The awarding of last year's Buffy, our first-ever award for the most underappreciated show on all of television, was an easy choice. "The Wire" is simply everything we want out of a TV show: We bond forcefully with the characters of David Simon's Shakespearean urban drama and become deeply invested in the plot; the violent death of thug kingpin Stringer Bell last season left us feeling giddy, sad, enlightened and anxious -- just as a searing dramatization of the dynamics behind poverty, the war on drugs, and the class/race ceiling should. Our Sunday night HBO votive burns as bright for "The Wire" as it does for all those other shows -- and frequently, much brighter.
The Emmy graciously bowed to The Buffy's wisdom this year, offering a belated nomination to "The Wire" for outstanding writing. A token gesture, sure. But at least they're learning.
This year, deciding who was truly worthy of following in "The Wire's" footsteps was a tougher assignment. Following the advice of people we trust, we have become fans of SciFi's "Battlestar Galactica." We're continually irritated that "The Daily Show" isn't given much Emmy prominence, the way it's shoved into the category of variety, music or comedy series -- let's face it, the show's a lot more influential, and hilarious, than anything nominated for best comedy series, and it's daily. And now that writers are demanding that they be treated appropriately for scripting "reality" TV, should one of the several great shows from that genre deserve greater recognition? Also, we really do have a soft spot for "Gilmore Girls," and the devilishly crisp writing on "Nip/Tuck" at times seems like everything "Desperate Housewives" could ever hope to be. Such tough decisions!
Kristen Bell in "Veronica Mars"
"Veronica Mars" (9 p.m. Wednesdays, UPN), Rob Thomas, creator
We could go on and on and on about the terrific debut season of "Veronica Mars." Oh wait -- we already have. First, Heather Havrilesky swooned:
"I love Veronica Mars. I love the way her crappy attitude doesn't match her sweet doll face and her bouncy blond hair. I love her outfits, with those tall boots and short skirts and argyle socks and little cardigans, unnerving ensembles that mix one part tough tomboy with two parts trashy Catholic schoolgirl. I love that she's capable and decisive and smart and doesn't waste her time whining about her insecurities and crushes like the rest of us did as teenagers. I love the way she always thinks of the perfect, snappy retort, the likes of which would only occur to us in the middle of a sleepless night. I love that she recognizes the power of chirping like a ditzy bimbo to get access to the information she needs. I love how she makes friends with the outcasts and losers at school and refuses to socialize with the popular kids, even as she's forced to empathize with them. I love that she's been through hell -- her friend's death, her mother's disappearance, her mysterious rape -- and she's pissed off about it, but she doesn't have time to wallow. She's too busy doing professional detective work -- dangerous, high-pressure jobs! -- in order to help her daddy pay the rent. Veronica is busy and efficient but never flustered, snide but never unjust, full of feminine wiles but never slutty and pathetic. She's a role model not just for high school girls, but for grown women."
Then Stephanie Zacharek swayed:
"At the beginning of the season, in particular, 'Veronica Mars' seemed like just the salve for all those still-in-mourning 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' fans out there (myself included). The two shows are similar in some ways. They both feature teenage girls -- blond California girls, to be exact -- with heavy-duty responsibilities: One has to solve a crime that has affected her deeply; the other merely has to save the world...
"'Buffy' was a very different show from 'Veronica Mars,' with a markedly more fatalistic tone and an almost operatic sense of tragedy. But it did lay some crucial groundwork for 'Veronica Mars': While both shows pretend to be geared toward a teen audience, it's really adults, well past the trauma of teenagerhood but still all too aware of how much it can sting, that gravitate toward them. The character Veronica is very much grounded in the real world: Formerly a member of the rich, cool crowd, she's now a pariah at her school; she has good reason to believe she's the victim of a rape, but she can't remember it; and, worst of all, her best friend has been murdered ... I think the fairest and most accurate way to compare the two is to accept that 'Veronica Mars' is a continuation of a broad theme that 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' set in motion -- the idea that teenagers, as both Shakespeare and the Shangri-Las realized, are near-adults whose seemingly innocent disappointments and fears aren't really innocent at all: They're just nascent versions of our ongoing grown-up ones."
And what more, really, can we say? Except for something obvious to us, and most of you, but probably needs to be explicitly stated for those who still haven't fallen for the charms of "Veronica Mars" and fear it's just another well-done teen drama, with tears and fears and important lessons about life and love: "Veronica Mars" is as smart a whodunit as any that have appeared on recent TV, and its season-long arc was every bit as tautly written and engrossing as -- dare we say it -- last season's spectacular installment of "The Wire." Don't let its hard-candy colors fool you. "Veronica Mars" is a gritty noir with nail-biting plot twists. Its Philip Marlowe just happens to favor pigtails sometimes.