iZombie is based on a comic, but it seems like such a crazy idea. What was the appeal of that show for you, and what made you want to play that character?
McIVER: Mainly, I was super attracted to the project because the writers and producers are people that I really look up to. I think Veronica Mars and Party Down are both fantastic shows. And I was excited to do something that has a lot of comedy in it. I haven’t really had a chance to do a ton of it before, and the idea of working on a project for six months, where you get to go to work and laugh every day, was definitely appealing. I’ve done a lot of drama. I’ve always wanted to be an actor that explores different genres and different characters, and this really couldn’t be much further from my past collection of work. For me, it was a no-brainer. I’m having a lot of fun on it. It is a completely surreal show, in some ways, but at the same time, she is a girl who’s 25 or 26, and she’s going through big existential questions that I feel like me and my friends, in our own lives, are going through. It just so happens that she’s a zombie.
One of the trappings of a show like this, where the main character has a secret, is that you always have to hide everything. So, is it nice that Liv’s boss knows her secret and can help her out, and that she has someone to be open with?
McIVER: Absolutely! It’s nice to have that confidante. Those scenes definitely serve as the release, where she’s able to be completely herself and completely unfiltered with somebody. But at the same time, as an actor, I was taught, from an early age, that secrets are the most powerful thing that you can have on screen, and that what you withhold is as important as what you share. With a lot of the key relationships in Liv’s life, she’s withholding this massive secret, which makes for an interesting dynamic and it makes for a lot of great conflict, especially with her love life and her family. To have to hide that from them, it creates opportunity for a lot of conflict, but also a lot of comedy. We’re having a lot of fun exploring that, so far. It’s gone in both directions already, and it should be very interesting to watch that unfold.
Knowing how successful Rob Thomas is at writing great female character with memorable dialogue, how does your character fall into line with someone like Veronica Mars?
McIVER: There are definitely strong similarities, but also some big differences, as well. She’s a strong female. Both Rob and Diane Ruggiero created this character that is a great combination of being sarcastic and wry, at times, but she’s also the lead protagonist and you want to be able to be on her side. In the first episode, you’ll see that things aren’t easy and she’s pretty down on her luck, initially, about her circumstances, but she’s able to find this new purpose when she gets these visions and is able to create justice for people who have been murdered.
And you also ended up appearing in the Veronica Mars web series, Play It Again, Dick. What was that like?
McIVER: It’s amazing! I love how much cross-over they have between their different projects. It’s a real testament to the environment they create to work in and the quality of the material that everybody wants to keep coming back. They have people that enjoy each other’s company, and enjoy the project and the work. So, I was able to do a very brief role in the Ryan Hansen web series. And Ryan Hansen happens to be a great personal friend of mine, so we had a really, really fun time working on that. It’s been a good year, so far.
How meta do you like your entertainment? That’s a good question to ask yourself going into Play It Again, Dick, the new web series from the Veronica Mars team airing on CW Seed. If you are fine with a show being as self-referential as they come, then Play It Again, Dick is for you. If you grow weary of fan service, you should perhaps refrain.
Play It Again, Dick really works best if you’re not obsessed just with Veronica Mars, but obsessed with the people who are in Veronica Mars. The series follows actor Ryan Hansen, playing a version of himself, attempting to get a spin-off about his Veronica Mars character, Dick Casablancas, off the ground. The first episode finds Hansen pitching the show to Kristen Bell, Veronica herself, and to CW executives, who give him the go ahead for a micro-budget pilot.
