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January 25 2006

'Buffy', it ain't. A positive review of 'Veronica Mars' that draws comparisons between the series and 'Buffy'.

Nice review :) Thanks for the linkage, Faith Antoinette!
Hmm, a review that compares BtVS and VM . . . my issue with this strategy is that it continues to backfire, for me at least. I suspect the writer intends to draw in BtVS viewers with the comparision. Inevitably, however, my hackles are raised by lines such as "like Buffy, only without the whining," or the contention that because VM "follows the law of physics," this makes the show more "realistic," or at least in some undefined way, "better." I don't buy it, alas.

I apologize if what follows pisses anyone off, 'cos I'm well aware that many members love Veronica but . . .
I bought VM Season One. I've watched some ten to twelve episodes. It's well-acted and written, and looks good. I wasn't gripped. I don't feel the need to watch more. And I didn't find the portrayal of the various communities at Neptune particularly "realistic" in any way (big caveat: didn't go to high school in the States, so who am I to judge?). Bottom-line: I cared and care deeply about the students at Sunnydale High, and care rather little about VM and her cohorts. And I kinda wish reviewers would just deal with the show on its own terms, rather than tell us how much better it is than another well-loved show.
Great review that gets why there are comparisons to Buffy in Veronica Mars, and yet are very different shows. Great TV is Great TV, whether the monsters are supernatural or just around the corner in the next ZIP code.
SNT, we've been down this road before, I think. My memory may be colored by my own experience, but I believe the last big VM thread contained a sizable number of entries from people who weren't "gripped" by Season One until around the last fourth of the season, and then they were totally hooked. I think you may have stopped just a little too soon. I admit it's a bit dicey to have to wait that many episodes for it to "kick in", but frankly that's what happened to me with BtVS, too. I didn't really like S1 (i.e. the first 12 eps) but about halfway through S2 I was totally in love.

That said, I still love BtVS better. No contest.

(And your comments don't piss me off at all, BTW. Very civilized.)
Thanks Chickenbird. I know many of our discussions are circular - and this may be more than most. I guess the tone of the review just struck a nerve.

As for the "keep watching, it gets better" thing. I suppose I trust in the words of my fellow members, but ya know, there's a lot of competition out there for my viewing/reading/whatever time. Things I like, I tend to like from the get-go: the first episode of BtVS I saw ("The Puppet Show"), the pilot of Serenity, the opening of Spaced, the pilot of Freaks and Geeks, ditto Deadwood.

Now, sometimes I like something initially, and then my like/love will wane. Carnivale, say. And sometimes an initially small amount of like will blossom into full-blown passion. (Right now, that's Six Feet Under on DVD). But I think ten episodes is a sufficient indication for me. And I only gave Farscape six. What can you do? Maybe I'll tune in again next year and realize what I was missing.

I really do believe VM is high-quality; however, the nature of that quality - like that of fine furniture or sushi - may be beyond my ken.
How I agree with you, SoddingNancyTribe. I'm beginning to loathe these VM-BtVS comparisons, seeing as they inevitably involve slighting one of the two shows.

That's great that the reviewer has found a new TV obsession. VM is certainly a critically lauded show and this reviewer is joining a growing club. But again with the tired realistic-nonrealistic/good-bad dichotomy? Again with the not understanding that the supernatural elements of BtVS are - hello! - *metaphors* for very real-life problems? From its first moment, BtVS operated at both superficial and richly-layered symbolic levels, something that is very rare in TV, at least to the degree that BtVS demonstrated. Is this so difficult for a thinking reviewer to grasp? Must a TV show take place in some TV-simulated version of the "real world" to be real? That seems a rather limited perspective to me.

To each their own, of course. My comment is not meant to be a slight against VM or indeed, against the reviewer. (Although forgive me if I point out that VM is not a terribly realistic, gritty show. Check out "The Wire" for that. I'd call VM "hyperreal." Veronica's snazzy PI equipment and seemingly unlimited funds and time for using and supplying said equipment is not terribly realistic. although I have no problem with that. I like "hyperreal.") However, to my mind, there's nothing more real than the emotional core and emotional journeys of BtVS. The supernatural stuff? It's the, well, the phlebotinin, i.e., the magical whatchamacallits and magical plot points that catch the viewer's attention and drive the plot. Hitchcock called it the "MacGuffin." What's really important is the character development and the emotional realism, no matter now outlandish the phlebotinin. BtVS had that in spades. I'm not entirely qualified to say that VM has it in spades, too, but I'm happy to believe it does. The reviewer certainly makes a good case for that. Just please, if you want to praise VM, don't put down BtVS while you're doing it. Two different shows. Two different styles. Let them be judged on their own merits. Please.

