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Veronica Mars: Season One

If you haven't been paying attention, young adult fiction has grown surprisingly mature, with writers such as Louis Sachar, Philip Pullman, Lois Duncan, S. E. Hinton, Lois Lowry, and Rob Thomas, among many others, dealing frankly with sex, violence, drugs, and social conflict, just as most kid-oriented movies such as animated features are wittier and better paced than adult fare — livelier, with more engaging characters and imaginative plots. Rob Thomas (Rats Saw God) is the creative spirit behind Veronica Mars. An unofficial updating of the Nancy Drew books with keggers, premarital sex, and roofies, the series takes place in the fictional town of Neptune, lodged somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego. Neptune also lies to the west of seemingly placid Wisteria Lane and just south of the O.C. — it's got the amused narration and serious murder plots of one popular show and the beautiful, rich, sun-dazed teens of another. By day, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) goes to Neptune High, where the class divisions are out of Dickens, and where she is the most unpopular girl due to the actions of her dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) during a murder case a year earlier when he was sheriff. By night, she works for her dad, who opened the Keith Mars Detective Agency after his wife Lianne (Corinne Bohrer) abandoned them in the wake of the scandal. From week to week Veronica takes on one minor mystery after another (Did the Neptune High's history teacher really sleep with a student? Who kidnapped the school's mascot parrot?), while her overriding mission is to solve the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried), whose brother (Teddy Dunn) Veronica once dated.

That by the last episode Veronica did solve this mystery, in a fully gratifying and tear-inducing climax, is a credit to the show's creators, who pack more plot, character, and incident in a typical hour of Veronica Mars than there is in a whole season of "Lost." From its hallucinogenic theme song by the Dandy Warhols to its sometimes garish color schemes, Veronica Mars may come across at first like one of those old USA Network sexy crime shows, but in reality is arguably the best kid's program on the air. One of its conceits is that Veronica used to be one of the cool kids, but since the scandal she can view those rich, selfish layabouts with a mix of outsider and insider perspectives. The success of the series is due on the one hand to the petite Bell, and also to the show's quotably clever dialogue and intricately designed plots. The pilot offers a good example of how thoroughly satisfying the Mars narratives can be, and the episode "Ruskie Business" proves the attention to detail the writers bring, from the episode titles on down, with its intricate blend of Russian mail order brides, Tom Cruise, and '80s nostalgia. The program made its debut on the Paramount-owned UPN network on September 22, 2004, and came perilously close to cancellation, but fan-marshaled protests were enough for UPN to approve a second round (in which the season long story arc concerns a school bus tragedy that may be no accident).

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Despite the fact that UPN is a Paramount-Viacom company, Veronica Mars is produced by Warner Television, and Warner Home Video releases Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season in a six-disc set. Each disc contains at least four of the first season's 22 episodes with anamorphic transfers (1.78:1) and Dolby Digital audio, as well as captions in English, French, and Spanish. (Each disc also has a "play all" option.) Given the rabid fan-base for the show, it's disappointing that the extras are little more than an extended version of the pilot, a collection of deleted or extended scenes (22 min.) — 28 of them from 14 episodes — and a brief promo for Season Two. For the most part, the deleted scenes add little to our understanding of the episodes, except for clarifying parts of "Hot Dogs" and "Ruskie Business." Each disc has a special features screen, which summarily explains that the supplements are on Disc Six. Also included is a 16-page booklet with stills, credits, episode summaries, and chapter titles. Six-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcase.
—D.K. Holm

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