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‘Veronica Mars’: The TV show that simply refused to stay dead

Believe it or not, there was a time when TV shows just went away.

Every so often, the casts of, say, “Gilligan’s Island” or “I Dream of Jeannie” would reconvene for a movie of the week. But for the most part, when a series was canceled, it stayed that way.

Like its namesake, though, “Veronica Mars” never was one for following the rules.

The series — which returned for an eight-episode run on Hulu on Friday (a week ahead of schedule after a surprise announcement at Comic-Con) — simply refuses to stay dead.

It’s the Jason Voorhees of delightful daddy-daughter detective dramas.

Enduring popularity

On the surface, the high school noir series seems an unlikely candidate to have inspired such a passionate following.

The critically acclaimed drama, set among the class inequality of sunny Neptune, California, debuted in 2004 and ran for just three seasons. And it began on the old UPN, home to such creative nadirs as “Homeboys in Outer Space.”

To even reach its third season, “Veronica Mars” had to survive the schedule culling that came from the network’s merger with The WB to create The CW.

Then there’s the show’s premise: “A teenaged private eye. Trust me, I know how dumb that sounds.”

That’s Veronica Mars herself introducing “Veronica Mars,” the 2014 feature film that was funded solely by fans via Kickstarter. The $2 million goal was reached in just 11 hours.

Ahead of its time

So what fueled this level of devotion among fans, who refer to themselves as Marshmallows?

For starters, “Veronica Mars” was ahead of its time. And not just because when she was packing for a trip to New York, all the way back in 2006, Veronica joked that she was bringing “pepper spray, for if we run into that Trump character.”

The series also may have predicted Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” — Veronica complimented recurring guest star Krysten Ritter’s help with a case with a “Not bad! You might just have a future in this racket.” And it paired Bell with guest star Leighton Meister a couple of years before she would narrate “Gossip Girl.”

Creator Rob Thomas — not the Matchbox Twenty frontman — brought a gravitas to the series that was missing from most teen dramas.

Long before a crime wave swept through an idyllic town in “Riverdale,” Veronica was investigating the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried), while dealing with the aftermath of being drugged and raped at a party.

A new chapter

For the Hulu revival, the starring cast has been pared down to Veronica; her loving father, Keith (“Just Shoot Me’s” Enrico Colantoni), the former sheriff who tried to pin Lilly’s murder on her powerful family and was run out of office for his efforts; and frequent murder suspect Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), Lilly’s former boyfriend and Veronica’s on-again, off-again love.

It’s probably for the best, as Thomas rarely seemed to know what to do with Veronica’s original set of pals, basketball player Wallace Fennell (Percy Daggs III) and biker gang leader Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra).

They’re still around in the new episodes, as are recurring favorites Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) and former deputy sheriff Leo D’Amato (“New Girl’s” Max Greenfield). But by winnowing the focus, the episodes — which find Veronica investigating a deadly Neptune bombing during the madness of spring break — feel tighter and more relevant.

With Veronica and Keith working together now, more or less as equals, at Mars Investigations, their charming, vaudeville-style chemistry is as welcome as ever.

The rebooted series feels like the sort of thing that could go on for a while, either continuously or by popping up in new and unexpected ways over the coming decades.

After all, history — and CBS — have shown that America loves watching senior citizens solve crimes.

And that couldn’t possibly feel any less organic than the way Gilligan, the Skipper and crew ended up getting marooned again, “Lost”-style, on that island.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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