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Style and Substance in Veronica Mars

by Ethan Tussey

by Amanda Keeler for IN MEDIA RES

While a considerable amount of scholarship has suggested that Veronica Mars works as a television noir, writers have not followed this designation with much formal analysis of the program. The program’s extended pilot features some striking visual and auditory elements that highlight the possibilities for rich storytelling on television.

The first minute of Veronica Mars, which reveals an enormous amount of character and story detail, is formally reminiscent of the opening sequence in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) the camera pans, tracks, and tilts across the common courtyard of several apartment buildings and their inhabitants, before finally focusing on the main character, L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart). One dynamic tracking shot sets up the story in progress: a cast on a broken leg, a crushed camera, a photograph of a car crash from a precarious angle, more camera equipment, a framed negative of a magazine cover, and the same positive print on a magazine cover.

Veronica Mars features a similar opening sequence that richly conveys character and story details. The scene opens with an establishing shot of the Camelot Motel, tracking past a couple in one of the rooms, and then alongside a man as he walks down the stairs. The shot cuts to an older model Le Baron with California plates, then cuts to a shot that first frames a Calculus textbook, then a camera with a telephoto lens, and finally a Thermos of coffee, soon to be opened by a young, attractive blond woman, situating her as the main character of the program. While a voiceover leads the audience through the scene, these visual elements add an important layer to the story, much like the opening shots in Rear Window. And much like L. B. Jeffries character, Veronica is introduced through the characteristics that define her: voyeurism, curiosity, and bravery.

While Executive Producer Rob Thomas may not have been specifically paying homage to Rear Window, the style and narrative of these two texts do have much in common, and serve as a productive reminder that visual and auditory storytelling means as much on television programs as they do in films.

Veronica Mars and Style

A clip from Veronica Mars

from Veronica Mars (2004)
Creator: UPN
Distributor: Y
Posted by Ethan Tussey