Can you go home again?
Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) certainly seems to fit back in Neptune, Calif. The long-awaited fourth season of “Veronica Mars,” Rob Thomas’ once-teen noir is finally debuting on Hulu. And while it can’t capture the lightning of the original, which aired on UPN/The CW from 2004-07, it’s been nurtured with such love, camaraderie and snark that fans (who go by “Marshmallows”) should be more than satisfied — and newcomers might find a new series obsession.
Quick recap: Veronica, the daughter of Keith (Enrico Colantoni), a private investigator, spent her high school years working as a teen detective, including probing the murder of her best friend. She continued the gig at college, then left to become a lawyer in New York; in a 2014 movie, she returned to her hometown to solve a new case. Now she’s living there with — squee! — longtime love and former Neptune High “obligatory psychotic jackass” Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) when he’s not traveling the world as a naval intelligence officer. Whew.
In a glorious turn of events, the director of the fourth season’s pilot, “Spring Break Forever,” is Michael Lehmann; sly shout-outs to his first movie, 1988’s cult comedy “Heathers,” were all over the 2004 show’s initial seasons. The episode begins with a bombing in Neptune during spring break, the fallout of which inevitably ends up pulling in Veronica and Keith to nose around.
It’s hard not to be nostalgic for the younger Veronica, who narrated each episode with hard-boiled cool as she juggled murder cases and the everyday angst of high school. But the show wisely appreciates that she’s in a very different place — while bringing in an echo of her former self, a teen bombing witness named Matty (Izabela Vidovic) who gets herself into trouble looking for clues.
So many “Mars” cast members are back, and why wouldn’t they come? Ryan Hansen’s doofy Dick Casablancas has, of course, become an actor; Darran Norris’ smarmy lawyer Cliff shows up to chase the recovering victims of the bombing, and Percy Daggs III as bestie Wallace Fennel is now a dad (more faves look likely to show up down the road). New arrivals, like JK Simmons as a shady ex-con friend of Dick’s dad, blend right in. Patton Oswalt joins as a pizza-delivery guy and “murderhead” — a.k.a. true crime hobbyist — who’s obsessed with the bombing case, in what feels like an homage to his late wife Michelle McNamara, whose journalism recently helped find the Golden State Killer. True-crime amateur sleuthing has taken off since the show’s initial run and the show smartly works that into the plot.
So much care has been taken to recapture the look and feel of Veronica’s world that endless Easter eggs abound; my heart was immediately warmed to see she’s still got the iconic black studded handbag she carried all through the original.
Hulu also allows wider license with sex and swearing, the latter of which is a running joke between Veronica and Keith, wagering to see who can go the longest without saying the f-word. As for the former, Veronica and Logan have a couple of steamy scenes in the first two episodes that recall the best of their early clinches — with a distinctly more adult feel.
Bell, who stars on NBC’s “The Good Place,” is a masterful narrator, and to hear and see her return to the scene of, well, many crimes, is a thing of beauty.
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