Later we will see Hansen bro-ing out with Jason Dohring, who latches onto the idea of a Dick-Logan buddy show, and who plays an even more deluded version of himself than Hansen does. Hansen plays himself as sweetly doofy; Dohring plays himself as, well, a dick. (There are a bunch of “Dick” jokes in the show.) Dohring spends most of his time on screen shirtless, doing pull ups, and ordering around the crew working on the “making of doc.” When Hansen goes to Chris Lowell—who played Veronica’s other love interest, Piz—to get him on board, he gets a less enthusiastic answer. Their acrimonious video chat also reveals that Lowell doesn’t necessarily feel the need to wear pants when video chatting. Yes, there’s a butt shot. (Not complaining…)
The entire enterprise feels like the Veronica Mars gang letting us in on their inside jokes, and surely there’s an audience for that. Fans, after all, are a reason the series has a life in any form, contributing to the Kickstarter campaign that got the movie made. Hansen even called the effort “fan porn” in an interview with BuzzFeed. But whereas the Veronica Mars movie at least tried to expand the fan base, by creating a story that could stand alone even if knowing the series certainly helped, Play It Again, Dick is really for the people who care about Bell and Hansen and Dohring as much as they care about Veronica and Dick and Logan. One recurring joke in the first episode revolves around a real-life video of Hansen dancing; there’s a reference to Bell’s recent stint in Hair at the Hollywood Bowl. Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, who is also behind Play It Again, Dick, appears at the beginning of the second episode doing a junket for his new show iZombie. For a show that’s attempting to skewer Hollywood egos, there’s something just a tad egomaniacal about the whole enterprise. Whereas Thomas has said that the show is “tonally” like his other cult favorite Party Down, it lacks the bite of that show, which was realistic in its depiction of the inherent disappointment involved in pursuing a career in Hollywood. In Play It Again, Dick‘s world an actor can waltz into a meeting with CW execs and leave with a go-ahead.
That’s not to say the show won’t grow. In future episodes some actors play themselves playing Hansen’s conception of their Veronica Mars characters, a convoluted concept, but one that has the potential to be engaging. After all, this part of the Veronica Mars saga just makes us actually want to return to Neptune.
The Veronica Mars spinoff, Play It Again, Dick, almost didn’t happen. The CW Seed web series reunites the VMars cast and follows Ryan Hansen as he tries to get a spinoff of Veronica Mars following his character Dick Casablancas off the ground at the CW.
The eight-episode series, sort of a meta comedy, features all your favorites playing fictionalized versions of themselves and of their Veronica Mars characters. We’ll see Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, Daran Norris, Francis Capra, Kyle Gallner, Christopher B. Duncan, Ryan Devlin (as Duncan Kane), Ken Marino, Amanda Noret and Lisa Thornhill. Rob Thomas even drafted his iZombie stars Robert Buckley and Rose McIver for Play It Again, Dick. Sounds fun, but it almost didn’t come together for Thomas.
"I even joke that I was tricked into it," Thomas told us. When he agreed to do it, he was wrapping up the final touches on the Veronica Mars movie, writing two pilots and the studio wanted it to promote the film’s March release.
"I said, ‘I don’t have time, I don’t have the energy. I can’t do it now.’ But they hired an editor I’ve worked with for a long time and they said, ‘He can direct it,’ and I love him. I think he’s talented and wanted him to get that chance, and [they hired a] young writer I was working with and they said, ‘He’ll write the scripts for you,’" Thomas explained. "I honestly thought we would do it in a day and it would be like Ryan Hansen’s sitting on a couch playing Xbox and you just rotate the other five or six cast members and it would just be them chatting, like three or four minutes of funny chatting on a couch. When I said yes, that’s what I imagined. When I showed up at the first production meeting and they had given us so much more money and they had such higher expectations."
Thomas said when he saw the scope of the project and the desire to attach his name to it, he said, “OK, thank you for the extra money and all, but now I really have to have my hands in it. This can’t happen away from me.”
But then he tried to back out of it again.
“Mark Pedowitz, the president of the CW, called me the night before TCAs [in January] and said, ‘Rob, I thought you wanted to do this. We’re all very excited.’ I told him, I said, ‘I’m trying to finish your pilot!’ [Laughs.] ‘I’m in the middle of doing iZombie, I can only do so much.’ He said, ‘TCAs are tomorrow, can I just announce it and you do it whenever you have time?’ At that point I said, ‘OK.’ I don’t know if I was being naïve or what, but he announced it the next day and it was all over and suddenly the pressure was very much on to deliver on it,” he said. “I did eventually sort of dive in and work with this young director and young writer and it was actually—while it occupied more of my limited vacation days than I might have liked, I’m really happy we did it because I think it’s fun and I think fans will really enjoy it. I mean, I have read many comments from people saying, ‘I wish it wasn’t meta comedy, I wish it was just really more Veronica Mars.’ It’s not that, so I hope no one is expecting like real Veronica Mars cannon in there. It will be fun and it will be the actors that they like and it’s a fun romp.”