(I never was sure of the spelling of "phlebotinin," a sad state of affairs since it's my username. I chose the spelling used in one of the Watcher's Guides in an interview with David Fury, in which he discussed the concept of the phlebotinin.)

[ edited by phlebotinin on 2006-01-25 23:55 ]
I really enjoyed this article; thanks Faith Antoinette!

The "without the whining" comment was a little surprising, considering that the author is a Buffy fan. And indeed, the author did seem to criticize the supernatural elements in the other shows that she enjoys.

I agree with you, SNT, that these articles comparing VM with Buffy are a poor strategy and I can't see them accomplishing anything. I liked this article though because it does a good job of summarizing VM and like the author (and unlike SNT ;) I, too got addicted to VM whilst watching the first season on DVD. I adore the character of Veronica and can't get enough of her. I haven't been this excited for a new episode of TV since Angel was still on the air!
For the record I was pretty nonplussed by Veronica Mars until episode 16-18 or so. I initially stopped at around episode 12 and decided it wasn't for me, until so many people (Joss included) started praising it. I'm glad I pushed through, the show hit a higher tier. I remember my feelings about the show very specifically and they mirror SNTs exactly.
I've occasionally tuned in to Veronica Mars, and I appreciate it as a very well-done show that deserves to have a larger audience. But at the same time, the show has never really captured me, perhaps because it's a bit too soapy for my tastes. I like shows that have fast-paced action as well as interesting drama, which VM just doesn't. But I still hope VM doesn't get cancelled for all of its watchers' sakes.
VM and BtVS is an apples to oranges comparison for me. Both great, but totally different.
Hee! I love your username, El Diablo Robotico. It was one of the funniest concepts in AtS S5. Ah, the glory days when AtS was airing....

I appreciate SNT's not fully getting into VM and his rationale for not continuing with the episode watching. I imagine not everyone who pushes on past VM's 18th episode will end up loving it. As wonderful a program as it may be, it simply may not be to everyone's tastes. Some people aren't fond of apples but they love oranges. Fair enough, I say. As long as people don't slander apples. Unless apples is Charmed.
I initially hated the comparisons between VM and BtVS, because, like a few others here have mentioned, they're such different shows. The only reason I could see for even mentioning the two together was that they both had smart, tough, teenage blond heroines.
I still dislike the comparisons if they're used as a reason to put down one of the two shows, but I have come to think there's a bit more similarities between the two than I first saw. The use of metaphor and genre, for one – with Buffy, it used fantasy and horror and demons to illustrate the deeper emotional truths going on with teenagers. VM is set in a film noir genre, and uses that for some of the same purposes - that sort of hyperrealism, as Phlebotinin said - using those noirish elements to illustrate deeper emotional realities. I don't think the writers at all intend the show to be "realistic" in the way that a show like the Wire is.
In that way, both Buffy and VM exaggerate the drama and pain of high school to get closer to the "reality" of the way it feels, whether that's high-school-as-horror or high-school-as-noir.
Both shows are well-written, have good character development, and DO, after all, feature a plucky, resourceful, petite female lead.

That said, I don't think the comparisons really do any favors to either show, and it's better just to appreciate them each for what they are. For me personally, VM is my favorite show currently on air (that'll change when Deadwood and the Wire come back), and the only one I wait for with anything like the Buffy anticipation I used to have. But does my VM-love equal my Buffy-love? Not even close.....
The people who think VM is "better" than Buffy because it's more "realistic" are probably the same people who think that season 6 of Buffy was the only season in which the problems were like "real life."
Ah, well said, acp.
Oh, and phlebotinin, Great to see you take the chance to wield your user name so incisively in your analysis! I'd read a long time ago your explanation for what phlebotinin was, but had forgotten - it's a great word.
Indeed, well said, acp!

