When we last saw private investigator Veronica Mars (played by Kristen Bell), she had ducked a corporate law job and returned to Neptune, her Southern California hometown, resolved to defend the weak, defy the powerful and wisecrack with the best of them. Happily ever after, on her terms.
But as Veronica's inventor Rob Thomas said, "Happy and noir don't go well together."
Now the show is back, revamped for the streaming age. An eight-episode fourth season will drop July 26 at Hulu, where the first three seasons are available.
"Veronica Mars," a snappy, sophisticated crime drama about a high school PI, debuted in 2004 on UPN and then ran on the CW, returning in 2014 for a fan-funded movie. The show was ahead of its time. Its heroine, 17 when the show began, was as quick with a comeback as with the Taser she called Mr. Sparky but still vulnerable to problems personal and systemic.
"Veronica Mars" had love triangles and cliffhangers and a sustained interest in wealth inequality. In its depiction of gendered violence, it anticipated much of the #MeToo conversation.
The new season's mystery, said Thomas, who went on to create and run "iZombie": Is a 30-something Veronica Mars "an interesting enough character on her own to continue to attract fans?"
I met Bell on a gloomy June afternoon in her trailer on the Universal lot. She was in the middle of a shoot for "The Good Place."
"Veronica Mars," she said, is the show that launched her, that shaped her, that taught her comedy and responsibility and a commitment to social justice. She will quit it, she said, when everyone in Neptune is dead.
If you don't identify as a Marshmallow, the name fans adopted, here's the back story: A onetime popular girl, Veronica became an outcast when her best friend Lilly was murdered and Veronica's father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), then Neptune's sheriff, mistakenly accused the town's most powerful man. Keith lost his job and his home. Veronica's mother deserted the family. Her former friends ostracized her. During a party, she was drugged and raped by persons unknown. At some point she gave herself a terrible haircut.
During the first two seasons, Veronica solved episodic mysteries while also seeking justice for Lilly and for herself. The third season, which brought Veronica to college, favored longer arcs.
Facing cancellation, Thomas tried to interest networks in a revival that saw Veronica working for the FBI. No one bought it. Presumed dead, "Veronica Mars" was briefly resurrected when Thomas crowdfunded the movie.
Last year, he asked Bell if she would consider playing Veronica again. She had committed to a final season of "The Good Place" and a "Frozen" sequel. Also, noir involves night shoots, and Bell has two young daughters.
She recalled asking herself, "Do I want a world where my daughters know she exists? Or do I think there's enough out there for them to look to?" She said, "I didn't. And I thought, yeah, I have to do it."
This installment picks up five years after the film ended, with Veronica sleuthing alongside her dad at Mars Investigations and living, reward check to reward check, in the oceanside apartment she sometimes shares with poor little rich boy Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), now a naval intelligence officer. Mostly Veronica works just one case involving a series of bombings threatening Neptune's spring breakers.
So would we ever see her happy? "I don't think we want to," Bell said, adding, "When she's truly content, the story will be over."