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The Many TV Influences of VERONICA MARS
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Veronica Mars only ran for three seasons, but the Kristen Bell detective saga has since accumulated fans and followers that continue to love the series. After a movie in 2014, a new run of episodes are on their way to Hulu this summer. But Veronica Mars is very much the child of many pop culture influences, especially on television. Creator Rob Thomas combined elements of several different series to create something unique and wonderful. If you’re diving into the world of Veronica Mars for the first time, or are a returning fan, here are four series that contributed to its creation that you might want to check out before the new season drops.

Twin Peaks

The influence of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks on almost every single “prestige television” series over the past thirty years is immeasurable. But the show’s fingerprints are especially all over Veronica Mars. The 1990-91 cult classic was centered on the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer, a character we never see in the series except via flashbacks and in the ephemeral “red room.” Her girlfriends from school, Donna Hayward and Audrey Horne, become teenage detectives obsessed with finding her killer. This all leads to a mystery that covered the show’s full first season and part of its second, and which became a national obsession.

Veronica Mars takes a similar approach. When we first meet the titular character, she’s mourning the death of her best friend Lily Kane. Much like Laura Palmer, she was a popular and well-liked student who hid a much wilder side. One that ultimately got her killed. The mystery of both girls’ murder was at the core of both series. Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas cites the show as an influence, but said in an interview  “they didn’t solve anything. When you realized they were jerking you around, that’s when it fell off.” However, Thomas might be misremembering. Peaks’ central mystery was solved 14 episodes in… and it took a full 22 chapters for the Lily Kane murder to be solved!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Veronica Mars premiered exactly one year after Buffy went off the air, but many Buffy fans felt the influence of Sunnydale’s premiere monster killer on this new show from the get-go. Both shows centered on small, affluent towns in California that are the focal points for much strange goings on. In the case of Neptune, CA on Veronica Mars, those goings-on are not supernatural. But that’s really the main difference. The rest of the similarities are numerous. Like Buffy Summers, Veronica is a plucky and sarcastic high school girl, who despite everything is a social outcast. Yet the other students all know to come to both girls when they need the kind of help only they know how to give because of their special skills.

Veronica’s supporting cast is also very much from the Buffy template. Computer genius Mac is her analogue for Willow Rosenberg, while her platonic male bestie Wallace Fennel is a stand in for Xander Harris in many ways. Veronica has a very similar relationship to her dad that Buffy does to her surrogate dad, Rupert Giles. And her volatile relationship with boyfriend Logan Echolls is reminiscent in some ways of Buffy’s love affair with the vampiric Angel. Even in its day, the show was well aware of the similarities and played up on them. Buffy alum like Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter and even Buffy creator Joss Whedon appeared on the show. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, clearly everyone involved with Buffy was very flattered indeed.

Freaks and Geeks

It might not seem so upon first glance, but the cult “one season wonder” series Freaks and Geeks was also a huge inspiration for Veronica Mars. The 1999 Paul Feig/Judd Apatow produced show about high schoolers in the early ’80s was a very real presentation at how kids interact with each other, and the social constructs of high school life. Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas loved the series, as did many critics at the time. But it found a hard time finding a “hook” for the audience by just being a nostalgic slice-of-life drama. It was sadly cancelled after one season.

So Thomas decided to use the teenage dynamics of Freaks and Geeks for inspiration on how his kids interacted, but surround it all with a noir-mystery story to get audiences sucked in. In an interview with Vulture back in 2014, Thomas said, “If you’re going to try to get a teen show on television, give them something high-concept, something that they can market. So I tried approaching my teen character piece through a high-concept idea.” He then added, “I can get a teen show on the air if I sell it as a teenage private eye, and then I can still somehow get some of these small-story show ideas in there.” It might have been another cult show in the end as well, but it lasted two seasons longer than Freaks and Geeks did!

Nancy Drew

If you say the words “teenage girl detective,” chances are the first thing anyone says in response is “Nancy Drew.” Even if the person saying it has never seen or read a single thing involving the character! That’s how deeply synonymous the the concept of Nancy Drew is with “teenage girl detectives.” The character first appeared in 1930, and has since gone on to dozens of novels, movies, and a pair of television series. Soon there will be a third one on the way via the CW.

The character has undergone many revisions since being created nearly a century ago, but she has always remained a plucky teenage sleuth who lives with her single dad, much like Veronica Mars does. But the main inspiration Nancy Drew gave Rob Thomas was to create another young female detective in the popular culture who wasn’t Nancy. Veronica was created to finally eclipse her as America’s #1 teen detective. In an interview with NPR, Thomas once said “Nancy Drew…like, I feel like she had her run.” Still, it’s impossible to deny that without Nancy, there’s no Veronica.

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