Why Veronica Mars is the Greatest Show on Earth

“Did you miss me?”: Pretty Little Liars, the new noir girl detectives

Posted February 6, 2014 by Jodi McAlister

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Patrick wrote earlier this week about why Veronica Mars is the greatest show on earth. I don’t necessarily disagree, because Veronica Mars is super boss. All those reasons he lists for why it is the best? All great reasons. Veronica is one of the bossest heroines out there, her friendship with Wallace is rad, she fights crime so often it’s hard to believe there’s any crime left in the 90909 zipcode, and as for her relationship with Logan Echolls… well, who hasn’t been aboard the Good Ship LoVe since, like, 2005?

But there is one problem. Even though there’s a movie coming out very soon (and OMG you would not believe how excited I am for it) Veronica Mars has been off the air for some time. But if you really need some more awesome teen girl detective TV in your life, you should not fear. Welcome to the wonderful world of Rosewood, PA. Welcome to Pretty Little Liars, where there is not one teen girl detective, not two, not three, but FOUR.

And also a teen girl murder victim slash sociopath. (Alison di Laurentis is like Lilly Kane on steroids.)

And a teen girl villain whose wickedness and fashion sense I worship. (I love you, Mona Vanderwaal.)

And also Tammin Sursok playing a teenage girl, even though she is older than I am. And she plays the flute. Creepily.

Pretty Little Liars is, like, crazy complicated, but here’s the basic premise. One dark and stormy night, five teenage girls were having a sleepover. During the night, one of them – the ringleader of their little group of friends, Alison di Laurentis – disappears. Over the next year, the girls drift apart, but circumstances draw Aria, Spencer, Emily and Hanna back together in their junior year in high school when they all start receiving mysterious texts threatening to expose all their secrets signed simply ‘A’. At first, they think Alison is alive and behind it, but when her body is found, they have to accept that there is someone else that has it in for them.

There are many, many mysteries in this series – these girls have a shit ton of secrets. But they have two overarching mysteries that they need to work together to solve. 1) What happened to Alison? 2) Who is A?

This is the most deliciously satisfying show. I can’t even explain how much I love it (though if you want to hear me nerdling about it with a couple of fellow academics, you should listen to the Tea & TV podcast episode we recorded on it for Sparklescene). One thing that I find especially attractive about it is that, at its heart, it is a show about female friendship. All four girls have their romances (with some wonderfully dreamy love interests), as I’ll get to later, but the most solid bond in this show is the bond between the girls. Friendship occupies that rarified stratum that romance so often does: there is no one the Liars can trust more than each other.

It’s impossible to resist comparison to another show that had four female leads: Sex and the City. As we discuss in that podcast episode I linked about, Sex and the City had an emphasis on viewers working out what type they were, and this passed into cultural parlance: asking someone whether they’re a Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda or Carrie is immediately intelligible. Pretty Little Liars offers this same opportunity. I love that there’s a multiplicity of female heroines and femininities going on here – and in a world where a room with 17% women is considered a 50/50 gender split and 33% women is conceived of as female dominated, the fact that girls’ stories are emphasised here totally puts a song in my heart. This is a very female show: you have four girl detectives trying to solve their friends’ murder, counting some other rather formidable teen girls among their nemeses (and, in the case of one of them, lovers).

Including Tammin Sursok. Yep, she’s totes a teenager.

(To be fair, Tammin is balanced out by Sasha Pieterse, who plays Alison, who actually is a teenager. So there’s that.)

Even if you don’t immediately identify with one of the Liars like you might with Sex and the City, I think most people that watch Pretty Little Liars have a favourite. So here are my profiles of the four Liars, ranked from least favourite to most favourite. Which Liar are you?

 

Aria Montgomery

Aria is the ‘alternative’ one in the group, which she demonstrates by wearing a lot of spikes. And buckles. And rings. I would not put it past her to turn up one day in a full suit of armour.

Also, her mother is played by Piper from Charmed and her dad is Rob Lowe’s lesser-known brother, Chad. (Who also used to be married to Hilary Swank. Who knew?)