Yep, Veronica Mars is getting a spinoff featuring a character who was there for one reason: to say “Logan.”
Hansen’s Dick first appeared in the second episode of Veronica Mars. “Where he got his name, was his character name in the show was 09er Dick. [Laughs.] And I hired him because I thought his hair looked like good, Southern California surfer hair,” Thomas said. “He got that one word, he was solid with it. A couple of episodes later we need an 09er to deliver two words and this time it was a punch line. One of the teachers says to Veronica, ‘Veronica, what’s your position on this?’ And Dick sort of chuckles and says, ‘All fours.’ And he killed with it. After that every writer on staff wanted to put 09er Dick in his episode because you knew you were going to get a laugh. He started appearing in all the episodes and by season two he was a series regular.”
The first four episodes of the series feature Hansen trying to get the gang back together to do his new spinoff. As he approaches each actor, they all want something different from him, Thomas said.
"Each of the other characters sort of take a pound of flesh from Ryan. They all want something special from him and he’s going to have to cater to them. For example, Jason Dohring believes that it’s a two-hander, he believes it’s a buddy cop show rather than all about Dick. Francis wants to not be portrayed as a criminal anymore," he said.
It’s up to Hansen to convince them to come on board for no money. The other four will be the cut footage from the fictional pilot. Thomas and Bob Dearden wrote the series, Danielle Stokdyk produced and Viet Nguyen directed.
"It is without a doubt a comedy. It’s not tonally like Veronica Mars,” Thomas explained. “With Party Down—I keep saying it’s more Party Down than Veronica Mars, which is true in it’s a comedy, though Party Down is a very grounded comedy. It’s unhappy, it’s real world. This is a bit a silly, the Dick one is. There’s a touch of Monty Python in it. It is self-referential.”
Still, despite being “sort of dragged into” the project, Thomas said when he got the first cuts he was “so excited to show my wife.” “Like, ‘I can’t believe how well this turned out. This is really fun,’” he said.
- Chris Harnick
The movies, TV shows, books, and musicians that helped to shape the Veronica Mars creator’s work.
I spent five years teaching high school journalism, as kids were putting out the school paper and the yearbook. So I got five years of hearing teenagers talk, particularly on the yearbook staff where it’s always 95 percent female. I got the crash course in what teenage girls are interested in. While I don’t try to sort of mimic the dialogue, I do feel like I am somehow in tune — I know what concerns them. And I try to put it on the page in a way that I suppose feels interesting to hear and would seem interesting to an adult audience. It’s why I like those Pixar movies. They’re very conscious of the kids, but there’s always something thematically working for adults at the same time. So it just helped to define a philosophy for me on how I was going to approach teen characters, and those movies and that book are pretty good examples of things that I think have done that well.
Youth in Revolt
Again, this is an example of something that knocked me out. I was writing young adult novels, and this sort of made me want to throw away everything I’d done, because I loved it so much. Reading Youth in Revolt might have ruined my career, because suddenly I wanted to abandon all the emotional truth of something and just go out far on a literary limb with completely implausible things that relied completely on voice and humor. And what saved me is realizing that I couldn’t do that very well. After toying with that for a while, I returned to what I do well, or better.
Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks was my favorite show when it was on, by a wide measure. And that’s the show I wanted to do. I noodled with the idea of doing a show about teenagers that told small stories, small moments of personal growth. Freaks and Geeks came on and did that, and then got canceled in a year. So the lesson I learned was that if you’re going to try to get a teen show on television, give them something high-concept, something that they can market. So I tried approaching my teen character piece through a high-concept idea. Like, I can get a teen show on the air if I sell it as a teenage private eye, and then I can still somehow get some of these small story show ideas in there.
I loved that show, but I feel like it taught me one of the most important lessons, when they didn’t solve anything. When you realized they were jerking you around, that’s when it fell off. That’s a very valuable lesson — solve the case! Give the audience the satisfaction. Let them know you are going somewhere and that their investment in the show will be rewarded.
