Saturday, November 10, 2007

Neptune Noir Edited by Rob Thomas

neptune_noir Veronica Mars hooked me the moment I stepped into the DVD store and read the plot synopsis on the cover of Season One. Her best friend murdered and her sheriff father removed from office because he accused the dead girl's father of the murder, Veronica Mars and her father try to build new lives as private investigators but her obsession is with solving her best friend's murder. Wouldn't you be hooked?

Yeah, I was hooked from that synopsis, and from the first episode until the season finale. Then I bought the second season of Veronica, which had nothing to do with the murder of Veronica's best friend anymore; it had an altogether different plotline, and I was hooked too. And now I'm just waiting for Season Three on DVD to reach our shores, and then I'm gonna go out and get it too.

So what is it about Veronica Mars that keeps me hooked? It can't just be the plotline, because plots only go so far without good characters, dialogue, and chemistry. To be quite honest, I've never really thought about why I loved Veronica Mars so much, or why I kept on watching episode after episode. Sure, the chemistry between Veronica and Logan Echolls may have something to do with it, but it's not the only reason to get hooked. There are many other great TV romances after all.

Here's where Neptune Noir comes in. Neptune Noir is a completely unauthorized collection of 18 essays by various authors analyzing the show and why we love it. The essays aren't just fan reviews talking about how much they love the show and what they love about it — the essays are actual intellectual analyses about the show complete with footnotes and references. That's not to say that it's a dry and boring "scientific' book," but in fact, a very interesting one that gives a lot of insights into the workings of Veronica Mars.

The book starts off with an introduction by Rob Thomas, the creator of Veronica Mars, about his professional life as a screenwriter from the time he wrote his first TV show, Cupid, until Veronica Mars was picked up and how Veronica Mars "saved my career and, less importantly, my soul." Rob Thomas also edits Neptune Noir and includes comments on what he thought of each essay included in the book.

The first essay, "Welcome to Camp Noir" by Lani Diane Rich, takes a look at the "noir-ness" of Veronica Mars, and also its "campy-ness." Well, the noir I can understand — some of the other writers in the book chose that as their focus too, and the title of the book is Neptune Noir. But the camp, well, I don't see it, and as Thomas writes, "When something on Veronica Mars feels campy, it means we have failed." However, he also writes, "Reading Lani's essay...I see that she has...a wider net of what she considers camp..." and I agree, Lani's point of view is very interesting to read.

There are a couple of essays which talks about the importance of the father figures in Veronica Mars. Joyce Millman explores the many complexities in the father-daughter relationship between Veronica and her father in her essay "Daddy's Girl," and Amy Berner's essay "Daddy Dualities" marvels at the importance of the roles of the father figures in the show in a time when there is so much focus on single mothers. Both essays opened up my eyes to another facet of Veronica Mars' appeal and the fact that sometimes fathers have more "motherly instincts" than mothers. Which we see shown in Veronica Mars time and time again, especially with Veronica's own alcoholic mother, who left the family when the going got tough, and then later even stole Veronica's college fund money.

Some of the essays I really enjoyed were "'I Cannot Tell a Lie. And If You Believe That...'" by John Ramos, and "Lawless Neptune" by Alafair Burke. John talks about all the lies that Veronica tells in the show; lies to gain information, to manipulate people, to solve murders, to save lives. Why do we accept all Veronica's lies and still love the liar that she is? Because ultimately, although most of us still believe that honesty is a virtue, we also believe that the ends justify the means. Yes, Veronica is a liar, but she lies for the greater good. She lies so that she can help people and solve mysteries. But it's not just about what she lies about, or why she lies, it's also about who she lies to. Lying to a random hotel clerk or librarian to get information is fine, lying to Sheriff Lamb or Vinnie Van Lowe is probably encouraged, but lying to Wallace or her father? Well, she'd better think twice.

Alafair's "Lawless Neptune" takes a look at the fact that the law enforcement in Neptune is pretty corrupt and indifferent under Sheriff Lamb's command, which it has to be, for Veronica Mars to work. What use would Veronica's sleuthing skills be, if she had no crimes to solve because the law was fair and the police did their job well. Neptune had to be lawless, so that Veronica could solve her best friend's murder that her best friend's billionaire father tried to cover up. It had to be lawless, so that Veronica could plot with Duncan to save his daughter Lilly from her abusive grandparents. It had to be lawless, basically, so that Veronica Mars could work.

My favorite essay in the book was a surprise to me. It is Lawrence Watt-Evan's "I'm in Love with My Car," which talks about automotive symbolism in Veronica Mars. It's surprising because I don't particularly like cars, I don't know cars, and I didn't even notice the cars in Veronica Mars. Lawrence's essay is extremely enlightening about the use of cars in the show to symbolize the characters' personalities. For example, Veronica's LeBaron represents the all-American life, fun and carefree, but because it is an old model it is just a reminder of what she used to have; Aaron Echoll's flashy Aston-Martin sport car simply screams narcissistic movie star; and even Lianne Mars' beat-up Plymouth symbolizes that she's been beaten down in life.
The funny thing is, Rob Thomas isn't a car guy either. The decisions about cars used in the show are made by his assistant Alex and writer Phil Klemmer, and from Lawrence's essay, it's obvious they did a terrific job.

All the essays in Neptune Noir are enlightening and really fun to read. I didn't know that there was so much to the show until I read the book, and now that I've read it, I can't wait to go back and watch the whole series again with new eyes and points-of-view. As Rob Thomas said, "This is a must-read for Veronica Mars fans."


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