[This story contains spoilers for season four of Veronica Mars on Hulu.]
Rob Thomas understands he might not be very popular right now. The creator of Veronica Mars was the one who made the call to throw a very violent wrench into his title character’s life in the final minutes of the revived show’s eight-episode run on Hulu.
After solving a typically twist-filled case and marrying her longtime love, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), Veronica (Kristen Bell) realizes moments too late that the bomber who has terrorized Neptune during spring break (played by Patton Oswalt) left one more explosive device in her car. When Logan goes to move it out of a no-parking zone, it explodes, killing him.
When Thomas spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the season in June, he noted that he was about to leave the country for a vacation. “I keep wondering why I didn’t time this three weeks being out of the country better and have it be right after we drop these episodes,” he said. “Let me tell you somebody who’s not going to be on Twitter after these come out.”
Thomas spoke with THR about the decision to kill Logan, his related desire to keep making the show and how the show’s past helped accelerate the development of the new season.
Let’s start at the end: When and how did you land on Logan’s death as the way to climax the season?
That has been something that we mulled probably over the five years since the movie [the Kickstarter-funded feature film released in 2014]. Here’s the thing that it revolves around. If I didn’t want to do more Veronica Mars, if I would have been happy to say, okay, this is our last Veronica Mars, then I would have been happy to land on them being married and living happily ever after. But our hope is that we get to tell more Veronica Mars mysteries, and if we do get to do that, we want it to exist as a mystery show, Veronica Mars as a P.I. out in the world, solving mysteries. And doing that with a boyfriend or a husband just felt less interesting, less sexy, less noir.
And it was tough keeping Logan involved in this particular mystery. I didn’t want that challenge each time. Also, we’re doing a show that’s noir, and our noir detective and her happy home life with her boyfriend or husband just didn’t feel right moving forward. I love Jason Dohring. I love what he’s done for the show, but for the future existence of Veronica Mars as an entity, I feel like she needs to be single moving forward.
That’s a pretty classic element of noir stories and detective fiction in general, that the hero or heroine usually has some kind of loss, either within the case that they’re working or something they have to give up to do their job.
That is very true. Also in most of noir, that possibility for romance or sex exist in those stories, and it’s tough to have that exist if there is a husband at home. So that’s why that very difficult choice was made.
The fans feel it, too. I know they do, because every third tweet that’s directed at me is, “You better not let anything happen to Veronica and Logan.” So I am prepared to take some lumps, and hopefully there will still be fans left afterwards, because it does feel like cutting off an arm so that the body can survive. It’s very much in that category.
What was the conversation like with Dohring when you broke the news to him?
It was tough. I mean, that conversation is like breaking up with a girlfriend. You try to explain the logic. And to Jason’s credit, he gets the logic. He understands why it’s happening, it doesn’t make it less painful, he knows that I adore him as an actor, I’ve put him in multiple things, so he knows it’s not that. Next to Kristen, he and [Enrico Colantoni, who plays Veronica’s father, Keith Mars] are probably as responsible for our success as anyone, and it does hurt. My relationship with Jason is totally great. He wasn’t happy, but he understood.
The revival seemed to come together very quickly. Was that actually the case, or was there more to it than has been reported?
Before it ever leaked out that we were trying to make it happen, we had probably been trying to make it happen for three or four months. But even in those terms, it did come together very quickly. Kristen and I, because we talk to each other reasonably often, we had talked about, “Hey, the next time we do this, let’s try do to do it as a miniseries.” That feels like the perfect way to do a Veronica Mars. We loved the idea of eight episodes to tell one detective case, and it was also a necessity because we both had shows on the air. So we didn’t really have any other option. Possibly a movie, but we were honestly more interested in eight episodes of television than trying to do a movie again.
So Kristen and I had been talking about this in the press back and forth, and then Joel Silver, who is one of our partners on the project, kept reading it. Joel at some point said “fuck it” and called NBC and said, “Can you let Kristen out to do eight episodes on a streaming platform?” And they said yes, and Joel called me and said, “What the fuck, let’s do it.” And at that point it happened pretty quickly. We had to get a few permissions, but then, yeah, it happened really quickly. I had put together a pitch, and Kristen and I took it out and Hulu bit.