Thematically, there is a pretty direct correlation between The Cowboys and Veronica Mars — kids robbed of their innocence too soon, you know? In that movie, all these young boys, from 10 to 19, go on a cattle drive led by John Wayne, and at the midpoint of the movie, Bruce Dern shoots and kills John Wayne, and these kids become in charge. That’s where I started with Veronica the character. Originally she was supposed to be my next young adult novel for Simon & Schuster, the main character was a teenage boy named Keith Mars. What interested me was the sort of idea of loss of innocence, the idea that kids today, as opposed to kids of my generation, are exposed to so much more information. When I was teaching high school, I felt like they were prematurely jaded, they know too much — whether that’s a copy of a Playboy, which in my day was hidden out in the woods and was a small miracle. Now kids have access to hardcore pornography if they get their hands on a computer. And so the idea of making this teenage character at the heart of my detective show was an example of this loss of innocence, it became more interesting to me, more powerful to me, when I changed that male character to a female one. Somehow that was more poignant to do a series about a girl who had her childhood ripped away from her too young.
Whenever we’re thinking of noir plots, it’s like trying to put Heathers on a noir plot. And the great plotting of Double Indemnity — the reveals, the twists — is what we’re trying to do in the writers’ room. In noir movies, it’s usually, the core of it is usually murder. And on Veronica Mars, in the weekly episodes, we tried to limit that to what are the high stakes issues for a teenager? So it’s like, “My boyfriend took dirty pictures of me. Veronica, can you get them back?” Like that feels like the high school version of Chinatown.
Heathers was the first screenplay I ever bought. I’ve had people tell me over the years that, for Veronica Mars, we write like teenagers talk, and I think, That’s crazy! No, we don’t. We write this stylized sort of dialogue. Friday Night Lights writes like teenagers talk, you know? It’s so naturalistic, and they do it beautifully. But we let teenagers say what they would have said if they got to think about it for 45 minutes. Like, we always give them the quip, the sharp line.
In Cold Blood
Before Veronica Mars, I was not, and probably am still not, much of a crime reader. My mom left out a copy of Helter Skelter when I was 10 and I secretly read it, and then I spent all my teenage years afraid of hippies. I kept away from crime books for like ten years. On Veronica Mars, I hired all these writers who could do snarky, funny, vibrant Heathers-like dialogue, and then we all kind of looked at each other when we were breaking detective cases in season one and realizing that none of us knew how to do it. We had all these snarky, funny writers who would take two weeks to break crime stories, and I had so little crime reading in my background, In Cold Blood was one of the only things that I could call back on, so I felt like I was referencing back to it all the time.
Encyclopedia Brown books
I still don’t think I’ve ever read a Nancy Drew book; I probably read three or four Hardy Boys books, when I was 10, 11, 12, and I didn’t love them at the time. Even then, they felt dated to me, like the word chum — “my chum and I.” However, the Encyclopedia Brown books, I read all of them. Those were like crack to me, as a 10-year-old. I don’t remember a lot of the stories, but I can still even remember the occasional reveal — there was ice under his feet, and the ice melted! I remember those, but not the actual stories. It’s like knowing the punch line to the joke, but not knowing the joke.
The Big Lebowski
Hardcore Veronica Mars fans might know that we were trying to sneak all of The Big Lebowski into Veronica Mars. Our favorites lines all eventually made their way in. I remember in the graduation, the principal says, à la Maude Lebowski, “and proud we are of all of them.” We were just going line by line. Like, blank “is the preferred nomenclature.”
I think the Coens may actually sue us. There’s an action sequence in the climax of the Veronica Mars movie that takes a couple Coen brothers staples. So we may not have stolen from The Big Lebowski, but we did steal from the Coen brothers in this movie, without a doubt. We were looking at it like, what did those guys do when they didn’t have any money? What was the action sequence they could afford to shoot? Blood Simple you’re going to see in the movie in a big way.
Chrissie Hynde was my definition of badass chick. And there’s a lot of that in Veronica. If Veronica has a defining characteristic, it’s “I don’t give a fuck what you think.” And I think every bit of Chrissie Hynde screams that.
