Plenty of cult TV shows have audiences that dream of a follow-up film that reunites them with their old friends. Especially when those shows are canceled abruptly without resolution.
“Veronica Mars” fans, 91,585 of them (including this writer) took to Kickstarter last year and made that dream a reality.
Opening in theaters on Friday — and available digitally and on demand the same day — “Veronica Mars” resurrects the series which began life on UPN in 2004 and shuffled off the TV mortal coil from the CW in 2007 after three low-rated, but critically acclaimed seasons. The film picks up the exploits of the title character, played by Kristen Bell, who has gone from hard-boiled teen detective to budding corporate lawyer. But before she can start litigating, Veronica is called back to her hometown of Neptune, Calif., to bail out ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) from a jam — and she’s roped into attending her high school reunion.
When the show left the airwaves it wasn’t just fans who longed to return to the fractious Neptune — where both haves and have-nots availed themselves of Veronica’s sleuthing skills — but the show’s creator and the film’s director Rob Thomas and his cast.
“One, we were all proud of the work; and two, we all loved going to work together,” says Thomas on the phone from Dallas. where he and the actors were promoting the film. “Those were three of the best years of my life. To be proud of what you do and enjoy the people you’re working with, if you had that in normal life you would keep doing that forever, but in television you get canceled. So, this wasn’t something we had to be dragged into.”
Seeing the film to fruition took time, many discussions with Warner Brothers studio, which owns the property, and financial strategizing. Warner Brothers wanted assurance that there would be a fan base for the film. Enter the Kickstarter campaign, whose original goal to raise $2 million in 30 days hit that benchmark in a record-breaking 12 hours on its way to an eventual $5.7 million.
Among those kicking in to the final tally was Veronica Mars herself.
“Come on, what, am I not going to put my money where my mouth was?” says Bell with a laugh of her donation under her married name Kristen Shepard. (Look for her husband, Dax Shepard, of “Parenthood,” in a quick cameo.)
The actress, who currently stars in Showtime’s “House of Lies” and recently lent her voice to the Oscar-winning feature film “Frozen,” vividly remembers the day the campaign launched. Bell was about to give birth. “I woke up three hours into the Kickstarter campaign and opened my computer and thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re at $700,000!’ I was 30 percent slack-jawed and 70 percent trying to push the baby out.”
Once the financing was in place, birthing the movie turned out to be a much simpler proposition.
“Both [co-writer] Diane [Ruggiero] and I commented on how easy it was to slip back into these voices,” says Thomas. “It just felt good.” The actors also quickly located their old rhythms. “People really fell back into the roles,” says Dohring, who post-”Mars” has appeared in several TV series, including “Moonlight” and “Ringer.”
“We all work well together, this is one disgusting happy family. I mean it’s gross,” says Bell. “It’s where we all grew up. For a lot of us it was our first job. We love being captained by Rob Thomas. He is a quality individual and a quality director and he’s a storyteller and you can’t ask for anything more. I don’t know why there’s been fairy dust on this project. Perhaps one day Malcolm Gladwell will explain it. It was the right time, Kickstarter was the right platform, the right fans were using social media and we all kept Veronica in a place in our hearts and I’m so happy it unfolded the way it did.”
They’d all be willing to do it again if the film is a success.
“I love that that is even a question. And I know all of us would jump at the chance to do it,” says Ryan Hansen, returning in the film as comically dim surfer himbo Dick Casablancas. (Hansen is also set to star in a series of webisodes as himself, trying to launch a Casablancas-centric “Veronica Mars” spin-off with the CW Seed.)
Thomas, who believes that the show’s fanbase has grown since its cancellation, thanks to DVD binge-watching and streaming services, is hopeful about another installment. He and Ruggiero have also penned a novel and plan a second, both set for release this year, that will continue the story. “[Warner Brothers has] given me a benchmark for what we need to make to greenlight a sequel, and I think it’s a doable amount.”
In fact, if Thomas has his way, and there’s an audience for it, fans may be seeing Veronica solve mysteries for a long time, right into the nursing home.
“I feel like Nancy Drew got 60 years of being the young female detective,” says Thomas, whose next project will be the CW series “iZombie.” “I would like Veronica Mars to be that. I would love for her to turn into Sherlock Holmes. There would be worse things in a career. If we get into a situation where we get to make a Veronica Mars movie every couple of years I would be thrilled to do it. That would feel like the right amount of my life devoted to this character that I really love and am proud of.”
“I should be so lucky,” says Bell.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.