Veronica Mars makes its triumphant return on March 14, when its Kickstarter-ed movie arrives in theaters. The date is rapidly approaching but never fear: You still have time to watch (or rewatch, or re-re-re-re-rewatch, as the case may be) the entire series before the blessed event. Like we’ve done for Mad Men and Breaking Bad, we’ve put together a training schedule for you to get caught up on the joys of all things Veronica Mars. (Amazon Prime members can currently stream all three seasons at no extra charge; the series is also available on DVD and via iTunes.) This guide is for newbies, so it does not contain any significant spoilers.
Episode 1, “Pilot “
Don’t be fooled by the high-school setting and an elfin blonde lead (Kristen Bell, who is perfect on the show): Veronica Mars is no fluffy teen fare. In fact, it’s a dark and often very twisted murder mystery, and it also deals pretty frankly — and pretty often — with rape. We meet our heroine Veronica at the beginning of her junior year of high school, and things couldn’t be more different than they’d been a year before: Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried), has been murdered, and her dad, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), is the sheriff people blame for botching the investigation. Her mom has left them in the wake of the scandal, and Keith has been reduced to working as a private investigator — a business Veronica winds up helping out with. She’s committed to finding out who really killed Lilly (even if it turns out it’s Lilly’s brother, Duncan, who is also Veronica’s boyfriend), and she’s also trying to figure out who drugged and raped her at a blowout party at the end of the last school year. There’s a lot in this pilot, and it is great.
Episodes 2 and 3, “Credit Where It’s Due” and “Meet John Smith”
Don’t be put off by Paris Hilton’s brief appearance in these episodes: It was 2004, and the now defunct UPN — UPN!— was willing to do anything. Instead, use these episodes to get to know Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra), Veronica’s motorcycle-riding bad boyfriend. Note also that Keith only ever refers to him as Eli.
Episodes 4 and 5, “The Wrath of Con” and “You Think You Know Somebody”
Part of what makes the first season of VM so engrossing is the gap we see between present-day Veronica, who’s a social pariah, and flashback Veronica, who’s at the top of the social totem pole. She’s lost her best friend, her mom, her reputation — and a lot of her ability to trust people. Luckily, by this point, she’s found a new close friend in Wallace (Percy Daggs III).
Episode 6, “Return of the Kane”
One theme that VM deals with over and over is loss. Another, though, is that images of perfection usually hide dark secrets: That lucky rich kid Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), a.k.a. Lilly’s former boyfriend, who gets anything he wants? Yeah, his dad (Harry Hamlin [!]), is an abusive monster. The most perfect girls in school are hiding more than Veronica usually thinks, and rare is the person who won’t betray you. You have to find your friends carefully.
Episodes 7, 8, and 9, “The Girl Next Door,” “Like a Virgin,” and “Drinking the Kool-Aid”
Three episodes is nothing! It’s a Saturday! And yes, that’s Jessica Chastain as Veronica’s down-on-her-luck neighbor in episode seven. Episode eight introduces us to one of the show’s best characters, Mac (Tina Majorino), and episode nine digs deeper into what Veronica thinks is a Kane family cover-up of who really killed Lilly.
Episodes 10, 11, and 12, “An Echolls Family Christmas,” “Silence of the Lamb,” “Clash of the Tritons”
Veronica Mars is known for its snappy dialogue, and “Echolls Family Christmas” has some of the best, thanks in part to writer Diane Ruggiero, who is responsible for many of the show’s best moments of banter. “Lamb” introduces us to Deputy Leo, played by a much-mumblier Max Greenfield, and Aaron Paul has a small role, too. Finally, in “Tritons,” start thinking about Veronica’s mission to know everyone’s business, Kane-related or not. Is it really helping her — like, on a spiritual level — to know how bleak life is?
Episodes 13 and 14, “Lord of the Bling” and “Mars vs. Mars”
“Bling” is sort of a placeholder, but “Mars vs. Mars” brings us Leighton Meester and Adam Scott. The future Blair Waldorf plays a student who accuses the “cool” teacher (Scott) of having an affair with her. Again, another episode where Veronica learns many scuzzy people are trying to do the right thing, and many seemingly good people are actually scuzz monsters.
Episodes 15 and 16, “Ruskie Business” and “Betty and Veronica”
Every teen show needs a dance episode. “Ruskie” ups the ante and makes it an eighties dance, and it’s great. “Betty” kicks the murder-mystery arc into its final phases, so pay close attention.
Episode 17, “Kane and Abel’s”
This episode moves the murder story along, but it’s even more important for introducing Vinnie Van Lowe (Ken Marino), a lowlife rival private investigator. The guy can really sing a Hall and Oates cover.