Maybe my good fortune (as it was,) was accidentally seeing the penultimate episode of Veronica Mars' first season as my very first episode. Then, I saw the season finale and felt so much emotion, fear, and pain for the characters after only two hours of investment so I HAD to see the rest of the season. Of course, I knew the answer to the mystery but really enjoyed the interaction between characters. I wonder how my experience would have been different if I had seen the first season consecutively...
However, to my mind, there's nothing more real than the emotional core and emotional journeys of BtVS.

I agree. I really like VM and think it's one of the best shows on TV right now, but the BtVS comparisons tire me so much b/c I don't find the shows very similar. I actually think VM is closer to an Austen-like sort of fiction. Much like, say, Pride and Prejudice, it possesses careful plot machinations, thoughtful character development, graceful writing and an exploration of the social reality of the world in which it takes place, with delicate and deliberate hints/touches of emotional highs. Of course, I'm not equating Austen to Thomas in talent (Austen's the mother of the English novel for a reason), but the fiction they make is very similar.

While to me, BtVS and Joss are Shakespearean. Sometimes the plot doesn't quite make sense, and sometimes the characters act in ways that seem bizarre (which never happens in VM, where there's more consistency in everything), but Jossverse fiction, as with Shakespeare's works, can strip your flesh with its intensity. Joss makes fiction that shimmers with poetic intensity, and his use of language and his actors' faces often strikes me with the power of really amazing poetry. I'm an English major, so it's not lightly that I say some of the language on BtVS literally made me shiver. Shakespeare gives you sturm and drang, blood on the stage, gorgeous, imagery-rich language, emotional highs and truths, metaphorical playfulness; I'm not equating Joss to Shakespeare on levels of talent (Shakespeare might just be the greatest writer of the English language), but I'm saying they make the same kind of fiction.

Which explains why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite TV show of all time: I'm totally Shakespeare's girl. Joss can do tragedy and poetry like him. Veronica Mars is a more constrained experience, but it's so wonderfully constructed and well-acted, that I really do enjoy it, much like I enjoy Austen. Though I also think that Pride and Prejudice and Emma are so perfectly constructed they achieve a sort of sumblimity that VM has yet to hit for me.
Great discussion, all. I, too, weary of the comparisons, but understand when people feel the need to shortcut that way. Its an easy way to narrow down what it is about the show that you dig or make it plain to others how much you dig it, etc. Its not a precise science.

I will also say that the Buffy comparisons are way more apt to season two's much more layered and involving ongoing plot/sub-plot structure. In my opinion...

And sometimes an initially small amount of like will blossom into full-blown passion. (Right now, that's Six Feet Under on DVD).

Tell me about it, SNT, just finished S4 and I still can't get enough of the show. I know some folks who refuse to watch it for hating American Beauty, which, to me, is criminal.

As an aside I do love me some Shakespeare (and some Poe, and some Hawthorne, and on and on), but as this is a living language I think its less than fair to compare across great stretches of time. For my money, in the modern day, its hard to beat Joss on the screens (big or small), hard to beat folks like Gaiman (Neil), Moore (Alan), Stephenson (Neal), Gibson (William) and others in books, comics, etc. They affect me as much as these greats from earlier eras do and I'm not ashamed to admit that.
And I didn't particularly care for American Beauty myself, zg, so there you go. I can be open-minded, I can!

And, erm, what Dottikin said: I've been meaning to make that Shakespeare/Austen analogy for ages now . . . no, but seriously, that was beautifully and astutely written. You could quite handily present that as a paper at a literary conference, I have no doubt.
Hmmm. Interesting comparison, Dottikin. I agree about the Buffy/Shakespeare comparison, the sturm und drang and the wonderful highs and lows and great language. I also find Joss, as has been said before, a bit Dickensian. But I'm not sure I see the VM as Austen connection. I guess I've always seen Austen as the queen of manners and subtlety - finding incredible richness beneath the surface of the day-to-day social goings-on.
VM, on the other hand, doesn't have any subtlety to speak of at all. I don't know that I'd describe it as delicate or graceful, or even, particularly, realistic – rather, I think it still explores emotional reality, like Buffy does, more through metaphor than realism. Everything is exaggerated, everything is more extreme than what migh actually happen - even the social cliques/reality has been exaggerated. I adore Jane Austen (as well as Shakespeare), and I love VM, but I don't think I'd say VM is very Austen-esque. Rather, I see more 1940s noir crime elements and melodrama in it.

