Imagine a city that’s home to gaggles of tech millionaires, massive Internet-company IPOs, a housing crisis, and palpable tension between the wealthy inhabitants jacking up prices and everybody else just trying to keep their place.
Judging by recent headlines, that sounds a bit like San Francisco and Silicon Valley. But it’s actually Neptune, the fictional SoCal beach town that served as the setting for teen-detective noir Veronica Mars. The beloved series ran for three seasons before low ratings led to its 2007 cancellation, but this Friday, almost one year after a historic, multimillion-dollar Kickstarter campaign gave it new life, Veronica Mars returns to the big screen. (Or small screen, if you prefer—the film will be available in on-demand formats for cautious newcomers or fans who prefer their Friday nights at home.)
If the Veronica Mars movie is successful, it won’t just be good news for creators of canceled cult-favorites looking to make their passion projects a reality. It’ll also be a major endorsement for how Veronica Mars did teen drama: It featured a funny female lead with wise-beyond-her-years intelligence; a clever Heathers-esque takedown of high school social dynamics; a commitment to diversity that, while sometimes imperfect, included characters of all ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, religions, and intellectual and physical abilities; and the most realistic depiction of rape and sexual assault on television. But as I’ve been rewatching the series in anticipation of its return (which, in disclosure, I donated to), it’s also become clear that, compared to similar shows of its time—and, arguably, the rest of what’s on television—Veronica Mars had one of the most honest and sensitive portrayals of socioeconomic class differences.
Class was a part of the show’s DNA from the outset. After Veronica’s best friend Lilly is murdered, Veronica’s dad, the sheriff of Neptune, accuses Lilly’s father of the crime. But he’s the head of Kane Software, a company that invented streaming video and made half the town into instant millionaires, so Neptune turns on the Mars clan. Veronica’s father is run out of office in a special election and becomes a private investigator, while Veronica, shunned by the popular kids she once called friends, copes by working for her dad (and secretly investigating who really killed Lilly).