The nice thing, and the reason it could happen so quickly, is you have 64 episodes to look at. They likely don’t make you shoot a pilot. It’s not like you have to prove the concept. In this particular case, we got to just go straight to series.
Enrico Colantoni said he was “a little embarrassed at not being able to play through” his excitement at returning to the series and the character of Keith Mars in his first scene with Bell. Did you and the writers and crew who worked on the series have that feeling as well? How did you get past it?
The day he was referring to, it was day three of production, and the other stuff that had been shot was with Kristen and a guest star. So that was the first day where I got to see Veronica and Keith delivering what I think is the heartbeat of the show, that rhythm of those two funny actors and that relationship.
I’m not usually on set, but I was on set that day, and I just had this ridiculous grin on my face watching them shoot that over three or four hours. There they were in wardrobe, in a set that we built to look just like the original Mars Investigation set, doing what they do so well. That scene brought me incredible delight. So yeah, I don’t blame him if he was happy, I was incredibly happy in that moment. That is the moment where I went, “Oh, yes, this is what we do right.” Yeah. That felt really good.
With a number of shows that have been revived after a long time away, there’s a sense of “We’re happy to be back. Aren’t you happy to have us back?” And it can come through on camera and throw the tone off. Were you cognizant of that?
Consciously, we felt like the movie was for nostalgia. We didn’t know if we were ever going to make another one. We were frankly surprised that we got to make that one. And because it was fan-funded, that was our “give the people what they want” effort. It was, “We may never exist anymore, let’s bring back [everyone] … we’re going to put in a high school reunion so we can say hi to all these old favorite characters.”
With these eight episodes, I keep thinking of them as sort of a bridge, taking us from what the show was to what the show will be moving forward. And I want to strip the show of nostalgia. I want it to be about a kick-ass detective solving interesting cases. I don’t think we’re going to be ever as pure detective as something like Sherlock, but somewhere between Sherlock and Fargo, I think we could exist. Moving forward, we’re going to really build around [the idea that] the case is the thing and less of the soap opera of Veronica’s life.
It was really interesting to see that the emotional dynamic between Veronica and Logan has flipped from the original series. What drove that choice?
I felt like those stories, about wondering when the time is to put away childish things, they almost always get told about male characters. It’s almost its own genre — when will 30-something-year-old men grow up? And I was interested in Veronica having that choice in front of her, and not in such a dumb-shit guy way of, “I can’t imagine never having strange sex again in my life.”
We put Wallace [Percy Daggs III] in the show to show a friend who has done all the traditional things that seem to be goals for most people. He’s married, he has a kid, he’s got a nice house, he is living the American dream. Then Veronica makes friends with this woman, Nicole [Kirby Howell-Baptiste], in town who has absolute freedom, does her own thing, is her own boss, is sexually liberated, and we put these in front of her Veronica and tell her to choose.
But the thing with Veronica is here is a girl who spends most of her formative years taking pictures of people cheating on each other, whose parents got divorced, whose boyfriend’s parents had a shitty marriage. I wanted to play someone who has no incentive or no great history of seeing that sort of stability work out struggle with those decisions. So I wanted to tell that story for Veronica rather than a dude for once.
The class divide in Neptune has always been prevalent in the show. What made you want to revisit that again?
In episode one of Veronica Mars, she has this line of voiceover that says “Welcome to Neptune, California, a town without a middle class.” I wrote that in 2003, we shot it in 2004, and 15 years later it only seems like that divide has worsened. We may have been ahead of the curve a bit when we did it originally. But it’s a scene that I have always enjoyed writing and I enjoy writing Veronica as someone who had financial stability ripped away from her and has been able at various points in her life to have her feet in both camps. It’s a story I’ve always been attracted to, class divide — particularly in a town where the wealthy really run roughshod over the others in the town.
You also get to show that through Matty [Izabela Vidovic], in whom Veronica sees her younger self. Can you talk about the relationship between those two characters and what you wanted to bring out in Veronica with it?
There were a few things. I wanted Veronica to have a personal connection to the case. She is hired by people who really only want to know that they weren’t the target. There’s not a huge emotional investment from the people who actually hire Veronica to solve the case, so I did want Veronica to feel something personal. I wanted her to have some sort of emotional involvement in solving the case and by having that be somebody who lost the father who they adored, that seemed like a good way to make Veronica really care about solving this.