Because it resembles Party Down, Twin Peaks, Buffy, True Detective, and more.
Taken on synopsis alone, Veronica Mars — the cultish mid-aughts teen detective series starring Kristen Bell — can sound a little, well … girly. Any show about a plucky teenage heroine is a tough sell to male viewers, especially one entirely devoid of science fiction. Yet anybody still thinking that Veronica Mars is just for women is seriously underestimating its appeal. A few months back, we made the case for men watching Scandal, arguing that the ABC drama shares some DNA with certain guy-friendly shows, but that’s even more true of Veronica Mars.
1. Its creator is Party Down’sRob Thomas.
Just as Veronica Mars should be required viewing, so should Rob Thomas’ follow-up co-creation: Party Down, a legitimately brilliant short-lived Starz comedy about a catering crew in Los Angeles. Those who have seen all twenty Party Down episodes will notice a lot of similarities in style and humor, as well as many familiar faces (besides Kristen Bell, obviously): Not only do Ken Marino and Ryan Hansen have majorly funny recurring roles on Veronica Mars, but Adam “Are we having fun yet?” Scott and Jane Lynch pop up in episodes, and many other actors cross between the two series as well. (Plus, Martin Starr has a big role in the film.) If nothing else, three seasons of Veronica Mars should be a nice tonic to tide fans over until they finally give Party Down the Kickstarter movie it deserves. It’s time.
. It’s basically Buffy without the vampires.
Buffy Summers, the definitive kickass TV heroine with crossover appeal, is the spiritual godmother of Veronica Mars, who is just as witty, determined and charismatic as the Slayer. A similar comparison can be made of Joss Whedon and Rob Thomas, whose signature shows both began on the WB did hard time on UPN, crammed in pop-cultural references and allusions galore, and embraced goofiness along some heavy drama. While Veronica Mars forgoes Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s supernatural villains for real-world baddies, the heroines’ respective quests are structured similarly, with season-long mysteries being juggled along with episodic cases. As is often the case with Veronica Mars, the proof is in the guest stars: Buffy alums who turn up on the show include Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter, and even Joss Whedon himself.
3. It has guest stars to rival Arrested Development.
Looking back at the roster of now famous actors who guest-starred on Veronica Mars over the course of the show’s run, it’s surprising how many turned up before they became household names. Not counting the Party Down and Buffy folks mentioned above, the show has memorable scenes and episodes featuring, among many others, a young Leighton Meester, a pre–Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain, and a pre-“yeah, bitch!”-catchphrase Aaron Paul. Other notable cameos and appearances include Kevin Smith as a convenience store clerk, Paris Hilton as a particularly irksome classmate, and Paul Rudd as a disillusioned ’90s alt-rocker. All this, plus Arrested Development’s own Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera appear in a season-two episode that aired a mere month after AD’s cancellation. Underdogs gotta stick together.
4. It’s an addictive murder noir, like Twin Peaks.
Like the iconic David Lynch series, Veronica Mars initially centers on the murder of a high-school girl — in this case, Veronica’s best friend, played by Big Love’s Amanda Seyfried — and explores a world in which everyone is a potential suspect. The show lacks the mystical elements and outright quirkiness that made Twin Peaks so unique, but as Veronica’s quest to solve the mystery sends her further down the rabbit hole, its puzzlelike narrative slowly unfolds in a way that Agent Cooper would approve of.
5. It’s a high-school show that deals with real issues, à la Freaks and Geeks.
Like the great ’90s teen show created by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, Veronica Mars features high-school-age characters who are relatable and fully-formed, with conversations and concerns that extend far beyond which lunch table they’re doomed to sit at. Like Freaks and Geeks a few years before it, Veronica Mars’ dialogue is grounded in sarcasm and off-beat humor, but doesn’t shy away from or sugarcoat serious issues that young people can face, such as parental abuse, date rape, drug use, and inequality. Did we mention that the second season starts with, like, tons of kids dying in a school bus crash? As we said: dark.
