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by Jason Mittell

p. 73-74:

In just under a minute and 40 seconds, this teaser has set up a great deal of information and context for the episode and series as a whole. We have established the title character as a savvy and brave young woman, juggling life as a student and paid private investigator. The neonoir style serves to set a cynical and world-weary tone, with clever narration encouraging a more sophisticated take on conventional crime stories. The frank sexual content of adulterous motel trysts signals a level of maturity unexpected in a program that will later be shown to be based around a high school. And the cliffhanger ending suggests that suspense and action will be a prime ingredient of the dramatic action.

It is not hard to see both why Thomas might have preferred this opening for the pilot, highlighting maturity, unconventionality, and suspenseful noir, and why UPN forced the more typical opening at Neptune High to appeal to its core teenage target audience with a more familiar milieu, style, genre, and set of characters. These two openings high- light the central challenge of any pilot: demonstrating how the series is both freshly distinct and yet familiar enough to be recognizable and comfortable, striking the delicate balance between similarity and difference that structures commercial television. The UPN opening starts with the familiar and slowly complicates it with intrigue and genre mixture, while the DVD version puts us in the midst of something unconventional for television, a young female-centered noir, and then links it to the more conventional facets of teen drama. Both educate viewers on the program’s norms and inspire them to keep viewing, but clearly each approach speaks differently to various subsets of the potential viewing audience.

See Complex TV for more clips and contexts.

Other media by this contributor

In the DVD version of VERONICA MARS, "Pilot," the series opens with an explicit homage to film noir, framing genre expectations.

VERONICA MARS, "Pilot" (UPN, 2004) highlights the mixture of film noir and light-hearted teen drama

from Veronica Mars, "Pilot" (2004)
Creator: UPN
Posted by Jason Mittell