After three seasons on broadcast television in the mid-aughts, followed by a fan-funded feature film, “Veronica Mars” is heading to Hulu with an eight-episode standalone season and, most importantly, a new mystery.
“I don’t want it to be a nostalgia show,” creator Rob Thomas tells Variety. “Kristen [Bell] says she would do it until it’s ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ and my feeling is for us to survive in that way, more and more episodes have to be about the mystery — about Veronica as a detective — and less of the soap opera personal life.”
Thomas and Bell both say they consider this new season of the series to be only the midpoint for the story they have to tell about the titular former teen private investigator (played by Bell) who now works alongside her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni) in a much more official capacity.
“I think of this as the bridge to whatever version of ‘Veronica Mars’ comes next,” Thomas admits, “because there are personal life things that fans of the show want to see, and if we just stripped it, people might have felt let-down. This one is trying to steer them in the direction of the mystery becoming more of the lifeblood of the show.”
The central mystery in the Hulu series requires Veronica to investigate a bombing at a hotel during spring break. This came out of the real-life bombings occurring in Austin, Texas during the spring of 2018, when Thomas was breaking the story for the season. A native of the city, Thomas has a cousin who works as a cop there who told him all about the “intense anxiety” running through the city.
“I had known, thematically, that I wanted to get back to this idea that we presented in Season 1 when Veronica says in voiceover, ‘Welcome to Neptune, California, a town without a middle class,'” he explains. “If anything, in the 15 years since, we’ve started to become a country without a middle class. So as those bombs were going off, it all kind of fit together. It’s an unsexy thing to say but we’re going to talk a lot about gentrification in ‘Veronica Mars,’ and this mystery worked well with the story I wanted to tell.”
Although Veronica has always expressed disdain for her hometown, she now finds herself living and working there by choice. But although she is successful in her investigative work and still in a long-term relationship with Logan (Jason Dohring), things are far from perfect.
“This starts with Veronica having put the pieces of her life back together and surrendering to the fact that this is where she belongs,” Bell says. “There’s something interesting about a take two in your life. She wanted to get out of Neptune; she hates it here; it is a war between the haves and have-nots that disgusts her — yet something inside her calls her back to fight for the have-nots. And her acceptance of that and her take two in Neptune was a really interesting place for us to begin her second chapter.”
And just because the case is becoming more prevalent to the plot, that does not mean that Veronica’s personal life will be ignored. For one thing, Thomas notes that “there’s always going to be something that makes the case personal” to someone like Veronica — although he admits that he wants to get the show to a play where it can “exist as a true mystery show, like ‘Sherlock,’ where we don’t have to murder a friend of Veronica’s each season.”
Now back in Neptune as an adult, Veronica is faced with more of the push and pull of the town, in addition to the push and pull of what is deemed to be the usual steps adults take in their lives.
“In the first scene of the show, you see Veronica making a lot of money working for a lady in a huge mansion overlooking the ocean and Keith essentially working for nothing at the last discount grocery store in Neptune. I wanted to really underline that they have to take jobs from wealthy people if they want to stay afloat,” Thomas says.
Meanwhile, Veronica is surrounded by change in her friends: On one hand, Wallace (Percy Daggs III) has gotten married and had a child, while on the other, Thomas previews, “Veronica makes a friend who represents a completely different life choice — single, freedom, being her own boss — which is very appealing.”
“I continue to be interested in Veronica as a wounded creature,” Thomas continues. “There is so much to admire about the character, but what I tell the writers is to write her like a porcupine: She can lash out — and she can lash out in a big way. She breaks rules that are fun on TV but in real life teeter on vigilantism. I never want to leave the fact that we’re noir behind. That’s always in my head.”
For Bell, finding Veronica again was not complicated this time around because she says the character “has never left me.”
“When Rob Thomas wrote this character, it developed a part of my own personality that I had wanted and needed — which was the fiercer version inside me. So it’s always been there since, and I will always campaign to have this show on the air because I feel like there can be criticism of people with a platform sharing their opinions, and often the criticism is, ‘Do it through your art.’ This is my version of doing it through my art. When I give up tucking my kids in three nights a week, I know in my heart they will have a show on television about a woman that sets an example for other women, and that makes me incredibly proud,” she says.
In order to create this Hulu series, Thomas says his schedule had to align with Bell’s, first and foremost. “I could probably write a ‘Veronica Mars’ mystery with just Kristen if need be, but that wouldn’t be my first choice,” he says.
When he and Bell, who is also an executive producer on the project, went in to pitch, the deal was that the network would get a show from them with the “hope that we can get everyone [else] we want,” he continues.
This time around, Thomas says they had “OK luck” at bringing returning cast members back. Dohring and Colantoni were at the top of his list, and they were available, but Thomas had to make some sacrifices in other areas.
“We could get Ryan Hansen for three episodes, but we would have liked to have had him for five. We would have liked to have Tina Majorino, but she wasn’t available to us. CBS would only let Max Greenfield do three guest stars, and we got him for three, but I really wanted and needed him for a fourth. It’s tricky,” he says.
Bell adds that the key to the pitch was that it is still a story of the “haves and have-nots, which is maybe even more topical today than when we originally did it.”
When the show first launched in 2004, Bell says she looked at the story as just a world Thomas was creating, but now as an adult who “lives in the world and votes and has experienced a lot more,” she realizes the greater impact.
“I think I care a lot more about the story this time around,” Bell admits. “Because I have girls, because we were lucky enough to do it a second time, because I am using my art. And I am invested in those three things. I thought I cared the first time; I really care now.”
The new season of “Veronica Mars” streams July 26 on Hulu.