So, what do you do when you're getting over the flu, and aren't completely incapacitated in a drugged-out stupor, but also not exactly 100% and therefore unable to be very productive? Such has been my fate the last couple of days. My solution? Marathon viewings of Season 1 of the short-lived TV series Veronica Mars. You remember, the one starring Kristin Bell as the sassy, sarcastic pint-sized blonde love child of Philip Marlow and Nancy Drew. She was definitely in the same class as Buffy, so it's not surprising that Joss Whedon was a fan. Even his considerable coolness clout couldn't save the show from cancellation after only three seasons. (You can watch some great Season 2 highlights here; embedding has been disabled.)
At least we'll always have the DVDs to remind us of what we once had. I'd forgotten just how whip-smart this series was. Veronica is tough, vulnerable without being whiny (a recurring problem for Buffy, alas), smart, and self-assured, with a PI dad who encourages her natural inquisitiveness, while worrying about her safety. ("I think I'm going to get you one of those big plastic hamster balls, so you can roll around poking your nose into things without getting hurt.") Season 1 had one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen on TV: Veronica's dad, Keith Mars, facing off against the unmasked murderer of her best friend in a very realistic fistfight -- between opponents who really have no idea what they're doing. They swing wildly, tussle blindly, get tired quickly, and there are no flashy Jet Li-style martial arts acrobatics -- yet the stakes couldn't be higher.
As great as the supporting cast is, everything rests on the character of Veronica, who is the perfect role model for any young girl who cares about thinking critically. Keith Mars jokingly tells a colleague that the first words out of Veronica's mouth were, "Their case is fuzzy and circumstantial."(Thanks to commenter Casey for the correction.) I just think the evidence is really weak." That's her superpower: she understands the nature of evidence, the need to build a case. And that makes her quite the little scientific investigator, even if she's more concerned with solving murders, uncovering blackmail schemes, and exposing cheating spouses -- in between high school classes, of course -- than unlocking the secret workings of the universe.
Most important, when the evidence tells her something she doesn't want to hear -- she believes the evidence, no matter how painful the truth may be. Nowhere is this more clear than in a Season 1 episode where Veronica's favorite history teacher is accused of sleeping with and impregnating another student. [WARNING: MANY SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!!!] Veronica sets out to prove his innocence, pitting her against her own father, who has been hired by the victim's parents to prove the teacher's guilt. Keith warns his daughter -- with his vast life experience -- that she's setting herself up for disillusionment; heroes always turn out to have feet have clay. But he doesn't stop her from investigating. He knows she needs to figure some stuff out for herself.
The teacher is so disarmingly cute and charming, so eminently likeable, and speaks so eloquently about his love for teaching and how it's all he's ever wanted to do. His accuser is beautiful and bitchy, with a history of telling lies and spreading gossip, including lies about Veronica. And sure, it turns out that Veronica's instincts were partly right: the girl was lying... on behalf of another girl too ashamed to come forward publicly. But the teacher was guilty as hell. So a good teacher in public can still do bad things in private, and the high school bitch can show some altruism and go to the mat for an innocent victim. And Veronica? She believes the evidence. She admits she was wrong.
A few months ago, I ranted -- as one does sometimes -- about the fact that science has so many fair-weather friends: people who love science and think it's cool, but only when it involves cool gadgetry, quirky stories, or life-saving remedies. The real test is, how do you react when science tells you something you don't want to hear, that challenges your assumptions and prevailing worldview? We need to be more like Veronica Mars. Curious, inquisitive, fearless about ferreting out the truth, even when the truth hurts like hell, rather than staying in safe, cocooned intellectual hamster balls. As Veronica says, "Nobody likes a blonde in a hamster ball." Sometimes the truth hurts. You deal with it.