Wednesday, November 01, 2006

This is why they don't have many friends

Spoilers for "House" and "Veronica Mars" just as soon as this nice doctor takes my temperature...

Late in the first season for both shows, I wrote a column discussing all the thematic similarities between the two shows. It was really just an excuse to get "House" fans to give "Veronica Mars" a try, but lately I'm starting to wonder if my fake thesis was such a stretch.

Specifically, Veronica has wandered through this entire season like someone who not only doesn't care what people think of her, but who would rather leave a bad impression than none at all. She's smug and curt with virtually everyone (Keith, Wallace and Mac being the notable exceptions), even people who don't remotely deserve it. The kid at the pizza place worshipped Veronica, wanted to talk about how awesome she was, and if this was a cable show, I'm thinking Veronica would have flat-out told him to STFU and answer her questions. Sure, she eventually made it up to him by letting him participate in the case a little, but the non-stop hostility and holier than thou attitude is getting old.

Now, House acts this way with everyone. But the misanthropy is the entire point of the character. He's not in any way a nice guy, he's often wrong in his personal and medical judgements, and he deserves every bit of grief that Detective Tritter is about to rain down on him. (Tritter himself is essentially House without the sense of humor, but that doesn't make him any less right in his assessment of House as bully.)

Veronica's supposed to be prickly and hard-boiled, but this season, she's moved beyond that to (as she almost put it herself in the premiere) straight-up douchebaggy. I don't know how much of this is in the scripts and how much is Kristen Bell; both writing and playing Veronica so that she's tough but likable requires a lot of effort, and it feels like at least one side is falling short this year.

And yet as much as Veronica was annoying me, as much as I wanted to yell at her for automatically jumping to conclusions with Weevil (more on that in a minute), this was maybe my favorite episode of the season. With the exception of Dick, every remaining season one character was used and used well -- Cliff cracking up Keith (and playing off Daran Norris' other career as a voiceover actor), Weevil and Logan getting chesty, Lamb belittling both Veronica and Weevil -- and even though all the stories felt like they had a scene or two missing, the episode overall had such momentum that I just went with it. Hell, they even had a cliffhanger ending to the mystery arc for the first time in forever. I dug it.

A couple of specific issues, though. Number one, making the first arc deal with an ongoing threat instead of something that's over and done with should be lending it more urgency. I get that Veronica doesn't trust Lamb, and also that the theft of the necklace distracted her, but the rapist is still out there, still attacking women, and she has a picture of who she thinks is the guy. Shouldn't she be bringing in additional help here, even if it's just Keith? Shouldn't "Have You Seen This Man?" fliers be up all over campus? Something? To me, the cliffhanger suggested that Claire may have made up the rape story to increase pressure on the Pi Sigs, but for most of the episode, Veronica has no reason to not think she'sthisclose to catching the guy before he rapes somebody else, and she's moving at half-speed at best.

Number two, the Weevil story would have worked better, I think, if Veronica assumed Weevil's innocence from the jump. (Maybe you tie the criminology class in more, either with one of the students trying to learn through doing and taking advantage of Weevil's recent guest lecture to find a useful patsy; or, failing that, just with the jerky TA hassling Veronica about bringing a thief onto campus.) As he says, they have too much history, and the pizza order in particular seemed like such a rookie mistake that she had to know Weevil didn't do it. I know this friendship has had its ups and downs, but this felt off to me.

I also wish there had been a clearer resolution to the Wallace story. Did he get caught recycling answers (which, since he used an old test, isn't an ethics violation at some schools), or did he just confess in the blue book to being out of his depth? And I wish there could have been even a single scene of him interacting with another castmember. The whole limited use thing feels more apparent this year than in seasons one and two for some reason.

Still and all, I really liked it. Ditto "House," which brought in David Morse as the kind of equally smart nemesis House has never really had. The Chi McBride character's danger came more from his wealth and power than any ability to match wits with House, and every now and then the show needs someone capable of taking him down a peg or 12.