6. Like The Wire, it actively addresses class politics.
Okay, so Veronica Mars isn’t really that much like The Wire (sorry to get your hopes up). That said, unlike shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C., which focus largely on the lives of the rich and glamorous, with a token Dan or Ryan thrown in for contrast, Veronica Mars is a show that actively calls attention to class difference and the divide between the haves and have nots. (As our heroine says in the pilot: “This is my school. If you go here, your parents are either millionaires or your parents work for millionaires. Neptune, California, a town without a middle class.”) Mars herself is a lower middle-class daughter of a disgraced private investigator father, and the world of the show is ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, paying just as much attention to characters like Weevil, the head of a Latino biker gang, as it does the rich, popular set that Veronica used to run with.
7. It’s way better to geek out about than True Detective.
Veronica Mars seasons are built around a sprawling, season-long mystery, and with 20-plus 40-minute episodes per season, it gives viewers a lot to work with. This is a show that rewards attention to detail and lends itself to obsessive dissection, and the number of fake-outs, cliff-hangers, callbacks, and red herrings built into each season are enough to overflow a subreddit. Plus, unlike True Detective, the clues actually lead somewhere and the mystery is actually mysterious. Sorry but not sorry, green-eared spaghetti monster.
As the school season begins, we’ll be counting down a variety of back-to-school movies and TV shows. This week: Veronica Mars.
It’s hard enough to tell a clever, honest story about what it’s really like to be a teenager — but doing it within the context of a twisty mystery is a real challenge. Somehow, the WB’s Veronica Mars manages to pull it off, blending a dense, well-crafted mystery with a knowing look at the complexities of life in high school.
Veronica Mars begins with a noir-influenced monologue that doubles as a statement of purpose:
The first season begins in Veronica’s junior year of high school, just a year after the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane. Veronica’s father, the town sheriff, accused Lilly’s parents — and when another man came forward to claim responsibility for the killing, an outraged public ran him out of office and turned the Mars family into outcasts. Veronica, however, remains convinced that the real killer is still at large — and vows that she’ll solve the mystery.
Unfortunately, Veronica Mars is a series of diminishing returns. Series creator Rob Thomas originally plotted the first season as a novel, and it shows; the central mystery is tight, satisfying, and expertly conceived — the rare TV season with virtually no missteps. Season two is looser and messier, though it ends with some of the best episodes in the show’s run; the third and final season, which sends Veronica off to college, is plagued with missteps, introducing a bunch of dull new characters and turning the older ones into unconvincing shells of themselves.
Earlier this year, series creator Rob Thomas wrote and directed a Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie that picked up the story nearly a decade after the series left off. It was exciting to see the band get back together, but for all the flaws of the third season, I actually prefer its conclusion — a bitter pill of an ending perfectly suited toVeronica Mars' darker noir sensibilities.
There’s a reason, of course, that Veronica Mars donated a staggering $5.7 million to get the movie funded. Some TV shows are just too accomplished and original to let go without a fight, and it’s hard to imagine anyone turning down the chance to spend a little more time in Veronica’s quippy, whip-smart world.
It’s a noir teen drama about a teenage private detective and the seedy underbelly in her hometown of Totally Not San Diego, California. How could it go wrong?
Readers, it didn’t. (Mostly.)
Veronica Mars might not have had a long tenure on the airwaves, but it packed a punch while it graced us with its presence. It had a female protagonist who was smart and strong, yet who was not without her flaws, making her all the more human. It had a wonderful cast full of TV veterans and newbies alike, who perfectly blended to bring Neptune, California to life. It wasn’t afraid to be gritty, on a network best known for love triangles and homework woes. (Not that Veronica Mars didn’t have its share of those, too.) Simply put, it was unlike anything else on television at the time, and I’d argue there hasn’t been anything like it since.
A long time ago, we used to be friends, but then you got canceled and we didn’t hear from you for a decade.
I’ve missed you. With iZombie in full swing, another Veronica Mars book in the hopper, AND the start of the college and pro football seasons, I haven’t been able to update you in awhile. You are, however, always close to my heart – and that’s why I’m so happy to share with you our next Veronica Mars-related project: Play It Again, Dick.