Still, wonderful post – well written and articulated, and I love any analogies that bring in english lit :-)
I love Veronica Mars, so never anything wrong with a good review. But I am baffled by her response to Battlestar, which I find to be the best show on tv right now. It makes her feel "abused"? How so? It's pretty dark and often bleak (certainly the mini-series was very bleak), but so compelling.
Eric G - with you on BSG which continues to thrill me.
Yep, add me to the pile of comparison dislikers. I can see how Hollywood pitch style shortcuts make things easier to categorise (picture 'The English Patient' meets 'Total Recall' meets '12 Angry Men' - yep, it's '12 Angry English Amnesiacs') but i'm with some of the comments above that VM and BtVS have little in common apart from a young, blonde, female protagonist and using genre tropes to tell a high school story (so far VM has been much more plot driven and has less of a rites of passage feel to it than Buffy). I still love BtVS more than VM but it's at least partly because of the length of time we've had with the characters. I really think that given 7 seasons (CW permitting - still sounds like an odd name for a TV channel, I mean fancy just having initials for a name ;) VM has the potential to be up there on a Joss-ish level.

Got to say tho' that I was absolutely smitten with the show from the pilot episode, specifically at the 'Back-up' punchline when Veronica deals with Weevil's gang (always been a sucker for a well placed pun). I like the idea (hinted at in S1 but so far not really developed) that 'Veronica Mars' is a sort of constructed persona that Veronica wears as armour against the world after being hurt and I think all of the characters are well realised and, within the show's hyper-reality, ring true. Plus, her Dad frikkin rules ;).
Dottikin, your analysis was wonderful - the part on Buffy/Shakespeare glowed with intelligence and feeling. Transcendant, it was. You nailed why I love BtVS so very much and I hope you don't mind if I quote some of the Buffy-is-in-the-style-of-Shakespeare points you made. However, I have to agree with acp on VM-as-1940s-noir-melodrama rather than VM-as-Austen. I do think that VM pays very close attention to very small details, and in this sense evokes Austen, I suppose. But to me, as to acp, the "stuff" of VM is exaggerated rather than subtle. VM reminds me more of Raymond Chandler than Jane Austen. Of course, Austen may mean different things to different readers...
Dottikin, so interesting what you wrote! I agree and disagree with acp's reply to you. I agree with acp (and phlebotinin) about Chandler/1940s film noir for VM. I've seen some of those b-w films on Turner Classic Movies channel, and the mood and snarky dialogue really feels like VM! I disagree when acp says VM is *not* about "manners," because a lot of how she makes her way between the cliques is about what is expected of people to fit in, or about how much someone can get away with because they have "extra privileges" (like Duncan because he's the richest, Logan because his dad's the most famous). That seemed to be a little like Pride & Prejudice to me, which VM gave a shout-out to earlier this year when VM and her crew watched it on DVD instead of bothering with the novel! (Nice try, wish I could get away with that!) VM = Austen done as a film noir? ;-)

Eric G and zeitgeist, I think the writer of the review says that she felt "abused" by BSG because "I was sick of watching the chick who played Ensign Ro Laren on Star Trek tell her troops they could beat and rape cylon prisoners on Battlestar Galactica." That was pretty "crawly." If she didn't see a lot of eps before that & understand the characters, and she thought that's all the show was about, then, ew. :-(

Include me in the group that thinks it doesn't help win people over to compare VM and BtVS every single time. It only upsets people who don't like both of them. It's not as helpful as saying something like, "I like it as much as Buffy, but it's a different type of show."