Also pleased with Foreman getting one over on House with the nurse bet, and Cameron's "No, I'm hitting that, and it's totally hot," which was funny precisely because it was so out-of-character. Maybe House's sense of humor is finally rubbing off on the young'uns.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I thought it was the best episode yet this year. "Is it still called deja vu if you see the same thing more than twice?" The way I read it, it was when she found out about the pizza order that Veronica changed her mind about Weevil. And the obnoxious little girl cracked me up.

As far as finding the guy in the photo, presumably she had to show it to whoever was putting the Pi Sigs on trial last week, so it should have been passed on to someone official, in theory.

I do agree on Wallace feeling isolated. One thing I caught was that when Veronica was checking her e-mail (which should have been after Wallace got busted), the newest was from Wallace titled "snickerdoodle me?" If that isn't a setup for a good V-W scene early next episode, I'll be ticked.

R.A. Porter said...

I hope that V's prickliness is being pushed intentionally so she suffers a bigger fall in the near future. It seems pretty clear that she and Logan are going to be on the outs soon; combine that with Mac out of town, Wallace immersed in his own issues, and Weevil pissed off and V will have only Keith as a moral support. Pulling Keith away at that time would then allow Kristin Bell to draw on those reserves of vulnerability and charm that seem to be untapped right now.

Even if that's what they're doing, I think it's a risky move, personally. Trying to get new viewers with the GG lead-in on the new network, I'm not sure having an almost unlikeable lead is wise. If I'm guessing right, the fall and recovery should happen soon if it's going to be successful.

Or, I'm totally wrong and this is the new Veronica Mars.

Anonymous said...

I was a little iffy on the David Morse character at first, but the final scene where he arrested House was teriffic. And House totally had it coming.

Btw Alan, are you still watching Prison Break? If so, what do you think of the William Fichtner character? I liked him at first, but now I CANNOT STAND HIM. First of all, they already have someone the audience doesn't like (Bellick) hunting the gang. Wouldn't it have made more sense to have Fichtner be a character the audience was at least slightly rooting for? Plus, his connection to the already convoluted conspiracy makes absolutely no sense. It also hasn't helped matters that Fichtner's performance has quickly gone from subtle and nuanced to scenery chewing and hammy. That, combined with the fact that he was unbelievably rude in a recent TVGuide interview, has me feeling like he's ruining the show.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I skipped a a pre-baseball episode of Prison Break when I wanted to watch the CBS sitcoms and whatever that week's Monday Night Football game was, and quickly realized that I didn't miss it.

Anonymous said...

Word on Veronica's increasingly unlikableness. It honestly didn't bug me as much this episode, mostly because someone called her on it.

"It's a wonder you don't have more friends."


Otherwise, best ep of the season so far.

Anonymous said...

Seeing two terrific actors square off like that in HOUSE was a new high for the show. I'd love it if they never got rid of Morse altogether and had him show up every year to give Gregory some grief.

The brother/sister reveal seemed lifted from LONE STAR at the end, but the closing passage with Foreman bailed it out.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The fact that Weevil calls her on her increased nastiness is somewhat reassuring, since it suggests Rob and company aren't unaware of what's happening with the character. But if it's a planned character arc, I don't know that the start of the make-or-break season was the time to do it.

Anonymous said...

"That, combined with the fact that he was unbelievably rude in a recent TVGuide interview, has me feeling like he's ruining the show."

Do you have a link to the Fichtner interview? What was he being rude about? Thanks!

As for VMars, yeah, she's acting like a brat. It's, as you say, getting very old.

Anonymous said...

I've read several places (including Alan's interview with Rob Thomas, if I remember correctly) that the VM writing staff is told to write Veronica "prickly, like a porcupine." I've always liked that the show is brave enough to have a female lead who's not all sweetness and light (or phenomenally screwed-up and helpless), but I think they're taking it too far. Veronica has good reason to be cautious about other people -- she's been betrayed and hurt a lot -- but this season she seems to be getting by on bitchiness rather than on smarts and sneakiness. I like it better when she charms people into helping her instead of running around being snippy to people until the guilty party confesses.

I liked the sorority episode better than this one, mainly because I thought this week's Wallace subplot was lame. It was practically an after-school special: "Cheating is bad, kids!"

