Thursday, October 20, 2005

The State of the Newport Union: "The OC" After Four Episodes

You’d have to know considerably little about to me to not realize I’d be excited for playoffs in any sport, but I could not be angrier about the Fall Classic taking place than I am right now. Why am I upset that the underdog, “God, one of us will win it!” clash between the Astros and White Sox will take up another Thursday night?

Because The OC was on fire, and I’m hoping the fact it won’t be on TV for a month doesn’t severely cripple it’s momentum.

After creeping out of the gates last year and sucking throughout most of the middle – the mall episode, anyone? – the second season finally caught some momentum towards the final six weeks or so, riding Trey, attempted rape, TI in Miami and the least-publicized or planned prom of all time to a reasonably exciting conclusion. Sure, Kirsten’s intervention took 90 seconds as opposed to the typical A&E half-hour, but I could deal with that. Thursday’s finest was looking good going into the third year.

With only four episodes to judge it, it may seem a little early to go declaring this season a success, but pardon me for liking what I’m seeing. They resolved the Trey issue in the season premiere, and despite the fact the Newport police don’t have a ballistics department nor detective who would take the time to check for gunshot residue after the shooting, we were ready for some new conflict.

I think Josh Schwartz and the rest of the writing team did a great job by making a shift back to high school. Granted, it’s a little difficult to think back in your head and realize that all of the first season stuff was taking place during their sophomore year, but when you look at The Real Orange County, Kristin had been going down to Cabo since at least her sophomore year, so why is it so odd that Marissa OD’s in Tijuana during 10th grade? I like to see senior years unfold in high school dramas, because you get the usual high school theatrics combined with a sense of fatality that’s actually legitimized. There’s a reason, other than Harry Groener’s fantastic Mayor portrayal, that Buffy’s third season ranks as one of the bests: It was senior year.

Anyway, to add some life to a Harbor School lacking any legitimate enemies or allies – Luke, Zach, Anna and Lindsay were all gone, for better or worse – we got introduced to Taylor Townsend and Dean Hess. Taylor was the controlling, proper-girl-in-the-hat who was still hot as hell, and transitioned from being Marissa’s rival to Summer’s. I love Rachel Bilson, not only for her God-given beauty, but for the way she shows her character’s growth. She went from being one of the meanest, irredeemable characters in television history for the first few episodes of the series to showing off her nerdy side when she’s with Seth. “Cohizzle”? That’s classic. Summer vs. Taylor is going to be fun.

Even if she couldn't act, Rachel Bilson brings quite a bit to the table...

Dean Hess makes a nice older foe, now that Caleb’s dead and Julie Cooper’s been stripped of all power. Would you say his relationship with Taylor was completely and totally predictable? Yes, most definitely. Would you say that makes it any less awesome, or will make you less interested to see how it pans out? Me thinks not. I hope it’s a Summer/Sandy Cohen tag-team that brings him down, hopefully with some sort of statutory rape charge (we can hope Taylor is a young senior).

Speaking of the immortal Sandy Cohen, he’s back to the sage, morally perfect dad and husband we all love. He got his wife through rehab, supported his two sons through a hovering murder charge, kept the Newport Group afloat and probably cured cancer. Spontaneous picnics, soul albums – nothing is outside the powers of Sandy Cohen. Kirsten’s back in the house, completing the best parenting squad on TV, and she appears to be over her alcoholism, although a relapse is just a Sweeps stunt away.

It's good those crazy kids are back together.

KiKi’s rehab with Jeri Ryan was simply confusing at first, and we were starting to wonder if the former Seven of Nine (God bless any of you who get the Star Trek: Voyager reference) was after Kirsten (YESSSS!), Sandy (BOOOO!) or something else entirely. It turns out that the “something else entirely” is just some cold hard cash, which is cool and sort of makes sense. The after baseball previews have her teaming up with a now desperate, morally ambiguous Julie Cooper, so I’m all for it.

It’s been written in this space many time that Ryan and Marissa bore me to tears, but I like the Newport Union twist, if only because I want to see how a glitzy show like The OC will continue to stereotype public schools. The new trio of Marissa’s friends – Johnny, Casey and Chili – are tolerable, realistic and provide some interesting new relationship angles. I hope we don’t have to deal with Marissa breaking down every single episode into the arms of Bad-Ass Surfer Punk Johnny, but if that means Sad, Depressing, Doe-Eyed Ryan turns into Bad-Ass, Leather-Jacket-Wearing, Punch-Throwing Ryan, then I think we’re all winners.

Is it worth bringing up Adam Brody in a review of The OC? Even when it’s bad, he’s so good, so when it’s good, he’s fantastic. His quips are almost impossible to pick up on the first watch unless you’re paying close attention, but just like any good comedy, they’re always worth it for the attentive listener. Again, if somebody made a spin-off where Adam Brody, Peter Gallagher and James Marsters solved crimes under the tutelage of Andy Griffith and Angela Lansbury, it wouldn’t just be a hit, it would be the most popular television series in history.

Overwhelmed in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, perfect in The OC.

So using only four episodes as material, I’ll gladly give this season of The OC an A so far. Until they bring back Luke or Anna, it’ll never reach the glory of those first dozen episodes, but they’re certainly making solid television now. Is it slightly predictable, bordering on formulaic at times? Yes, but it’s a teen drama on FOX, not an Alfred Hitchcock film, so I’ll accept that. The fact that Sandy and Kirsten are back together and there’s a new focus on high school plots more than make up for that, so I’ll take the trade-off.

The state of the Union is most definitely good.

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