[ edited by billz on 2006-01-26 01:47 ]
I am in the minority here, but I think the comparison is apt in many ways. But I think that the comparison is used as a shorthard to denote that VM offers the same kind of compelling viewing that BTVS did; that is, it is used to let people know that VM is a very good show, on a par with Buffy. That's fine- it is fairly obvious that people who loved Buffy find much to admire in VM, noting that they are not the same shows. Of course not. Given the crap that passes for much of TV, VM is a breath of fresh air, and it does involve the viewer. I got hooked early on, when VM helped a kid find his dad, who had changed sex- and how it related to her own situation and the perfect choice of West Indian Girl for the music. Nothing can be Buffy, but this is surely good tv.
At the risk of being staked, I would like to say that though I understand the frustration on both sides with the comparison, the shows have one glaring similarity that can be used to pull Buffy viewers to Veronica without detracting from Buffy's glory. Several people have said that the only thing the shows have in common is the smart blonde protagonist, but that protagonist exemplifies the person I think lot of us would like to be--the girl who has a handle on everything that's going on, who knows best when to stake and when to bug and what to do with the info when she gets it, the girl who sizes up her mistakes but doesn't wallow in them, the girl who follows her heart without regret even if it hurts her in the end, the girl who is loved unconditionally by the people who matter and can let go of the rest without bleeding to death.

Sorry for the tinge of sappiness. I disagree with that reviewer regarding "realism" having much to do with Veronica Mars; if I could have been like that in high school, by now I'd be ruling the world. But in trying to explain to people who haven't watched it what Veronica Mars is like, I think in terms of story (ongoing hugely important arc with smaller problems along the way), characterization, snappy dialogue and good solid plots, comparison to Buffy isn't all that out of place. It's better than "teenage girl solves mysteries with her dad's PI firm," which network description led me to jettison VM last season before I'd even watched it because I didn't have time to add more untested shows. If somebody had told me then it was something to take the place Buffy had formerly filled up, I'd definitely have watched it instead of discovering it a year later on DVD.

For the Buffy diehards who don't give a darn if comparisons bring viewers to Veronica, I can only say that though their styles are very different, I feel they are part of a larger category of show that, if not enough people watch, will go the way of Firefly.
This seemed to me like a different type of comparison and I had no problem with it. She used the similarities to discuss what VM is about. In Buffy, the high schoolers fight demons. In VM, they fight each other. She's not saying one is better than the other.
She is just comparing and contrasting (to continue the English lit tone to the conversation). By doing so, she explains better what VM is like. I don't think the review would work as well if you were unfamiliar with Buffy.
I think she could have expanded her thoughts on the role of the supernatural in the heroine's actions. The Slayers, River, Joss' women in general have help when saving the weak. VM does it without. It's a valid point and I can see why she enjoys it for a change.
Edited before someone marks me down for bad spelling.

[ edited by Lioness on 2006-01-26 02:47 ]
Thinking about it I wonder if the comparison is a bit more vaild than i've given it credit for since to some extent VM also actively subverts a genre in much the same way Buffy did (this was most explicit in BtVS S7 where we have female characters actually delivering lines originally said by male action leads).

As an aside, BTW (noticed the mention above), to anyone who hasn't tried him, if you can stand detective fiction and like Whedon-ish snarky dialogue it's well worth reading some Raymond Chandler. He was a kind of proto Joss in the unexpected, playful and witty way he used language and also tells a cracking story (tho' it's worth mentioning that there is some 'language of the time', which is to say blatant racism/sexism, in some of hie books).
I watched VM from the get go - what else was left to watch? I've seen all the episodes and it is a pretty good show. IMO, it is not a great show like BtVS or AtS. In fact, if I had to rank it even in shows that are currently on, it would not be in my top 5. I tape it and watch it when nothing else is on, which is frequently, or while I eat lunch or something. Yes, I watch too much TV!
I remember years ago, running into a high school friend more than ten years after high school and having lunch, us both marvelling over how the small town reality portrayed in Twin Peaks was described as "surreal" and over-the-top weird by critics. We both wondered where they were from. Twin Peaks seemed a lot like our town, only prettier.

I have the same reaction when Neptune is described as "hyperreal" or "unrealistic." Noir has real-world referents. What would you think about a show set in a town where the sheriff usually leaves office via felony indictment, and he's never the only official under investigation, where a girl is found raped and murdered in the high school attic and a black janitor is railroaded and much later cleared with DNA and there's evidence of collusion between the police, the D.A., and the trial judge in his bogus conviction? (not a show, my home town, and just during my high school years) Where corruption and race and class war are not just endemic but unusually obvious, yet completely denied by most residents? I would call the reality in Neptune "stylized" rather than "hyper" or "un." It's one of the things I love best about the show.
I too started thinking Shakespeare early on in my Buffyverse addiction. After having seen the whole Buffy sequence through twice, I keep finding resonances particularly to Midsummer Night's Dream, one of my favorites, in the perfect intermingling of the natural and the supernatural. Not that there are exact correspondences but Xander and Anya as Oberon and Titania, the quarreling rulers of Fairie, he humiliates her and in consequence she has an affair with the sacred clown, our Spike, who plays the role of fool but is the only one able to actually cross the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural folk and to interact with them in their world (remembering that "fairiefolk" of that time were seen as powerful and dangerous, not cute little things with wings.

