On Veronica Mars

The Noir of Neptune

By Amanda Ann Klein

In the very first episode of Veronica Mars, Veronica, our hard-boiled private eye, sits alone in an outdoor high school cafeteria–the kind that only seem to exist in the California-colored worlds of Beverly Hills, 90210 and The O.C., where it never rains during lunch and where there’s never gum stuck under the cafeteria tables. Veronica is eyeing a group of smug, well-coiffed teenagers–her former clique, we soon find out–enjoying their freshly delivered pizzas. As she stabs at her cafeteria-prepared meatloaf with a plastic fork, Veronica explains, in her characteristic monotone, “this is my school. If you go here either your parents are millionaires or your parents work for millionaires. Neptune, California: a town without a middle class” (“Pilot,” 1-1).

With these words Veronica Mars established the central role that location, with its implicit ties to class and caste, would play in the series. And it is this incessant focus on location, borders, and who lives in what zip code that places the series so firmly within the long, rich tradition of the film noir.

Of course, when we think of the principal settings used in the classic film noir, images of the city at night, with its low-rent apartments, shadowy alleys, blinking neon signs, and seedy bars, are summoned up. We recall the image of a doomed Frank Bigelow racing through the dusky streets of Los Angeles to inform the police of a murder– his own–in the opening scene of D.O.A. (1950) or of Gilda singing “Put the Blame on Mame” on  …

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