Veronica Mars

This is hard for me to believe, but I had never seen the pilot episode of Veronica Mars in its entirety until today. I started watching in prime time with episode 1.2—with a healthy dose of cynicism—when I was assigned to write about it for a local paper and interview Enrico Colantoni. I had written it off in advance as another Dawson’s Creek-type teen drama. But I fell in love. VM ended up being the first show I can remember that I made sure not to miss, and re-watched episodes, and talked about to friends and co-workers. I worked as an extra on it twice, and an episode was taped where I work. I love this show. And I love pilots. So I have no logical explanation for why I’ve never seen episode 1.1 until now. I write about it with full knowledge of who killed Lily, and all the other secrets that will be revealed, which makes the early hints that much more exciting.

Right away, the theme gritty song, “We Used to be Friends,” grabs you. (Hated when they remixed it for Season 3.) Veronica gives us a succinct and color introduction to Neptune, the town where she lives. It’s populated with the over-privileged and those who work for them.

She’s tenacious: She alone steps forward to help a boy who’s been taped, naked, to a flagpole in front of the high school. She’s smart: She demonstrates thorough understanding of the assigned reading even though she’s dozing in English class. She’s a smartass: When cops come to search her locker, she’s comfortable telling their dog to back off. She’s bitter: Her family isn’t rich and important like the others in town. The bitterness continues as Veronica explains how she used to be in with the cool crowd. Now it looks like her only friend is the new kid, Wallace—the one she freed from the flagpole. There a couple of blue-tinged flashbacks to reveal what her life used to be like, full of parties and BFFs.

After life at school, we see life at work; Veronica’s dad’s P.I. office. Her dad, Keith used to be the town’s Sheriff. (There are lots of “used-to-bes,” in keeping with the theme song.) Currently, V. is trailing Jake Kane on assignment from his suspicious wife. Veronica used to date their son Duncan, and her best friend was their daughter Lily. Lily was murdered, Keith accused Mr. Kane but couldn’t prove anything, was removed from office by recall, and V.’s mom left them. To add insult to injury, people believe it was Keith who leaked a video of the crime scene all over the internet.

The new sheriff immediately found evidence incriminating a Kane employee, and the matter was put to uneasy rest. Also, Lily’s boyfriend, the rich, spoiled bad boy Logan Echolls really, really hates V. In another subplot, V. reveals that she lost her virginity while roofied at some party the year before. This won’t be unraveled until the end of Season 2, but clues are revealed in several episodes along the way. I love when a show asks for a viewer’s long term commitment for payoff.

But wait, there’s more. V.’s mom appears to be shacking up with Jake Kane. The Veronica-Wallace friendship is a little sappy, but it lets the audience see that V. still has a heart, and gives us a look at her mad P.I. skills and twisted sense of humor. She ends up with the local biker gang in her camp, defending her from Logan. It’s a delightfully tangled web. Every little detail will come back in later episodes. Of course, you don’t know that. But the kicker: Keith is still investigating Lily’s murder. That alone lets us know there are plenty of juicy revelations to look forward to.

V. leaves us with this declaration: “I will find out what really happened.” Rest assured, she will.

Weird note: I once saw the first 10 minutes or so of this episode online (in French) and the scene where V. is camped outside the Camelot Motel in her car was the cold open. Here there is no cold open, and that scene takes place mid-episode. Hm.

Here’s an article I wrote about this show early in its run, including an interview with Enrico Colantoni.

UPDATE 8/14/10: For a more thorough analysis of this blog then you probably ever dreamed of, check out this blog.

Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies KeyartWe know in an instant that Pushing Daisies is going to be an unusual show. The first image we see is of an endless field of bright yellow flowers capped by an impossibly blue sky. A narrator with a deep, storyteller voice tells us that the little boy and his dog running through the flowers are Ned and Digby, along with their ages, down to the minute.

Digby is dramatically run down by a truck, but when Ned touches him, more with curiosity than sadness, the dog jumps up fully alive. Ned, we are told, has the ability to bring dead things back to life. Now pay attention. His mom is struck dead by on the kitchen floor by an aneurysm. Ned brings her back to life. Exactly one minute later, the man across the street drops dead. The dead guy’s daughter is Chuck, the apple of Ned’s eye. When Ned hugs his mom good night, she dies. Again. It’s a complicated gift, and if you missed this first three minutes, I doubt you would make much sense out of the show later on. One touch brings someone back to life, a second kills them. If the person is kept alive for more than one minute, someone nearby dies is his stead.

Fast forward to present day. Ned (the adorable Lee Pace) owns a pie shop. Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), a customer and a private investigator, has recruited Ned to help him investigate murders. It’s a big—and refreshing—leap from the normal cop-with-an-unusual-partner show. Kristen Chenoweth plays the pixie-like waitress Olive, who has a thing for Ned.

Soon, we see Ned and Emerson in action, as Ned sets his watch alarm for one minute and wakes a dead guy to find out how he got that way. Bam, the mystery is solved, and the audience has a sense of how the show will go.

Things become more complicated, however, when the next murder victim turns out to be Chuck (Anna Friel, kind of a British Zooey Deschanel–that’s a good thing), Ned’s childhood crush. He wakes her; she’s spunky, she’s charming, and reveals that the two of them were each other’s first kiss. Awww… Ned can’t bring himself to re-kill her, so after a minute, she is stuck between life and death for good. What really sucks is Ned has found the love of his life and he can’t touch her. Great dramatic tension, if difficult to believe.

The rest of the pilot (titled “Pie-lette”) involves solving Chuck’s murder, and protecting her aunts, Vivian and Lillian, from the killer. The aunt’s back story is that they are former synchronized swimming stars until one lost an eye, and now they are agoraphobics with a penchant for cheese.

To love this show requires buying fully into the premise. You have to treat it like the beautiful storybook that it is and not over-think reality. The characters talk at Gilmore Girls speed, and plays on words fly back and forth like ping-pong balls. Every detail matters. There is a sort of 1950s aesthetic in both the language and the look. Color in this show is a character in itself. Everywhere there are brighter-than-life hues, from the bulbous cherry red lamps in the pie shop to Olive’s floral print wallpaper and matching pajamas.

As with creator Bryan Fuller’s other shows, Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, not enough people apparently got it. It was, however, nominated for several Emmys, winning for Directing, Editing, Music Composition (2008), Art Direction, Make-up, Costumes, and Best Supporting Actress—Kristen Chenoweth (2009). Honestly, it was one of those impossible to sustain premises, much like in the aforementioned shows, that couldn’t work forever. But the Pie-lette is delicious.