Episodes 18 and 19, “Weapons of Class Destruction” and “Hot Dogs”
Enjoy! These are two of the best damn episodes of TV ever. And Jonathan Taylor Thomas is in “Class”! The fun never ends on this show.
Rest day. Spend this time carbo-loading. Your journey is nowhere near complete.
Episode 20, “M.A.D.”
This episode closes with “Crimson and Clover,” and if you can ever hear that song again without seeing Logan on his boat, well, you weren’t really watching this show. Go back and redo this episode.
Episodes 21 and 22, “A Trip to the Dentist” and “Leave It to Beaver”
This is it! The end of season one. If you’re not completely ensorcelled by this show now, just stop. (Also, go to a hospital; you are deceased.) Note: These two episodes are very intense, so don’t watch right before you go to bed.
Rest day. Spend this time watching Kristen Bell’s sloth video over and over.
Episodes 23 and 24, “Normal is the Watch Word” and “Driver Ed”
Season two! Fair warning: It’s not as good as season one. It’s still good, though. Things kick off with the major crime of the year: A bus carrying several Neptune high students drives off a cliff. How? Why? Who managed not to be on the bus just at the right time? Other than Veronica? Breaking Bad’s Krysten Ritter joins the cast as Gia.
Episodes 25 and 26, “Cheatty Cheatty Bang Bang” and “Green-Eyed Monster”
Somehow we’ve made it this far without talking about Dick (Ryan Hansen) and Cassidy “Beaver” (Kyle Gallner) Casablancas, two of Veronica’s major antagonists. While Dick remains a surfer douche for the run of the series, we start to see a different side of Cassidy when he hires Veronica to spy on his stepmother.
Episodes 27 and 28, “Blast from the Past” and “Rat Saw God”
We’ve covered loss and image as themes for Veronica Mars, so let’s add one more: parenting. In general, the parenting on the show is not so great (except for super-dad Keith), and we see different characters come to realize that in different ways. In “Blast” and “Rat,” we see people either become their parents or try assiduously not to — though children on this show frequently pay the price for their parents’ mistakes no matter what. Keep an eye out for cameos from Joss Whedon and America’s Next Top Model contestant Kim Stoltz.
Episodes 29 and 30, “Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner” and “Ahoy, Mateys!”
Hard truth time: Duncan (Teddy Dunn) is the worst character on this show. He’s supposed to seem solid and decent, but compared to the sardonic thrills of Logan or the goofy affability of Wallace, he’s just a drag. These two eps are very Duncan-heavy, so in a pinch … skip.
Rest day! Make shrines to Mac and Logan (individually).
Episodes 31, 32, 33, and 34, “My Mother, the Fiend,” “One Angry Veronica,” “Donut Run,” and “Rashard and Wallace Go to White Castle”
These four episodes point to what’s tough about season two: It starts and stops for no real reason. “Fiend” is great and propulsive, but “One Angry Veronica” stalls out with our plucky heroine at jury duty, with the action merely happening around her. “Donut” is a tough one if you believe Duncan and Veronica are OTP (if so, you are wrong), but “White Castle” gets back to solving the bus-crash mystery.
Episode 35, “Ain’t No Magic Mountain High Enough”
It’s another Diane Ruggiero episode. Nothing too major happens, but the banter is A+.
Episodes 36 and 37, “Versatile Toppings” and “The Quick and the Wed”
“Versatile” is most notable for having Kristin Cavallari play a lesbian cheerleader, though it’s a solid episode beyond that, and “Quick” at least has another appearance from Vinnie Van Lowe.
Episodes 38 and 39, “The Rapes of Graff” and “Plan B”
Just when you thought VM was backing off the rape stories, think again! Veronica’s off to college visits at the fictional Hearst College, and of course where she goes, trouble follows. Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat guest-star as Hearst students, which back in 2006, when this episode originally aired, felt like a very cool shout-out.
Episode 40, “I Am God”
There are so many great characters on Veronica Mars, which is why it’s frustrating that so much of season two is spent talking about Meg. Meg is the worst! Not quite Duncan-level, but definitely not worthy of this much attention.
Episode 41, “Never Mind the Buttocks”
Okay, now we’re talking. The Lilly Kane murder resurfaces briefly, the leads for the bus crash start to come together, and this episodes includes one of the best Veronica lines of all time. “Prepare to have your mind blown. Are you ready?” Keith asks. Says Veronica, “Think back eighteen years: small, blonde, baby. Born ready.”
Episode 42, “Look Who’s Stalking”
Prepare for heartbreak! The Mike Doughty song “I Hear the Bells” is perfectly placed here, and this episode alone is enough to redeem all of season two. Agh, this one hurts so good.
