity. 

The majority of the book has bits and pieces like this, minor points mostly, than can be picked apart and dissected and argued about.  There are as well some points that work better in a discussion of the first and second seasons of the show than the third season (again, the essays were written prior to the third season starting).  Whether or not those arguments fall flat because the author simply was not given the opportunity to see enough of the show, or Thomas changing things around as a response to the essays is up for debate. 

Taken individually the many essays that comprise Neptune Noir:  Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars provide a fascinating look not only at the show, but at its fanbase as well (make no mistake, many of the authors are fans).  There are moments however when they seem to be trying to hard, when authors as fans push arguments that seem to be justifications, excuses, for them liking the series so much (I would include Misty Hook’s “Boom Goes the Dynamite:  Why I Love Veronica and Logan” among these) rather than a more scholarly piece.  Even so, fans of Veronica Mars will be well pleased to see their opinions on the series justified in this pop-scholar book and people wondering what all the fuss is about may be intrigued as well.  And, very happily, the book is written in a manner accessible to everyone, not just scholars.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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