I missed out on Twin Peaks when it first aired. I also mised out on My So-Called Life. Ditto Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sports Night, Freaks and Geeks, and pretty much any other short-lived, cult-classic TV series you can think of. (Thank goodness for DVDs.) So even if it was totally overrated, I would be watching Veronica Mars like a hawk, if for no other reason than to avoid missing out on yet another underground hit. Luckily for me, however, the show is completely deserving of its status — being a hit, that is, not being underground. Ratings-wise, it’s a miracle that it got renewed for a second season, benefitting from rabid fan support and a surprising amount of patient confidence on UPN’s part. The show’s renewal is a relief, though, because I cannot get enough of it.

In some ways, the show is refreshingly low-concept: no missions from God or vampires with souls here, just a teenaged girl, the titular Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), who solves mysteries; for instance, figuring out who’s been kidnapping dogs for profit. Or wondering whether her new boyfriend is a drug dealer. Or finding out who murdered her best friend Lily (Amanda Seyfried). Or trying to remember who slipped her a roofie at a party and raped her. Nancy Drew this ain’t.

In addition to uncovering crimes (and the occasional non-crime), the show also spends a lot of time exploring the perpetually broke Veronica’s exile from her high school’s upper-crust caste. There’s plenty of Godard-ish framing of the rich as spoiled savages, but what’s fun about the show’s treatment of Veronica and her outsider status is that it doesn’t reduce quite so simply to a clichéd question of class and cliques. Veronica’s isolation is as much self-inflicted as it is snob-inflicted, and the hard-boiled, take-no-prisoners attitude that makes her a good detective makes it hard for her to open up, even when people try to reach out and make friends with her. Unless they’re really cute, like Logan (Jason Dohring), who starts out as the show’s “obligatory psychotic jackass,” but ends up being much more.

That might be the only real problem I have with the show. Shows that center around women, especially young women, are in constant danger of getting derailed by cute boys, and if writers aren’t extremely careful, it’s very easy for the center of the show to shift from the female to the male character. Think of Spike on Buffy, Vaughn on Alias, or any of the husbands on Desperate Housewives. Men that exist as objects of desire for female characters often resonate with fans, and in their haste to feed that response, producers can sometimes blow a supporting character’s role out of proportion to the point where he overshadows the lead.

My own paranoia aside, this show is still a long way from hitting that point: its focus remains squarely on the main character. Focus may in fact be its greatest asset. Episodes are plotted so thickly and paced so quickly that they couldn’t drag if they tried, and close attention on the audience’s part is a requirement. Characters and plot points that seem like walk-ons and macguffins turn out to be incredibly important, sometimes months after they’re introduced. The show’s complexity is downright Dickensian, and like a well-crafted novel, actually manages to tie up all the major story threads by the season’s end. This being TV, of course, there are still a few things left open for next season, but it’s not as if the show needs a big cliffhanger to keep people coming back. Watching Veronica Mars will either leave you completely lost or completely hooked, and I know where I stand.