Episodes 43 and 44, “Happy Go Lucky” and “Not Pictured”
Prepare for more heartbreak. While the season-ender is not what most of us would have rooted for, it is deeply shocking and intense. Season two, you have your flaws, but at least you go out with a bang. And a crash. And a cry.
Rest! Think about how different Veronica is than, say, Rory Gilmore.
Episode 45, “Welcome Wagon”
College! It’s time for college, though of course Veronica can’t stray too far from Neptune. The season introduces us to Piz (Chris Lowell), who is named for Mark Piznarski, who directed the VM pilot. He’s a good character in many ways, but it’s hard to buy him as a romantic interest for the tough and salty Veronica. She and all her pals are now students at Hearst, where last year’s rape turns out to be the first of many serial rapes on campus. Veronica’s on the case!
Episode 46, “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week”
So season two is not as good as season one. Unfortunately, season three is not as good as season two. At this point in the show’s run, the UPN was no more and VM had moved to the CW — which requested that the show break down small mysteries over shorter chunks of the season, rather than one major mystery for the year. It … sorta works? Sorta not? That said, the worst Veronica Mars episode is still better than most of the best episodes of other shows.
Episode 47, “Witchita Linebacker”
Now that she’s in college, Veronica has a whole new set of people asking for help. Like a football player, played by Armie Hammer.
Rest! Think about the lessons of parenting you will take from Keith Mars.
Episode 48, “Charlie Don’t Surf”
Behold, the Just Shoot Me reunion you didn’t know you wanted! Lauren San Giacomo and Enrico Colantoni are really delightful together.
Episodes 49 and 50, “President Evil” and “Hi, Infidelity”
Veronica Mars loves an eighties guest star, and here it’s Richard Grieco. Veronica continues to find out horrible things about the adults in her life, and at this point, we’re starting to see Veronica’s rapid sarcasm not just as a humorous joke mechanism but also as a real reflection of how hardened she’s become, how jaded she is for an 18-year-old. Sometimes viewers have a hard time with how mean Veronica can sometimes be to people who are asking her for help, but the real shock is that she’s not meaner. Girl has seen some things and has no reason to think kindness gets anyone anywhere.
Episode 51, “Of Vice and Men”
Eek, it’s an episode where Veronica herself is in danger. Guess who comes to her rescue? It’s who you hope.
Episode 52, “Lord of the Pi’s”
Patty Hearst herself guest-stars not as Patty Hearst but … well, basically as Patty Hearst. She even gets kidnapped.
Episodes 53 and 54, “Spit & Eggs” and “Show Me the Monkey”
“Spit” wraps up the Hearst rapist arc, and it does so effectively, if not richly. This season, everyone is largely who they seem — which is a big contrast and a big letdown from previous seasons. The episode also introduces the new mystery: Who killed Dean O’Dell (Ed Begley Jr.)?
Episode 55, “Poughkeepsie, Tramps and Thieves”
VM has a rich tradition of wonderful episode titles, but this is probably the best one.
Rest! If you could send Veronica to any college in America, where would you send her rather than Hearst?
Episodes 56 and 57, “There’s Got To be A Morning After Pill” and “Postgame Mortem”
Two solid episodes that make much more out of the personal relationships on the show (is there any richer soil than Logan and Veronica?) than out of Dean O’Dell’s murder. We get why people loved Lilly Kane, and Veronica was supposed to be on the bus that crashed, but Dean O’Dell always felt like someone introduced just so he could be murdered.
Episodes 58, 59, and 60, “Mars, Bars,” “Papa’s Cabin,” “Un-American Graffiti”
And now things really get going in the final gasps of this wonderful show. Turns out Veronica Mars knows a lot of people who are capable of murder! Also listen for a mention of The Room in “Un-American Graffiti.”
Episodes 61 and 62, “Debasement Tapes” and “I Know What You’ll Do Next Summer”
Hey, it’s Paul Rudd as a washed-up nineties rocker! And another episode.
Rest day! Almost done!
Episodes 63 and 64, “Weevils Wobble But They Don’t Fall Down” and “The Bitch is Back”
When VM ended, it wasn’t clear whether this was going to serve as a series finale or as a season finale, so these two episodes work as both. That said, there’s definitely enough left unresolved to warrant a movie to wrap things up. The people demand closure.
Bonus episode from the season-three DVD
You weren’t quite done! Before the CW pulled the plug on the series, it seemed like there was a chance that VM would have one more season — with a time-jump forward to when she’s working as an FBI agent. Creator Rob Thomas put together a twelve-minute proof of concept, and it’s heartbreakingly promising. At the time, it felt like another blow — the show’s canceled, and we have to know how great it would be if it kept going? But now it’s like a sweet reminder that there was always going to be more Veronica Mars, one way or another.
Go see the movie! You earned it.