One of the reasons Aria is my least favourite of the Liars is because I feel like her personality isn’t as well-defined as some of the others. She’s the artsy one, but she rarely does any art. (Although she is a writer and a photographer, which is cool, on the rare occasions that they remember that she, you know, does that.) She is a very loyal friend.

But more than any of the other Liars, she is defined by her primary love interest: Ezra Fitz.

But there’s just one problem…

…HE’S HER ENGLISH TEACHER.

This is the one relationship on the show I just can’t deal with, and it’s probably the most all-consuming one. Ezria has been happening since the first episode of the show and it’s still going on, despite some frankly disturbing revelations about Ezra (not even including the part where HE’S HER ENGLISH TEACHER.)

It means Aria cries a lot.

Why she doesn’t go back to her other love interest, Hot Jake the Martial Arts Instructor, is beyond me. Who doesn’t want a man that can line dance?

 

Emily Fields

Of the four Liars, Emily is the one who was closest to Alison – “you were always my favourite,” Alison says to her, in one of the show’s many flashbacks. There’s a reason for this: Emily was in love with her.

I love, love, love that Pretty Little Liars has included in a queer character in its pantheon of femininity. Emily’s coming-out arc is her first real arc on the show, but being accepted by her friends is never really a problem – like Mark Darcy loves Bridget Jones, her friends love her just the way she is.

Her relationship with her first girlfriend Maya (played by the apparently immortal Bianca Lawson), is so, so beautiful.

And her relationship with her second girlfriend Paige is also gorgeous, if a bit more fraught. Paige is a much more complicated character.

I get frustrated with Emily sometimes because I feel like she’s the most vulnerable one of the group, the one most easily fooled. She knows this herself – she’s called herself the weakest link on a couple of occasions – and the fact that she’s actively trying to grow and is unafraid to challenge Spencer, the strongest personality in the group, is something I really like. Rock on with your bad self, Em.

 

Hanna Marin

Hanna is one of the funniest characters on teen girl TV. Girl is quick with a quip, man. She is dialed into pop culture and she will cut you if you mess with her friends.

Some of the other girls laugh at her occasionally when she makes a faux pas – and sure, she’s not book smart – but she has a level of cunning and clever that goes completely unappreciated sometimes, I think.

Of the four girls, I think it could be argued that Hanna is the one who is best at keeping secrets. A does some pretty nasty stuff to her, nastier than to the other girls, I think, and Hanna doesn’t crumble, even when A gets her mother arrested for a murder she didn’t commit.

She’s the most creative of the girls in her approach to problem solving. Sometimes it can be a big fat fail, but sometimes it can pay unexpected dividends. She’s very observant, in her own special Hanna way.

And her love interest… wow. We need to talk about the beautiful Caleb. He’s a sketchy hacker from the wrong side of the tracks and HE HAS A PERFECT FACE.

 

Their relationship is absolutely gorgeous and it 100% breaks my heart that he’s become such a great character that he’s now the central character in Pretty Little Liars’ spinoff, Ravenswood. I need my Haleb, damn it!

 

Spencer Hastings

I love, love, LOVE Spencer. While it’s close between her and Hanna, she is my favourite of the four Liars. She is sassy and witty, and her clothes are 100% adorbs, especially when she dresses up.

She’s the default leader of the group in Alison’s absence. Alison held the group together by way of charisma (and also by way of ‘being a sociopath’), but Spencer holds them together by sheer determination. Girl’s mind is made of steel, yo.

Which makes it all the more shocking when she breaks – and the fact that she did have quite a spectacular breakdown in the third season is something she’s still dealing with the repercussions of.

She’s the Hermione of the group – the one who is the best at putting together clues to form a bigger picture. She is driven and smart and occasionally extremely abrasive when someone crosses her, even if it’s one of the other girls.

She’s just so perf.

She manages to juggle two mysteries at the same time – her boyfriend, Toby the ex-juvenile delinquent who is now a carpenter, is embroiled in mysteries of his own where A is concerned, and Spencer is the only person he will trust enough to talk to about them.

