Veronica Mars

Season one on DVD. (Season two in progress on UPN, Tuesdays at 9 p.m.)

For a teen drama — hell, for any kind of network TV show — the premise of Veronica Mars is brutal. As Veronica, the protagonist, explains in the pilot, the past year of her life has been an unhappy one. Her boyfriend, Duncan Kane, dumped her without warning or explanation — painful, certainly, but nothing out of the ordinary. But then Lilly Kane, her best friend and Duncan's sister, was murdered; her father, Sheriff Keith Mars, made the politically reckless move of accusing the Kanes' powerful, wealthy father of the crime; Veronica's former friends and fellow students cut her dead for supporting her father; the outraged town voted Sheriff Mars out of office in a special election; with Keith unemployed and scrounging for work as a detective, the Marses lost their house and moved to a dingy apartment; unable to cope with the changes, Lianne, Veronica's alcoholic mother, abandoned the struggling family without leaving a forwarding address; and just to make the year complete, Veronica woke from a party she had crashed to find that she had been drugged and raped. So as the show opens, Veronica is the high school pariah, helping her father make ends meet by assisting him in detective work and secretly investigating Lilly's murder in her spare time. She's a lonely, angry girl, but she has goals.

Going through that list, I'm once again shocked by how dark the show's backstory is. When Veronica Mars first premiered in 2004, I chose not to watch it because I thought the drama would either be unrelentingly bleak or, more likely, would betray the weight of its subject matter. But Veronica Mars received great reviews, and its small but devoted group of fans included a few of my friends, so when the first season came out on DVD, I decided to give it a shot.