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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, April 24, 2005

Mysteries major hook for popular TV shows

By Rachel Kipp
Gannett News Service

By correctly guessing who killed her alter ego's best friend, "Veronica Mars" star Kristen Bell won a little money in an office pool and the knowledge that she successfully navigated the fledgling UPN show's many twists and turns.

Evangeline Lilly and Matthew Fox in "Lost." ABC will air a one-hour introductory guide, called "Lost: The Journey," with background to the show.

ABC via Gannett News Service

Know the plots

'Desperate Housewives: Sorting out the Dirty Laundry'

8 tonight


'Lost: The Journey'

7 p.m. Wednesday


'Veronica Mars'

5 p.m. Tuesday


"I just read the final episode this morning, and I am correct," Bell said recently. "I am thrilled. It was so good, I can't even tell you."

As UPN's "Veronica" (which airs at 5 p.m. Tuesdays on Honolulu station KIKU) and fellow suspense-filled freshman dramas "Lost" (7 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC) and "Desperate Housewives" (8 p.m. Sundays, ABC) air their final crop of episodes, it's not too late for some new viewers to catch on. All it takes is a little homework and an appreciation for the self-contained storylines also featured on each program.

"We've tried to boil it down to some really basic notions," "Veronica Mars" creator and executive producer Rob Thomas says. "All you need to know is that Veronica's best friend was murdered, that she used to be in the 'in crowd,' she's now in the 'out crowd' and she's continuing to investigate."

The same is true for "Lost" in that new viewers can see right away that the show focuses on the quest for survival of 14 people stranded on a deserted (or is it?) island, executive producer Carlton Cuse says.

"While the show has various mysteries, the elemental nature of the show remains the same," he says. "We do try to put recaps at the top of the show in the case that there is some important piece of information someone might have missed."

In case new — and old — viewers are still confused, ABC will air a one-hour "introductory guide" called "Lost: The Journey" on Wednesday that provides background on several major characters, pulling together flashbacks about their former lives that give context to each island incident.

"Desperate Housewives" began with the suicide of Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong.) Each week, her ghost narrates as the remaining neighbors of Wisteria Lane live their often-twisted lives and stumble upon clues as to why she pulled the trigger. Mary Alice will also be the "tour guide" for "Desperate Housewives: Sorting out the Dirty Laundry," a recap of characters and central mysteries airing tonight.

With ongoing plots that force committed viewers to come back each week, the three shows are a return to serialization that dominated television in the 1970s and 1980s, says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.

"Even sitcoms like 'Cheers' began to have ongoing storylines and then it seemed like all of a sudden, in the early 1990s, most of those left the air," Thompson says. "What 'Desperate Housewives' proves is there is still a lot of life in the nighttime soap, the continuing storyline, the single mystery."

Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars and Kristin Bell as Veronica in "Veronica Mars" solve the mysteries by the series finale May 10.

Warner Bros. via Gannett News Service

The challenge according to Thompson — who admits to being frustrated with the slow pace of ongoing plots on "Lost" — is sustaining the suspense past the first season, or initial half-dozen episodes.

"Can they survive the 'Twin Peaks' test?" Thompson asks. "That whole thing existed for the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, but when they finally got around to revealing that — sort of — the show lost its reason to be."

Following the Lilly Kane mystery on "Veronica Mars" is a bonus that comes with tracking each self-contained case investigated by novice P.I. Veronica, says Los Angeles-based fan Craig Byrne.

"Veronica might come close to finding her mother or she'll learn a secret about (ex-boyfriend) Duncan, the little mysteries just get solved one by one by one and it's just part of a bigger whole," says Byrne, 27, who runs the fan Web site Neptunesite.com. "It's not something like 'Lost' where you might tune in and have no idea what's going on."

Viewers new and old will walk away from May sweeps with at least a few of those questions answered.

"Lost" is building to a three-hour finale spread out over two weeks in May, with the final episode going up against the May 25 finale of Fox's "American Idol." The recent death of stepsister-loving lifeguard Boone (Ian Somerhalder) will play an important role in the final arc.

"The death of his character sort of sets into motion a series of events that carries all the way through to the season ending," Cuse says.

The season finale of "Veronica" airs May 10, and Thomas promises that the identity of Lilly Kane's killer — the person who raped Veronica — and the truth about Veronica's paternity will be revealed by the end.

"The killer isn't going to come from extreme left field," he says. "It's somebody we've already met."

All three dramas have already been renewed for second seasons. For "Veronica Mars," that means another mystery, Thomas says.

"In the middle of this year I was thinking 'Wow, next year will be so much easier when we aren't trying to break a 22-episode mystery," he says. "About that time, the network calls and they said 'So what's the murder mystery for next year?' "