Course, just two nights ago, I saw Noel Coward's "Private Lives" and was struck by how similar the humor is to Jossian dialogue.
I actually really like Chandler, and find his use of language extremely lovely. He sets a mood like nobody else, but the comparison to VM gets shaky in that he wrote mysteries which the plot didn't really matter. There's a story of how when The Big Sleep was being adapted to the screen, the screenwriters came to him and asked him to clarify a plot point, a fairly big one, the identity of the murderer, and he couldn't help them. His plot construction skills are kind of sloppy, and his characters not very well developed, and this is all sounding very critical of him, but really, he writes so well, on a basic word-by-word level, that I can't help but like him. I've read like 4 of his novels, and I can't for the life of me recall the major plot points of any of them, but I had a good time just going with the flow, and the perfectly cast tarnished-romantic glow that he casts over everything.

To me, the great noirs of the '40s and '50s are all about passion and darkness -- the moral rot underneath to the suburban Doris Day "reality" of the time. Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice are all about perfectly terrible people who are like rats caught in a cage, tearing at each other in sweaty desperation. Add lust into the mixture...

Maybe I see VM-verse as much less skewed reality than real noirs. I agree with the "stylized" rather than hyper-real comment. There's a sense of balance and sanity to the world that reminds me of Austen -- because even when she got dark, as in Mansfield Park, there was goodness and normalcy. I just think VM explores emotional highs and lows, but always within the structure of the plot. Emotions -- passions -- don't consume either the characters or the storylines. A lot of fans have been less than enthused with this season's episodes because VM seems to be keeping the storytelling free of high passions this season. The plot and mystery are a framework upon which the emotional considerations get added, while with true noirs (and Joss work!) it's the emotions and characters that matter first. And that's very Austen-like to me, even though it's true that Jane Austen doesn't go to much of the same emotional territory as VM.

yay! for literary analysis as well as Joss-as-Shakespeare comparison going down so well. I adore both writers for their use of language and the sheer dramatic power of their work. I can't really comment on the Joss-as-Dickens concept b/c I actually have a huge dislike for Dickens. Believe me, I tried to like him, I got 3/4 of the way through Oliver Twist it's just never gonna happen for me.
On the "realism" front, I have no problem envisioning those events in a small town as portrayed, or the class warfare, especially in the high school setting. What's less realistic to me is the idea that a teenage girl would be at the center of it all. But that's what good TV is about, isn't it--a believably realistic setting and a more idealized set of characters around whom the action revolves.

Does anybody know of a site with good threaded forum comments on Veronica Mars similar to the format here at Whedonesque? The no-thread format in the new Triton board is a bit overwhelming for me, but I'm really liking this conversation here, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Battlestar Galactica, and all, but alas we can't keep talking about just VM here in This Land, because Joss rules over all This Land and calls it ... This Land.

Anybody got a place?
Anwyn, there is no other Whedonesque, but the biggest, threaded, moderated VM forum I know of is on Television Without Pity. Also check out our smaller forum on
dreamlogic, thanks for the reminder about, I looked at it last week but didn't register at that time. Short term memory ... not so much. ;)
Come on, who's not feelin' the Veronica love after tonight's awesome ep, full of reference-y goodness? I was totally LOL that in the middle of Like Joss shows, there are definitely VM scenes where I feel two opposite feelings at once, feeling for the characters but also getting something else that's going on. So kewl!
I wasn't gripped. I don't feel the need to watch more. And I didn't find the portrayal of the various communities at Neptune particularly "realistic" in any way (big caveat: didn't go to high school in the States, so who am I to judge?). Bottom-line: I cared and care deeply about the students at Sunnydale High, and care rather little about VM and her cohorts.

