Veronica Mars

Kristen Bell returns as "Veronica Mars," now on Hulu. 

The new season of “Veronica Mars” on Hulu benefits greatly from the versions that have come before.

The series, starring Kristen Bell as a tough teen detective in a seedy California town, attracted a cult following over three seasons from 2004-2006, despite the indifference of its network, UPN/CW. Creator Rob Thomas (no relation, obviously, to me or the Matchbox 20 singer) knows how to build a season, and the original “Veronica Mars” was a forerunner of modern streaming shows in the way it mixed a case-of-the-week structure with larger mysteries that stretched out over the course of a season.

Secondly, “Veronica Mars” already got the reboot jitters out of its system with a crowd-funded movie in 2014. The ‘Veronica Mars” movie was fun, packed with in-jokes and cameos, but felt like high-level fan fiction intended to please the fans who paid for it on Kickstarter. Which it was.

Now, not having to worry about pleasing fans or catering to a network’s whims, “Veronica Mars” returns with its strongest season since the first. The eight-episode fourth season (which dropped a week earlier than expected last Friday) has an engrossing mystery, a terrific mix of new and returning characters, and crackerjack writing. And the show’s underlying themes, with Veronica tackling the sometimes dangerous fallout from toxic masculinity and income inequality, are more relevant than ever in 2019.

“Veronica Mars” puts Veronica exactly where fans want her — still in Neptune Beach, still a private investigator working with her father (Enrico Colantoni). In Neptune Beach, a Spring Break destination for hard-partying kids, there’s plenty of work for Veronica looking into petty crimes and cheating spouses. But even though Veronica is in a loving relationship with the newly chill (and buff) old flame Logan (Jason Dohring), she knows there’s something pathetic about being in the exact same place she was at 17. In many ways, she’s still the same flawed person she was in high school.

The new season starts off with a literal bang, as a bomb goes off in the lobby of the rundown Sea Sprite Motel, killing four people. One of the intriguing mysteries of the season is figuring out who the intended victim is. Is it the motel owner, who refused to sell to shady developer Dick Casablancas (David Starzyk), who is leading a community movement to “clean up” Neptune Beach? Is it the nephew of a Mexican cartel kingpin? Or is it the fiancée of the brother of an Arab-American congressman, who is secretly being blackmailed?

Veronica chases down clues with her typical mix of grit, gumption and killer one-liners. While I’m used to streaming series coasting through their middle episodes, Thomas has expertly paced all eight episodes with the right balance of humor and tension. Familiar faces from the old TV show (including Max Greenfield as Veronica’s ex, Leo) resurface, but only when it serves the plot. And there’s a bevy of interesting new characters, including Patton Oswalt as a pizza delivery driver and amateur sleuth, and J.K. Simmons as a deceptively friendly ex-con.

"Veronica Mars" is particularly relevant to bring back in the age of the #MeToo movement — from college bros on the beach to the rich developers in their mansions, Neptune Beach is full of men behaving badly and getting away with it. Veronica makes it her mission to bring them to justice and defend their female victims. The new season even has a passing reference to Alec Cook, the former University of Wisconsin student who received just a three-year sentence for multiple sexual assaults. 

“Veronica Mars’ was always a great show, but now it feels like it’s finally getting the showcase it deserves.

Also on streaming: On Thursday, BritBox is premiering the third and final season of the comedy series “Mum,” featuring two of my favorite British actors, Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”) and Peter Mullan (“Tyrannosaur”). Manville plays a recently widowed woman putting her life back together, and each episode of the new season focuses on one day in a pivotal week in her life.

I’ve always been a sucker for stories about ordinary people who live in a world of superheroes, like Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” or the comic book series “Gotham Central.” Amazon’s new series “The Boys” is a more violent entry in the subgenre, following an under-the-radar squad tasked with taking down superheroes if they abuse their superpowers. It premieres Friday.

Netflix premieres the seventh and final season of “Orange is the New Black” on Friday as well. Originally using Piper Kerman’s memoir of being a privileged white woman in a minimum-security prison as its jumping-off point, the series has gone on to explore all sort of themes of race and class. This new season promises to have a storyline involving immigration and ICE arrests.

Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.