When it came to Hulu’s revival of the beloved UPN-to-CW teen detective drama Veronica Mars, creator Rob Thomas had exactly 18 f—s to give.
Or give up, that is. The executive producer had assumed that since the resurrected series, now starring an all-grown-up title character (Kristen Bell, reprising her breakthrough role) would be airing on the streaming service, beginning July 26, there would be some latitude when it came to profanity. As they might say over on Bell’s other current series The Good Place, he was forking wrong.
“The original script had 18 f—s in it. In fact, the first word of the show was, f—,” says Thomas with a laugh. “Hulu came back to us and said, ‘You can say any word, but not that one.’” Fans will soon learn the inventive solution that Thomas devised to make sure his title character keeps it clean(ish) as she reunites with her dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) to run their family gumshoe business in sun-soaked but seriously shady Neptune, California, where there is a steady stream of clients thanks to clashes and alliances between the affluent and the struggling.
“We were so bummed,” says Bell of the cursed cursing, but a silver lining came in the form of comedy gold “because now it becomes a [running joke], and yet another way that Veronica and Keith can stay playful.”
Beyond that glitch, the sailing was smooth AF for the return of the series which began on UPN and migrated to the CW over three seasons beginning in 2004 and spawned a 2014 Kickstartered feature film. Since wrapping the movie, all involved have openly talked about wanting to reunite and the stars — and Thomas and Bell’s schedules — finally aligned. (Hulu is currently airing the first three seasons of the series for new fans to jump in and old fans to brush up.)
The eight-installment season 4 gets right down to business in reestablishing Veronica’s relationships: with her dad, friends like Wallace (Percy Daggs III), reformed bad boy boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), and the cesspool of Neptune’s criminal underbelly. The overarching storyline concerns a bomber attacking spring break locations and thus, putting fear in to the hearts of residents and dents into the lucrative tourism revenue stream.
Bell didn’t think twice about sliding back behind Veronica’s telephoto lens.
“I really want to play this character for a while,” says the 39-year-old Michigan native. “It felt so necessary when I got back into her skin. And I have a theory: When the world felt safer, we were okay rooting for Walter White [of Breaking Bad]. I don’t think people want an antihero anymore, I certainly don’t. And Veronica is safe. She’s fighting for good. She’s in situations that we’ve all been in, where we felt like an outsider. I mean, that is the response I get from fans: ‘This show helped me get through high school.’ ‘This show convinced me not to do X, Y, Z terrible things to myself.’ I’ve had a lot of fun on a lot of jobs, but that’s a huge factor of why I keep coming back to this.”
Colantoni can’t help but beam paternally when discussing the seamlesslness of his reunion with Bell. “She’s always been brilliant in the multitasking even as a younger, more unknown actor,” says the veteran who has made his own imprint in over 30 years of TV and film roles from the shlubby everyguy Eliot of Just Shoot Me to lovable alien leader Mathesar in the beloved Galaxy Quest. “Her dexterity is just so heightened now, her life has gotten so much bigger. And to see her just so present and grounded in that character– it speaks volumes about Rob’s writing and how easy it is to live in — but it’s a testament to her and how talented she is.”
That mutual admiration zings around among the cast as does the sense that returning to the show was like simultaneously slipping on a comfortable old pair of shoes and trying out new ones, as they discovered who their characters were further down the line.
“It’s both, exactly,” says Dohring, who also worked with Thomas on his soon-to-conclude CW series iZombie. “It’s everything that you figured out before, and there’s also new aspects” like his enlistment in the Navy which was revealed in the 2014 film. “What did he do? How did it shape his life? How does he become more disciplined?” were all questions the 37-year-old asked himself.
“Rob is allergic to writing stale stories, which is great for us, because we can keep having him do it, and he will find something to reinvent,” says Bell of the series in general and of the Logan/Veronica relationship specifically, which is definitely not a “happily ever after” scenario. “And that’s what I love. There is a huge dynamic shift when you start with Logan and Veronica. Logan’s been going to therapy, that’s huge. Veronica is not open to therapy.”
“Veronica’s going to start in a different place than she usually does,” says Dohring, “And she’ll have this arc and [Logan’s] kind of the counter balance to that in the way where [he’s] figured out something [in therapy].”
Logan has also, apparently, been going to the gym befitting his character’s work whose deployments are shrouded in mystery, but whose torso is not. (“They brought on the stunt guy and they didn’t even use him all day, it was just me! I was really proud,” says Dohring of a fight sequence in an early episode.)
“What was exciting about it was that I didn’t have to try so hard,” says Colantoni of returning to Mars Investigations, where Keith will be dealing with some personal issues. “You look back at the original series, I still had rosy cheeks. Some people might say I had a little more hair. [Veronica’s] a woman now, I’ve got one eye on retirement — this is in real life too. Veronica survived the worst of it. She’s stronger than [Keith] is, she’s smarter than [he is], but she’s not so smart that she doesn’t need dad.”
That Veronica is an adult is reinforced quickly and forcefully from the outset in some very steamy scenes with Dohring. Since most viewers met Veronica as a teenager — albeit a hard-boiled one befitting the show’s noir atmosphere — Bell understands it might take a little adjustment for some viewers.
“Yes, I have long been caught in between the stage of girl and woman,” says Bell, who followed Veronica with a string of successful film and TV roles including Showtime’s House of Lies, the beloved Disney animated musical Frozen, and the aforementioned The Good Place. “They really made Veronica a woman in this series, and I appreciated that, and that Rob is incredibly intelligent and keeps Diane Ruggiero, our female head writer, very close. And Diane is a little bit Veronica herself. She’s whip-smart, she’s not afraid of her sexuality. She’s just a dynamite human being. The fact is that this is a more rated-R series, we’re not shying away from the fact that Veronica is an adult woman.” Plus, Bell adds with a laugh, “I’m hoping that the audience can deduce that since I have two children, I’ve had sex in my life, minimally, two times. So it isn’t a new, or uncomfortable, experience for Veronica. It’s something she very much enjoys, and I want people to feel free to watch it and feel all the feelings.”
Even before these eight episodes have aired, everyone is ready to sign up for more as schedules allow.
“The thing that we know is that creatively, Hulu was very happy with how this turned out,” says Thomas. “So, I think if we do well — and I have no idea how streaming judges these things, that remains a mystery to me — that everyone would be game for seeing when we can slot in the next eight episodes.”
“I am wholeheartedly committed to playing this character until the fans don’t want me to anymore,” says Bell, who envisions a scenario in which she returns intermittently until Veronica needs bifocals to see through her binoculars. “I would play it till she hits ‘Murder She Wrote,’ and everyone in Neptune is dead. Because it feels that good to play her. It feels good to fight for what’s right and just, and also maintain a sense of vulnerability while possessing porcupine quills.” And, a taser, just in case.