More or less sums it up for me. I keep trying to give the show a chance but at the end of the episode I just didn't care about any of the characters, I felt no need to continue watching it.
For me, saying the show is "hyperrealistic" or exaggerated or Noirish doesn't mean that there aren't lots of real, believable elements in the class conflict and the unethical sheriff and the date rape, etc etc. But VM takes those elements and amps them up, to the point where, no – I can't really believe that one girl would have quite so many melodramatic things happen to her in one year, or that the circumstances surrounding her new boyfriend would be quite so violent, or that she'd really be able to solve all these crimes while also maintaining her full high school schedule and extracurriculars and relationships. But none of that botheres me, because, as I said, I don't think the show intends for it to be truly "realistic" - rather to take kernels of reality, and amp them up to a greater level so that you get to the point of what it FEELS like for kids who are actually in high school.
The plotlines: Saintly girl whose parents turn out to be child abusers and fanatics of the highest order gets pregnant by her boyfriend (who later becomes Veronica's boyfriend and doesn't know of the pregnancy), miraculously survives a bus crash targeting Veronica, and comes out of coma only to beg Veronica not to let her unborn baby - who survives when the mother has died - go to her parents? Or even VM's setup from last year, with the date rape and the best friend murdered and the possibly dating brother, and the new boyfriend's father and countless other twists and turns.
This is what I love about VM. Instead of just being soapy – which someone could might accuse it of were they to read that first plotline I just listed – it is actually grounded in very real emotions, most of the time. The extreme plot twists give it that high school-as-melodrama sense that is actually what teenage years usually feel like.
Dottikin, I hear what you're saying about noir. I guess I see more passion and darkness underlying Neptune and the goings-on on VM than you do, although I agree that it isn't quite so overt as, say, a Twin Peaks kind of way. Occasionally there are touches of pure normalcy and goodness, as you say - especially in Veronica's relationships with her father and Wallace. And Veronica isn't consumed by her emotions. Still don't see the subtlety of Austen, though...
Yep, dottikin, Chandler's plots were lucky to reach higher than 'excuse to have Marlowe interact with character No. 114' and over the course of 20 odd years of writing the novels, I don't think there was much in the way of development (maybe Marlowe became more world weary - even trying to leave the PI business in 'Poodle Springs' which was finished after Chandler's death - and LA became even more seedy underneath) but as you also say it just doesn't matter. The dialogue flows so well (how can you read "From 30 feet away, she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away, she looked like something made to be seen from 30 feet away." and not instantly know the character being described ? not to mention the guy doing the describing), the descriptive passages evoke a setting so concisely without seeming terse and the central character is so compelling you've got to forgive the plot inadequacies (just look at 'House' which has exactly the same plot every week, not much of a character arc and is a medical show where the disease is almost totally irrelevant yet, to me, it's brilliant).

Noir is, IMO, partly about the artificiality of modern life (as you say the 'Doris Day' surface compared to the darkness beneath) which may be why a lot of it is set in LA which in some ways epitomises urban artifice (not just the Hollywood make believe aspect but the 'Chinatown' idea of LA not being a natural place for settlement since even its water has to be channelled from somewhere else). It usually posits that if you peel back the thin veneer of civilisation we're all cavemen underneath (which is one of the reasons I prefer Chandler to Hammet since Marlowe is much more a defender of civilised values, a man who can walk mean streets 'but is not himself mean', than Hammet's characters tend to be).

All of which is a long-winded way of saying, I agree ;).

And acp, that's about how I feel about the 'hyper-realism' aspect of VM. The show isn't, like, James Bond over the top but it is far enough removed from real life that for me personally it's more than stylised. Like all the best stories tho' it's about the truth within the fiction and it's in the nature of any narrative to have better dialogue than our usual hesitant mumblings, more events than any one lifetime could comfortably pack in and a wider range of characters interacting than most people would know (or maybe I need to get out more ;).
I sympathize with you on the Dickens thing. I hated "Oliver Twist" when I had to read it in school, but I think that's him at his sentimental, shlockiest worst. Never understand why it gets taught so much. Give "Great Expectations" a try or "A Christmas Carol", which is short and magnificent and opens with one of the great opening settings in English literature: "Marley was dead: to begin with....Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail."
Fire bad. Tree pretty.

Mort love Buffy. Mort love Veronica. Mort happy.
Mort good! ;-)

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