So did two major hits for ABC, Lost and Desperate Housewives. And 2004 also brought us the premiere of NBC's The Apprentice.

Kristen Bell hit the ground running that year as Veronica Mars, an outcast high school student in the fictional beach town of Neptune, Calif. She worked part-time as an investigator for her dad's private eye firm, like a modern-day Nancy Drew — with a little bit of Sam Spade mixed in.

A lot of time has passed since then, and a lot has happened to Veronica. By the end of the original series, she had gone from high school to college. In the 2014 movie, she abandoned law school. And now, as the new eight-episode Veronica Mars begins, she's on familiar ground. Back in her home town, she's again working for her dad's detective agency — and still providing her own wry narration as she comments on her life then and now.

This new season of Veronica Mars was supposed to arrive on July 26, but Hulu presented a Mars panel at the San Diego Comic-Con fan festival on July 19, which happened to be a day after Bell's 39th birthday. Hulu surprised the actress, and the fans — and TV critics — by unveiling the entire new season early, as a sort of birthday present. So viewers can now see all of Veronica Mars — the tele-movie is available on HBO, and the show's first three vintage seasons, and the new fourth one, are streaming on Hulu.

The new season borrows a bit from Jaws, with a series of deaths threatening to close down the beach town during the summer tourist season. Except it's not a shark doing the killing — it's a serial bomber, and there are plenty of suspects to go around. The new players this season all are very strong additions: Patton Oswalt plays a pizza deliverer and conspiracy theorist, J.K. Simmons plays an ex-con working for the town bigwig, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste plays a bar owner who's even tougher, and more independent, than Veronica. But the best element of this new Veronica Mars season, by far, is the returning cast.

Give Bell lots of credit. She's as good with the rapid dialogue and shifting emotions here as she is with the surrealistic sarcasm of NBC's The Good Place or her musical numbers as Anna in Disney's Frozen. And while she gets to play opposite many old, familiar characters and actors — to identify them would be to ruin part of the fun — the heart of this new season comes from Veronica's interactions with two key men in her life.

One is Jason Dohring as Logan, who was described in the original Veronica Mars pilot as the school's "obligatory psychotic jackass." Veronica's opinion of Logan has grown significantly, and so has the character. The other prominent person in Veronica's current life is her father Keith — portrayed, as always, by Enrico Colantoni, whose playful parental byplay with his daughter is as funny and as fast as anything ever heard on The Gilmore Girls.

There's a lot to enjoy here. The characters are drawn so deeply by creator Rob Thomas and his staff, that you truly care about them — the new ones as well as the returning favorites. And like the recent Deadwood TV reunion movie, there's a lot more going on in this new Veronica Mars season than mere nostalgia. The show's theme song is sung by a new artist this season, but still begins with the same telling, clear-eyed lyrics: "We used to be friends ..."

The character of Veronica Mars doesn't have it easy in this new batch of shows, but, like the show itself, she's a survivor. Veronica Mars, as a TV drama, has outlived UPN, been shown on the CW and HBO, and has found a new home on Hulu. And I'm betting this new, excellent season of Veronica Mars will not be the last we'll hear from her — or see of her.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The TV series "Veronica Mars," created by Rob Thomas, starring Kristen Bell as a young private investigator, already has had several lives. It began as a drama series on UPN in 2004, back when the title character was in high school. It lasted three years, outlasting UPN, with its final season moved to The CW network. Then there was a standalone reunion movie in 2014 funded by Kickstarter and shown on HBO. And now there's a new eight-episode sequel-series available on Hulu, one that arrived earlier than expected and, according to our TV critic David Bianculli, is even better than expected, too. Here's his review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: The original "Veronica Mars" premiered on television 15 years ago, which, in TV terms, was a whole different era. David Milch's HBO series "Deadwood," which just reunited its cast for a fabulous TV movie, premiered that year. So did two major hits for ABC - "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." And the year 2004 also brought us the premiere of NBC's "The Apprentice."

Kristen Bell hit the ground running that year as Veronica Mars, an outcast high schooler in the fictional California beach town of Neptune. She worked part-time as an investigator for her dad's private-eye firm, like a modern day Nancy Drew. But her narration in the opening episode showed she had a little Sam Spade going, as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VERONICA MARS")

KRISTEN BELL: (As Veronica Mars) This is my school. If you go here, your parents are either millionaires, or your parents work for millionaires. Neptune, Calif., a town without the middle class. If you're in the second group, you get a job - fast-food, movie theaters, mini-marts. Or you could be me. My afterschool job means tailing philandering spouses or investigating false injury claims.