As you may have already heard, Play It Again, Dick is a digital series that follows Ryan Hansen as he tries to get a Dick Casablancas show off the ground. As Ryan says in his pitch to the CW network:
“It’s like a Veronica Mars that isn’t afraid of sex. Rob always called me the dessert of the show. Why not a show that’s all dessert? We drop all the who-gives-a-damn high school-is-a-metaphor-for-something-or-other and just give the people what they want: Dick!”
And while you’ll see several familiar faces from the Veronica Mars universe, the web series isn’t what you’d call “canon.” We know how much you would love to see Veronica and friends back in another movie or a new TV series – believe me, we’d love nothing more ourselves – but in the meantime, we had an opportunity to present a different, skewed, slightly absurd take on these characters, and on the actors who play them. So we ran with it, and had a blast. We think you will too.
The series will debut on Tuesday, September 16, on the CW Seed:
Click HERE to read full updates from Rob Thomas
Exclusive: On the set of Play It Again, Dick , the latest installment in Veronica Mars ’ ever-expanding universe. But it’s far being from the last, if Kristen Bell has her say.
A half-dozen lights, just as many cameras, and 20-plus crew were members stuffed into the living room of an unassuming home in an equally unassuming south Los Angeles neighborhood. Between the equipment and the bodies, it was basically impossible to move an inch as the camera focused on Kristen Bell and Ryan Hansen. Just then, the director called action and Hansen launched into an explanation of how — and why — a heinous crime was committed, the kind of speech Veronica Mars fans have come to expect Bell’s Veronica to deliver.
In the middle of Hansen’s monologue, Bell tried, but failed, to stifle a sneeze. While that would render the take unusable on most Hollywood productions, director Viet Nguyen let the scene play out before cut was yelled and he walked up to an apologetic Bell. “That was great,” Nguyen said with a mile-wide smile. “I’m actually going to use that take.”
Such is Play It Again, Dick — a Hollywood-skewering webseries that doubles as the latest extension of Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars franchise. Revolving around Hansen’s attempt to capitalize on the cast’s resurgence in popularity following the 2014 feature film, the series, running on The CW’s online content portal CW Seed, once again reunites the cast, this time under very different circumstances.
Embracing an absurdly comedic tone, Play It Again, Dick — which chronicles the misguided production of an even more misguided show-within-a-show centering on self-professed playboy Dick Casablancas (Hansen), now a private investigator for hire — calls for each of the actors to play a slightly skewed version of themselves, as well as reprise their beloved Veronica Mars character. “It’s like fan porn,” Hansen told BuzzFeed News with a laugh. “It’s a fun way to see everybody be goofy, but still have the characters together.”
Initially designed as a promotional tool for the 2014 Veronica Mars feature film, Thomas realized the concept’s potential after The CW expressed interest in funding it. “It was supposed to be a really guerilla-style shoot before the movie came out,” Hansen said. “Then, when The CW wanted to make it, Rob decided if his name was going to be on it, we should really do it right.”
Five months later, with scripts completed for eight episodes, the cast gathered in that unassuming two-story home, just south of Wilshire Boulevard, for a chockablock eight-day shoot. On this day, the fifth of the shoot, Bell and Hansen were on hand to film the series’ climax. The day’s big scene featured Hansen, who literally unmasked the perpetrator (yes, with some shades of Scooby-Doo), delivering the aforementioned monologue as Bell — playing Bell playing Veronica Mars — stood passively to the side, simply existing to offer ego-fluffing compliments and marvel at Dick’s detective skills through gritted teeth. That is, when she could keep her sneezes at bay.
Joining Bell and Hansen in the scene were Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel), Amanda Noret (Madison Sinclair), Lisa Thornhill (Celeste Kane), Ryan Devlin (Mercer Hayes), and Rob Buckley, a Mars universe newbie. Additionally, the webseries also brought back Jason Dohring (Logan Echolls), Chris Lowell (Stosh “Piz” Piznarski), Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars), Daran Norris (Cliff McCormack), Francis Capra (Eli “Weevil” Navarro), and Kyle Gallner (who played the late Cassidy “Beaver” Casablancas). Most are juggling two characters — the actors play themselves as well as the characters in the titular show-within-a-show — while others only appear in the fictionalized universe. The result is a high-concept, if slightly confusing, endeavor that vexed even the actors when pressed to explain.
