Style and Substance in Veronica Mars

Curator's Note

While a considerable amount of scholarship has suggested that Veronica Mars works as a television noir, writers have not followed this designation with much formal analysis of the program. The program’s extended pilot features some striking visual and auditory elements that highlight the possibilities for rich storytelling on television.

The first minute of Veronica Mars, which reveals an enormous amount of character and story detail, is formally reminiscent of the opening sequence in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) the camera pans, tracks, and tilts across the common courtyard of several apartment buildings and their inhabitants, before finally focusing on the main character, L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart). One dynamic tracking shot sets up the story in progress: a cast on a broken leg, a crushed camera, a photograph of a car crash from a precarious angle, more camera equipment, a framed negative of a magazine cover, and the same positive print on a magazine cover.

Veronica Mars features a similar opening sequence that richly conveys character and story details. The scene opens with an establishing shot of the Camelot Motel, tracking past a couple in one of the rooms, and then alongside a man as he walks down the stairs. The shot cuts to an older model Le Baron with California plates, then cuts to a shot that first frames a Calculus textbook, then a camera with a telephoto lens, and finally a Thermos of coffee, soon to be opened by a young, attractive blond woman, situating her as the main character of the program. While a voiceover leads the audience through the scene, these visual elements add an important layer to the story, much like the opening shots in Rear Window. And much like L. B. Jeffries character, Veronica is introduced through the characteristics that define her: voyeurism, curiosity, and bravery.

While Executive Producer Rob Thomas may not have been specifically paying homage to Rear Window, the style and narrative of these two texts do have much in common, and serve as a productive reminder that visual and auditory storytelling means as much on television programs as they do in films.


Great formal reading of both texts! You're right, we often throw around generic classifications without fully fleshing out or exploring how specific texts use those generic codes. It would be fruitful to look to the specific ways that television (and VM) use traditional noir traits and the times that they adapt or alter those traits for television storytelling. How do the formal characteristics of noir change in different mediums? How does VM borrow from both the tropes of film noir storytelling and the norms of television storytelling?

Thanks for your comment Staci. My post was meant to acknowledge that whatever label VM is given (noir, teen drama, etc.) that the program has a number of interesting visual elements that bring a lot of detail to the characters, as I suggested with my example of Rear Window (which is not a noir). Your question about how the characteristics of noir change in different media is intriguing because television is different than film, and films generally don't have the constraints of long form storytelling, commercial interruptions, and season breaks. And while there has been some scholarship about VM and Rob Thomas's complicated relationship with UPN and the CW, there remains a lot to be discussed in terms of how this show, or any show thrives in a medium (broadcast network) that doesn't always have the time or space to allow this type of creative storytelling.

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