Anonymous said...

Speaking of a make-or-break-it season, any word on the ratings against House?

I mean, she is annoying, but I'd still like her to stick around.

K J Gillenwater said...

I'm going to agree with the commenter who mentioned that Veronica might be written this way, so that when she and Logan break up it is more devastating. She will have pulled away from a lot of her old friends and have no one to turn to but dad.

This show does not seem to work very well when Veronica is happy in her relationship with Logan. She needs a foil with sexual tension...and that is now kind of lost with her and Logan dating. She's not interesting in any other men her age, and Logan is being the seemingly good boyfriend.

This time around I would like Veronica to be the one to blow the relationship with Logan. That would be a nice change. I mean, Logan has his problems, but he seems like he's grown up some in the last couple of years that he wouldn't go back to the same juvenile behavior that broke them up in the past.

House was so much better this week. It felt much more like an episode from last season. Lots of good lines that had me giggling. Esp. the Cameron comment early on. She's learning how to fit into this group of male doctors. Love it!

David Morse is a great addition to the show, and I am glad to see House get taken down a peg or two.

Anonymous said...

The William Fichtner interview is a video. You can find it at this link in the box on the right:

Anonymous said...

I really hope Veronica's unlikableness is intentional, as that at least suggests it will change, but I'm thinking back to last season when I kept thinking to myself, "They must realize how boring Duncan is, they can't possibly expect us to care about his relationship with Veronica."

And yet....

I too think it would make more sense for Veronica to blow things with Logan, as Logan seems to be the one in this relationship that's actually trying to be a good person. A return to the dark side for him would feel forced, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

It's time for Veronica to have a "Mars vs. Mars" or "Russkie Business" episode where she's proven seriously wrong about something, to take her down a peg or two. I'm getting tired of her going around accusing eleventy million red herrings before she's even done any real digging, and I'm even more tired of the fact that doing so isn't coming back to bite her in the ass.

I can't decide if Veronica's bitchiness and laissez-faire attitude is the writing, the direction or Bell just phoning it in sometimes. Whatever the reason, I agree it would be nice if there were some urgency to her investigations. It's not surprising that the bus crash last year wouldn't have the same pull on her that Lilly's death and the attendant ostracism did, but you'd think her sympathies as a fellow rape victim would spur her on a bit this year.

As for House, that was the best episode in quite some time, not least because Wilson gave up his Greek chorus gig for the week.

Anonymous said...

So wait, I'm the only person whose reaction was, Keith and Cliff need their own show?

I dunno, Veronica seems pretty veronica-y to me. I hadn't noticed a huge difference in her 'tude.

And if we're talking unlikable and lead-ins and such, please. Gilmore Girls has the least likable storyline in its history going now. I can barely bring myself to watch the Christopher-Lorelai debacle. It's a train wreck, and I'd rather watch Veronica be as nasty as she wants to be.

I've given up on Prison Break. The Soup on E! did a masterful job of delineating how the dialogue on the show has come to resemble the dialogue from, er, adult films, and I can't watch the show without giggling any more. A pity, the first season was fun.

As for House, I continue to wonder how this series can possibly keep getting better. I think there's some kind of inverse ration going on -- as the rest of the shows on Fox decline or just maintain their averageness, House gets better.

Anonymous said...

ITA about Wallace, Peter, but we did hear sexual noises when Veronica walked in on Parker, so I think Parker was really raped (and it could still have been by one of the feminists--either that or they target wasted girls who've just had random sex? Yuck in either case).

Anonymous said...

In total agreement with your comments, Alan. It's high time that House gets a good smackdown, and the same goes for Veronica.

The way she randomly accuses people of horrible things like rape without any real evidence reminds me of House's random diagnosing-and-seeing-what-sticks method.

And Veronica really needs to tone down the 'tude - how she doesn't get smacked in the face constantly is beyond me (I guess because she's cute she gets away with it). Normally I wouldn't mind so much, but I'm afraid her bitchy behaviour is a huge turn-off for new viewers, which Veronica Mars desperately needs.

Still, for both House & VM this was IMO the best episode of the season.