A Clean Slate for 'Veronica Mars'


One of the things that has so enamored fans of "Veronica Mars" is its well-inhabited world, where a throwaway line or minor character from the middle of one season might pop up again halfway through season two. That aspect of the show, along with twisty, surprising whodunit stories, make it a show that rewards obsession.

Such a structure, however, may also be a reason why "Veronica Mars," despite the ardent love of its core fan base and an equal measure of critical praise, hasn't attracted a bigger audience in its first two years. So as 18-year-old detective Veronica (Kristen Bell), equal parts Nancy Drew and Philip Marlowe, heads to college to start season three (which premieres at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday on The CW), creator Rob Thomas is ready to welcome some new fans into the fold.

"I think one of the mistakes we made last year, even in episode one ... was it was so self-reflexive," Thomas says of the show. "We flashed back to the season before, we answered questions from the season before. It was really an episode for the fans.

"This year we're starting off trying to welcome new people to the show. ... We're trying to say to new viewers, 'You don't have to know the [entire] show to pick up right here.'"

That doesn't mean, though, that the events of the past have been wiped away completely. The show's first two episodes will explain why Veronica's dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) bailed on their post-graduation trip when Kendall Casablancas (Charisma Carpenter, reprising her role from last season) showed him a briefcase full of ... something. Veronica, her boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) and her close friend Mac (Tina Majorino, now a regular) are also still dealing with the emotional fallout from last season's bus-crash mystery.

The season's first big mystery was also introduced last season: A rapist is terrorizing Hearst College, which Veronica now attends, drugging and shaving the heads of his victims. "We've already pre-introduced it," Thomas says. "I think most of our savvy fans knew that once Veronica decided to go to Hearst, that would be the mystery."

Unlike the past two years, though, Veronica will be dealing with three big cases; the rape storyline will play out over the first nine episodes, with other mysteries spanning seven and six shows later in the season.

The shorter mystery arcs were a suggestion from Warner Bros. TV, which produces the series, and it will allow each one to play out without reruns. Thomas says the compressed time for each case has resulted in a slightly different way of writing each one.

"If you break a mystery over nine episodes, you can give much bigger clues in each episode. You don't have to do as much dilly-dallying, not as much faking over here, not as many red herrings," he says. "The danger is [the cases becoming] suddenly easy to solve. So I'm a little nervous, but so far I like how it's feeling."

Thomas also says that the as the first batch of episodes plays out, fans will be able to pick up subtle hints that figure into future stories: "When the mystery for the middle of the season kicks in, you'll have seen all sorts of motives played out before then. We are setting up mystery No. 2 as we play mystery No. 1."

He also hopes to make the self-contained mini-cases in each episode stronger, which will give The CW something to promote each week and help draw in viewers who may have felt they couldn't join the show midstream.

The show will also introduce a couple of new regulars: Piz (Chris Lowell, "life as we know it"), Wallace's (Percy Daggs III) roommate who quickly develops a crush on Veronica; and Parker (Julie Gonzalo, "Must Love Dogs"), Mac's overbearingly bubbly roommate, who will play a big part in the first mystery.

Thomas hopes the changes, along with a compatible lead-in in "Gilmore Girls" and a slightly less murderous timeslot (last year the show aired opposite "Lost," "Criminal Minds" and, in the second half of the season, "American Idol"), help make "Veronica Mars" the hit critics and hard-core fans think it deserves to be.

"I approach each year optimistically," Thomas says. "I do think, 'Okay, we're in the right network, we're in the right time slot. This is our year. We're going to break out this year.' And fingers crossed, I'm hoping we do."

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