The actress is also someone who I am a big fan of, Izabela Vidovic. I put her in a pilot when she was 12. A few years later, we had a big story arc that I needed for a teenager in iZombie, and Izabela was just heartbreaking and brilliant in that. So I had her in mind for this particular role.
What was your pitch to people like Patton Oswalt and J.K. Simmons to come aboard?
Patton really wanted to do it. He was a fan of the show and so was pleading to do it.
When you go in and pitch a show, you’ll often make a poster board — I know this sounds silly, but you’ll make a poster board and you’ll show all the main characters and put a picture of the actor [you want], like, “Here is the perfect prototype for this role.”
Two of the actors on our board were J.K. Simmons and Patton Oswalt. So we got two guys that in our dream world would’ve been the right guys. And Patton really, really wanted to do it, but he was also full-time on A.P. Bio. So one of the hardest things was that we had to be at the mercy of the A.P. Bio schedule each week, which makes scheduling really hard. Patton really wanted to do it and said I will do whatever I need to, to get to both places. And A.P. Bio was nice enough to say okay, we’ll do our best to let you have him when we can. … But I am such a Patton Oswalt fan that it made me happy every time I saw him in dailies.
And then J.K. was the one big guest star on Party Down that we had back both seasons because we loved him so much. And we got to write the foulest dialogue for J.K.. I think he had a good time doing Party Down, which I think probably helped us get him for Veronica Mars.
How did you manage to get Chrissie Hynde to record the theme song?
We wanted a female covering the song. We made that decision — let’s remake the title song, and what female artist would be the coolest that we could possibly get? Chrissie Hynde is probably my— I think I can eliminate “probably.” Chrissie Hynde is my favorite female rock star of all time. I now have had two shows that have featured a Chrissie Hynde song as the main title. The original Cupid back in 1999, we used a song of hers called “Human.”
So this is us going back to the Chrissie Hynde well. And it has been very cool because Chrissie Hynde has emailed me a few times, which, I am just giddy when I see that I have an email from Chrissie Hynde. It’s my 17-year-old self’s fantasy, and it’s pretty great.
Since the show is being released all at once, why did you decide to have “previously on” scenes at the top of each episode?
It was the subject of much, much, much debate, so much so that when we got to episode seven, Hulu came to us and said, “You know what? We don’t think we need these previously-ons.” But by then most of the shows were locked, and unlocking them and taking them out was going to be a huge expense, and they decided to leave them in.
What I had hoped for, and I think Hulu eventually hopes for this, and I know some of the streaming services do this, where you can just hit a button and skip the previously-on. But Hulu does not have that. I have mixed feelings about it. I love previously-ons and when I binge a show, I’ll watch two or three [episodes]. I never sit and watch eight in a row. Particularly with a mystery, I like having the previously-ons. I might not have watched it for three or four days and I like the reminder.
In a perfect world, and maybe by the next time, if we get to do another eight, Hulu will have that technology that will allow you just to hit a button and skip the previously-on.
In terms of the show’s future, would you see Veronica staying in Neptune? She ends the season going someplace else for a case.
What I would like to do, and I think if we get to do another one, I think the next one may be away from Neptune. I want to make it possible and I want to make it believable that Veronica starts getting cases from all around the country. And yes, we could go back to Neptune, but we could also go anywhere in the world because people have heard of her, particularly now that she has done this Neptune bombing case and there was some sort of Making a Murderer-like show about it that she may have enough notoriety to get called in places wherever a cool mystery could be.
This is a true story — in Vanity Fair, there was a really interesting detective case in which a P.I. got called in and he solved it. And then they did another story on him three or four years later and in that article he talked about “yes, since that first article I get calls from everywhere.” And so I’m sort of adopting that for Veronica. I want the ability for us to be able to tell a Veronica Mars story anywhere we want.
Do you see it then as becoming more of an anthology with Bell at the center of it?
Yeah, I do. There are no guarantees. I have not figured out what the next case will be, though I think the next one is going to be away from Neptune. I think she is done with Neptune for a little while. And the thing that Kristen and I have been talking about, and I don’t know that this is what it will be, but [we’ve talked about] doing one of those Agatha Christie-style mysteries. Like a mystery in a snowed-in manor or on a boat, putting Veronica in a very Agatha Christie-like, though modernized, setting. It’s one of the things we’re playing with.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.