Veronica Mars Season 4 Review: Dark, Moody, and A Little Bit Jarring

For the first time in more than a decade, Veronica Mars is back with a new season. The promise of a snarky teen private eye set against a noir backdrop was always a bit more snarky than noir. This time around, not so much — not only because Veronica (Kristen Bell) is no longer a teen at all, but because the overall feel of the series is a bit darker, and the mystery better paced, than it has been since the show's first season. Veronica Mars has been blessed with a trip to a streaming network, where they can go darker, go a little more blue with their language, and be a little more flexible with episode run times.

The series takes advantage of those things quite a bit, although they do have a running gag about vulgarity that calls to mind Bell's time on The Good Place, where she famously replaces curse words with other, similar-sounding words. The episodes all come in somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 minutes, just slightly longer than the show would have been were it still on The CW, but there certainly is some flexibility, with some weighing in closer to 40 and some over 50. That is all pretty superficial stuff, though, and the question that longtime Marshmallows will want to know is how does it hold up to the classic material?

The answer is, generally, pretty well. It feels a lot like...well, like a season of Veronica Mars. While I loved the movie that was Kickstarted five years ago, it admittedly struggled to dial in the exact alchemy needed to feel "right" for many fans. The new series should not have that problem -- although that is no guarantee it will be a slam-dunk for longtime fans.

Hulu's Veronica Mars brings with it a whole slew of new supporting characters, and certain familiar old faces have minimal or no presence. While this all makes perfect sense when you look at it through the lens of Veronica as a thirty-something woman who left town and has not been treading water since high school, there will likely be some disappointment that Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Weevil (Francis Capra) have relatively little to do while new characters like Matty (Izabela Vidovic) and a cartel hitman named Alonzo (Clifton Collins Jr.) get plenty of screen time.

Matty in particular will be a love-her-or-hate-her character: she plays a teen sleuth who ingratiates herself into the Mars family of investigators. She feels a lot like Veronica did when the series first started -- something that feels like Hulu is positioning the series for a spinoff. With the end of iZombie and the likelihood that any future Veronica Mars seasons will be as short as this one, one assumes that could be a plausbile path for Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero-Wright, and Dan Etheridge to take.

The season plays like a long movie -- its mystery is as coherent and well-developed as anything the series has done so far. There are plenty of callbacks, Easter eggs, and running gags that will benefit longtime viewers, but anybody who is watching this for the first time because it's on Hulu will also find plenty to like and have little-to-no problems jumping on board. It may, in fact, be better for new viewers than it is for longtime fans in some ways -- especially in the back half, where some plot points are bound to be controversial.

Besides Bell and Enrico Colantoni, who plays Keith Mars, the series features some standout performances by Jason Dohring, whose Logan continues to be better and better all the time; Vidovic, whose Matty is charming and irrepressible; and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who plays a badass and charming nightclub owner befriended by Veronica. J.K. Simmons has also joined the cast in a role that feels a bit thin, and like so much of the revival, big pieces of it have been spoiled by promotional material. If you haven't seen trailers, do yourself a favor and avoid what you can between now and the end of the season; fans of mysteries, in particular, can easily piece together a lot of the story and, frankly, even a lot of what was sold as the revival's high concept is something that only really comes into play halfway through the season.

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After more than a decade, Veronica Mars is back -- and it feels like a perfect extension of its previous iterations. It has some shortcomings, and it may not be exactly what the longtime fans expect, or want, but it's a cool, sexy, well-structured mystery.

Rating: 4/5