BIANCULLI: A lot of time has passed since then, and a lot has happened to Veronica. By the end of the original series, she had gone from high school to college. In the 2014 movie, she abandoned law school. And now as the new eight-episode "Veronica Mars" begins, she's on familiar ground again - back in her hometown working again for her dad's detective agency and still providing her very own wry narration.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VERONICA MARS")

BELL: (As Veronica Mars) I spent my first 19 years trying to escape my hometown of Neptune, made it out, then after a decade away decided Neptune needed me. And I needed it. I was wrong on both counts. Neptune didn't need another private investigator. It needed an enema.

BIANCULLI: This new season of "Veronica Mars" was supposed to arrive this Friday. But Hulu presented a Mars panel at the San Diego Comic Con fan festival last Thursday, which happened to be Bell's 39th birthday. Hulu surprised the actress and the fans and TV critics by unveiling the entire new season early as a sort of birthday present. So viewers can now see all of "Veronica Mars." The telemovie is available on HBO, and the show's first three vintage seasons and the new fourth one are streaming now on Hulu.

The new season borrows a bit from "Jaws," with a series of deaths threatening to close down the beach town during the summer tourist season. Except it's not a shark doing the killing, it's a serial bomber. And there are plenty of suspects to go around. The new players this season are all very strong additions. Patton Oswalt plays a pizza deliverer and conspiracy theorist. J.K. Simmons plays an ex-con working for the town bigwig. And Kirby Howell-Baptiste plays a bar owner who's even tougher and more independent than Veronica.

But the best element of this new "Veronica Mars" season by far is the returning cast. Give Kristen Bell lots of credit. She's as good with a rapid dialogue and shifting emotions here as she is with the surrealistic sarcasm of NBC's "The Good Place" or her musical numbers as Anna in Disney's "Frozen." And while she gets to play opposite many old, familiar characters and actors, to identify them would be to ruin part of the fun.

The heart of this new season comes from Veronica's interactions with two key men in her life. One is Jason Dohring's Logan, who was described in the original "Veronica Mars" pilot as the school's obligatory psychotic jackass. Veronica's opinion of him has grown significantly, and so has Logan. The other prominent person in Veronica's current life is her father Keith, portrayed as always by Enrico Colantoni, whose playful parental byplay with his daughter is as funny and as fast as anything ever heard on the "Gilmore Girls."

In this early scene, Keith stops by the office to find his daughter brandishing a check for a recently completed assignment, a check with an amount much higher than he expected.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VERONICA MARS")

ENRICO COLANTONI: (As Keith Mars) What exactly did you do for that lady?

BELL: (As Veronica Mars) Feminist stuff. We got mad. We got even. Some scissoring.

COLANTONI: (As Keith Mars) All right, how'd you make this much?

BELL: (As Veronica Mars) Celebrate with me. How I made that is between me and my maker.

COLANTONI: (As Keith Mars) I'm your maker.

BELL: (As Veronica Mars) You're really not making my office drop-by everything I was envisioning.

COLANTONI: (As Keith Mars) Oh, and what were you envisioning?

BELL: (As Veronica Mars) Well, a balloon drop for starters, maybe an 'atta girl. Oh, no. Feeling emasculated, is that it?

COLANTONI: (As Keith Mars) Honey...

BELL: (As Veronica Mars) Yeah.

COLANTONI: (As Keith Mars) ...If feeling emasculated by my daughter was going to dampen my spirits, you would have found me out in the garage a long time ago - Cheap Trick in the tape deck, tube in the tailpipe.

BELL: (As Veronica Mars) What's a tape deck?

COLANTONI: (As Keith Mars) I hate you.

BIANCULLI: There's a lot to enjoy here. The characters are drawn so deeply by Thomas and his staff that you truly care about them - the new ones as well as the returning favorites. And like the recent "Deadwood" TV reunion movie, there's a lot more going on in this new "Veronica Mars" season than mere nostalgia. The show's theme song is sung by a new artist this season, but still begins with the same telling, clear-eyed lyrics - we used to be friends.

The character of Veronica Mars doesn't have it easy in this new batch of shows. But like the show itself, she's a survivor. And I'm betting this new, excellent season of "Veronica Mars" will not be the last we'll hear from her or see of her.

GROSS: David Bianculli is editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be sleep disorder specialist Guy Leschziner. He's seen it all - insomnia, night terrors, narcolepsy, sleepwalking, sleep-eating, sleep-driving and something called sexsomnia. He'll tell us about some of his cases and discuss the growing body of research on our slumber. His new book is called "The Nocturnal Brain: Nightmares, Neuroscience, And The Secret World Of Sleep." I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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