And yes, they are beautiful – albeit a slightly darker couple than Hanna and Caleb.

And yeah, surprise, surprise, the Liar that is an academic overachiever is my favourite. Sue me.

 

In short, if you’re done with Veronica Mars and need some more neo-noir teen girl detective heroines, you could do a lot worse than watching Pretty Little Liars. Look how gorgeous their upcoming black and white episode looks!

And if you need another reason to watch… Imma just leave this picture of the Pretty Little Liars boys here.

 

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Why Veronica Mars is the Greatest Show on Earth

Posted February 5, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

People around the world rejoiced when the Veronica Mars film Kickstarter project was successful, meaning a movie of the beloved TV show is currently in production. I was not one of those people – I mean, I suppose I was vaguely happy for them, I like it when people achieve their dreams, but what I mean is that I had never watched it, so had no personal stake in the situation. But now I’ve watched the first series, and I am here to tell you why it is THE GREATEST SHOW ON THIS EARTH.

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1. Veronica Mars

I’ve talked about this before, but protagonists are generally a vehicle for our hopes and dreams, and as such, are annoying to us when they make stupid decisions. But stupid decisions are symptomatic of another thing, which is something we call conflict. And conflict is essential for a plot, and without a plot you don’t have a story, and I just told you how to write a novel. If there was no conflict, we’d just be watching someone have a great day, and that would lead to hatred. And hatred leads to the dark side of the force.

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Holy crap, so that was a really long way of saying that Veronica Mars is AN AMAZING PROTAGONIST. She is super witty, goal driven and tough as nails. She doesn’t take shit from anyone, and isn’t above some carefully planned out revenge, which I appreciate. In so many ways she’s like Buffy – blonde cheerleader looks, with the ability to destroy things. In fact, sometimes I wonder if Veronica Mars is set in the same universe as Buffy – they’re both in California and… well, the buses are really similar. I didn’t think that through.

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2. The plot

Veronica Mars is a neo-noir set in a High School, revolving around the murder of Lily Kane, daughter of the super-rich Kane family and Veronica’s best friend. Veronica’s dad, a detective, was fired and made a social pariah after he accused Duncan Kane, Lily’s father of covering up the murder, even after someone confessed to doing it. So you know, High School setting, but a real, complicated and beautifully set out murder. The weaving of suspects and clues and red herrings is spectacularly done, and the end result was both gratifyingly surprising, but not out of the realms of context (ie, surprise drifter did it!). Also, and this is linked in with the whole pariah story, Veronica suspects she was drugged and sexually molested at a party. This is not a fluffy show people! But also sometimes it is really funny.

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3. The sub-plots

Much like a ‘monster of the week’ scenario, Veronica spends the majority of her time solving a host of smaller crimes and mysteries, generally at the behest of her school peers. These are the same peers that as a general body have shunned her, so it really does an exceptional job of stripping layers of social hierarchies. Also, they are just really cleverly thought out, and they never eclipse the main story arc. In fact, sometimes you’re just like, go to bed Veronica, calm down. Stop solving a hundred crimes every day. But you don’t, because she’s amazing. She’s my role model.

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4. The love interests

Lots of good love tension in this show, from lots of different sources. None of the potential love interests – billionaire heir Duncan Kane, wrong side of the tracks Weevil, playboy Logan Echolls, Schmidt from New Girl – none of them are one dimensional. None of them are cast as perfect dream boats. Even the villainous ones are given ample opportunity for you to show empathy for them. Duncan is the most plastic, boring person ever, but you know, it makes sense.

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And you know what else is fantastic? Her best friend Wallace, who is a dude, is just her best friend. At no point do they make it seem like there’s any other option. Excellent.

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5. Her dad

Keith Mars is one of the best written characters on television. Microphone drop.

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6.Stuff

Trust me, this show is so good, you’ll almost immediately stop being weirded out that they’ve cast a bunch of 40-year-olds as teenagers. Almost immediately. Maybe.

 

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