“Ryan’s version of this Wallace is different from Rob’s version of Wallace because of Percy’s ambition to be very different from the other Wallace,” Daggs told BuzzFeed News when asked to explain his character. “The version I play of myself here wants to be a badass a bit more. He wants to break out and do something different; he doesn’t want to just get the file, he wants to get in the car and help get the bad guy.”
But not all the actors stray as far from their true selves for the series. “The Kristen that’s in this movie is extremely close to my personality, because I adore Ryan and I would do anything for him,” Bell said, perched in the shade of a dozen enormous trees that enshrouded the house’s backyard. “The only difference is that I don’t poo-poo him as much as the Kristen in this webseries. We have an extremely jovial, brother/sister relationship and we are able to pal around with that. And off camera, have a whole helluva a lot of fun.”
The strong sense of family and camaraderie Bell spoke of permeated the entire set, which was almost completely comprised of crew members who previously worked on at least one Thomas project (either Veronica Mars, Party Down, Cupid, or his latest, The CW’s iZombie). Much like the Mars alumni, once you’re in Thomas’ brain, he can’t stop bringing you back.
“Rob quickly gets to know his actor’s strong suits,” Buckley said of his new iZombie boss, who specifically created this Play It Again, Dick character for him. “I love it because there’s a shorthand that starts to exists between the two of you, so there’s less time of explaining. If he’s writing a certain character, he knows which of us can do it well. If he’s got something in mind for you, it’s like he’s given you a gift.”
Although, the actor momentarily was taken aback when he found out exactly which character Thomas had written for him this time around. “I play this effeminate choreographer, who ends up having to act in the show, but he’s, like, the world’s worst actor — and they’d been calling the character ‘Buckley’ the entire time,” he said, with a laugh. “It’s kind of a mixed bag when you tell me the character’s strongest traits are that he’s an effeminate bad actor and you’ve named him after me. But, of course I was in.”
Daggs didn’t hesitate to sign on either, although spending more time with his Veronica Mars family was only part of the project’s immediate attraction. “I haven’t had the opportunity to do much like this in my career,” he said about the show’s highly satirical tone. “This is so over the top and absurd, it’s kind of amazing. But I trust anything these guys are doing with Veronica Mars, so it was a no-brainer for me. I said yes right away.”
Bell’s participation, however, was initially in doubt, given her increasingly packed schedule — and pregnancy. But the actress never imagined a world in which she was not a part of the group’s next undertaking. “First and foremost, these people are a priority for me,” she said. “Working for Rob is a priority for me. And this character is a priority for me. All of those things combined means we can give a little something extra to the people who want it. And if the fans will enjoy it, we’ll keep doing it.”
The success of Play It Again, Dick will likely determine exactly how much more the fans get. While the film’s 2013 Kickstarter campaign earned a record-breaking $5.7 million and caused nearly as many articles about the future of Hollywood independent filmmaking to be written, the movie underperformed in theaters, only earning an additional $3.4 million, leading many to question just how big the appetite for Mars truly is.
For Bell, the last year and a half has shown her that — despite the numbers — the fans are voracious, and will welcome a return to Neptune as often as possible. “They’ve now earned a stake in this project,” she said of the ever-growing legion of loyal fans. “Previously we could say, ‘We want to do this,’ but they are the reason we’ve been able to breathe life into this again, so I’d like to know what they want. Do they want us to keep making low-budget webseries like this? Great. Then we’ll do it. Do they want another movie? Great. We’ll do it. Do they want to try and get it on TV again? Great. We’ll do it. When people ask me what I foresee from Veronica, I want to do what the fans want.”
That sentiment is shared by everyone in the cast, as none of the actors believe Play It Again, Dick will be the final leg of this 10-year journey. “There’s this feeling that we’ll get to do this again,” said Hansen, who now shoulders the burden of keeping the fanbase engaged. “I could really fuck things up [but] the fans are so die-hard. It truly feels like Veronica Mars will live on for a long time.”