Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Debasement Tapes" (season 3, episode 17)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Debasement Tapes" (season 3, episode 17)


UPDATE: Yesterday, apparently as a surprise, Hulu began streaming the entire fourth season a week ahead of schedule. This obviously completely nukes the timing I worked out for this viewing diary which was supposed to build up to the announced premiere on July 26. As such, I will no longer offer a marathon of new reviews next weekend (as originally planned). Instead I will continue to post season three episodes each day, followed by the film, and then I will release my revival viewing diary one day at a time as well, concluding this whole series on August 2.

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. I will cover each TV episode (and eventually the film), several days a week, concluding with the Hulu revival. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on May 8, 2007/written by John Enbom; directed by Dan Etheridge): Keith has settled into his new/old job and will be officially running unopposed (until the final scene, anyway). Whatever sparks Piz and Veronica set off in their momentary embrace have been extinguished (also until the final scene, if holding hands counts as re-ignition). Logan pulls an all-nighter with Mac designing a website about asses, Keith and Leo stake out a Fitzpatrick robbery which ends as they anticlimactically watch Vinnie tie things up himself, and Veronica spends a weekend trying to figure out how rock star Desmond Fellows (Paul Rudd) lost his backing track tapes. Putting her sleuthing skills to the test, Veronica discovers...drum solo please...he accidentally switched bags at the airport. There are a few pitstops along the way - a spurned would-be groupie, a "Semites for the Savoir" organization protesting Fellows' appearance - but the path from A to B is not very complicated, and this must be the mildest case Veronica has ever taken on. Desmond, formerly the brains behind the cult band My Pretty Pony, has lost any enthusiasm for life and music but Veronica and Piz, when not preoccupied with cancelling their own fling for lack of interest, attempt to convince Desmond that he should play his new solo material. Eventually they conspire to force his hand, declining to show up with the tapes they've rescued so that he'll have to take a chance. The crowd cheers and Desmond's faith in his own art is restored. It's everyone else's faith that may be in trouble.

My Response:
I wrote yesterday that I figured I could handle five episodes of lightweight material that coasted on our goodwill for the characters. But this isn't coasting; it's barely even running on fumes. There were few moments of relief in "Debasement Tapes" - one was when Paul Rudd rolled into Neptune. The cameo is admittedly phoned in, but before he showed up I was worried that My Personal Pony was actually a real band and Veronica Mars was about to devote an hour to promoting it. Thankfully, the series is able to keep some shred of dignity as it stumbles towards cancellation. That said, the episode is still painful to watch, with long beats for listless character reactions, subplots that foreground their own apathy ("This is so boring we probably shouldn't be seeing each other anymore" is a running theme with various quasi-couples), and "mysteries" that are so lame they must have been designed as some sort of meta-commentary on what happens to great shows when the network takes the air out of the tires. The other moment of relief, or rather dim promise, is when Vinnie declares he's going to run against Keith in the upcoming sheriff election. Perhaps it's grasping at straws but at least this offers some prospect of drama before the lights go out. On the other hand, maybe Rob Thomas and the rest of the crew were trying conserve resources for a strong finish? I doubt it - right now the only one who seems to have any energy and enthusiasm left is Dick, and most of that's going toward Jackass-esque online stunts (apparently an actual spin-off the show was producing at the time?*). This is, without a doubt, the worst episode of Veronica Mars so far - and hopefully ever.

*The online video spin-offs were actually produced for the feature film in 2014.

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