Sunday, May 27, 2007

Diana's Adventures in TV Land: Season's End (Part 1)

It's been a surprisingly good TV season for me - I had four shows on rotation, plus I discovered the excellent "Dexter" in January. That's not how I normally watch TV; I tend to just pick a show and watch it exclusively until it either jumps the shark or ends. So, yeah, lots of good stuff these days.

Back in October I listed a bunch of shows that were launching in the fall: Veronica Mars, Heroes, Smallville, Supernatural, Nip/Tuck, Drawn Together and Lost. "Rome" and "Dexter" were late additions.

So how did the new year treat these shows?

Let's start with the biggest losers: "Smallville", by all accounts, is still treading water after six years of bland teen soap and outrageously stupid storylines, so I suppose Annette O'Toole is better off finding a job where she can actually be proud to name-check her show. "Nip/Tuck" ended up retconning Christian's attraction to Sean as "just one of those things", which pretty much killed any interest I had in the show, so whatever. "Drawn Together" never came back from its break, and I'm not sure anyone - including the creators - have noticed. Finally, threats of cancellation at long last jolted "Lost" into forward motion, but as far as I'm concerned it's way too little, way too late. That bridge has been scorched more thoroughly than Jennifer Love Hewitt's musical career.

Now, to the good stuff. :)

Rome was the first casualty of the new year, buckling under the weight of a severely limited budget that shortened the second season to ten episodes. Despite temporal restrictions, and the inevitable sense of apocalypse that comes with the transition of Rome from Republic to Empire, Bruno Heller and his cast acquitted themselves very well. We watched beloved characters die, or come full circle, or achieve the destiny they'd been speeding towards since day one. We saw actors, in the truest sense of the word, delivering phenomenal performances. And if the tragedies were strung a bit too closely together, it somehow avoided feeling repetitive, even in the most similar cases (Eirene/Gaia). So while this series will be missed immensely, I can at least take comfort in knowing that it went out properly.

The same cannot be said of Veronica Mars, cancelled with the conclusion of its third season. Quite frankly, both Rob Thomas and the CW handled the situation poorly: it's no secret that the series was never a ratings hit, despite its critical acclaim and devoted fanbase. The third season was greenlit as a Hail Mary pass, and it didn't work. The CW responded by not responding, declining comment on the show's fate up to and including the day they unveiled the fall schedule, with "Veronica Mars" nowhere to be seen. Aware that the news would infuriate a percentage of their viewers, Dawn Ostroff simply decided not to tell them. Not exactly appropriate behavior for someone who ultimately has a hand in making such decisions.

But Rob Thomas is equally to blame for the below-average way in which the series concluded; here was a man I praised for quick thinking, who was constantly reinventing the series to suit current circumstances, and he reacted to the possibility of cancellation by sticking his fingers in his ears and going "la la la"; reportedly, he never even considered designing the season finale to double as a series finale, just in case. As a result, "Veronica Mars" concludes with little closure, a mediocre finale to a mediocre season. Pacing was way, way off during the last string of standalone episodes: Logan's suddenly wondering if Veronica cheated on him weeks after they broke up, Dick has an 11th-hour breakdown that really, really, really should have been explored earlier, and the fate of practically every character is left up in the air.

I imagine it all stems from how very far the series strayed from its original premise, due to its WB-esque relationship drama. Joss Whedon named S1 Logan Echolls one of the top characters on TV; two years later he's a castrated fop. Veronica herself ended up following Buffy Summers' footsteps and crossing the Rubicon from snarky to bitchy, becoming rather unlikeable in the process. Keith stopped being fun. Such things make you wonder why you were watching the show to begin with.

At which point you pop in the S1 DVDs, and you see it. The mysteries, the intrigue, the wit, the irresistable characters. That, to me, is "Veronica Mars". And no matter what came afterwards, that first season is an accomplishment that can never be taken away.

That's the end of part 1. Part 2 coming shortly! :)