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TV Review: The O.C.

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Yes, it may seem surprising to hear that The O.C. – Fox's ex-hit teen drama, supplanting sex, "bitch," and Seth Cohen on the masses – is actually still airing. Fans will remember the near-perfect first season (and the perfect pilot, where we met Phantom Planet's polarizing "Califooooooorniaaaa"), and the show's unique brand of clever soapy storytelling. Of course, that's until the bottom falls out midway through season two.

At least season two had its promising and engaging moments (porn scandals, short-lived lesbian trysts), whereas season three was an exorable string of bootless charity cases for Marissa (Mischa Barton), whose acts of kindness ended in her death in a not-so-shocking season finale. Barton, supposedly unintentionally, spilled the beans to Access Hollywood two days earlier.

Where to next? It seems like the perfect question, since four episodes into the fourth season, there's yet to be major plot movement to occur that could direct the show into becoming anything other than a saddening disappointment. The O.C. is stuck (for now) in an exacerbating, indefinite throat-clearing phase.

It's odd how Marissa, once limply-acted by paper-thin Mischa Barton, is only interesting now that she's dead. Season four picks up five months after the car accident that killed her, with everybody – namely, Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) and Summer (Rachel Bilson) –  grieving in their own way. Marrisa's ex-beau Ryan turned to…cage fighting? Of all of The O.C.'s self-serving ways, this sidetracking seems to be the most gauchey. Ryan and Seth's (Adam Brody) manhunt trip to Mexico where they humorlessly try to track down Marissa's killer, Cam Gigadent's bendy Volchok was fun though, acting as a nice throwback to a similar episode in season one.

Elsewhere, Summer, once a lovable demoiselle, has devolved into an agrestic naturalist. She hid away at college in Rhode Island, febrile from Marissa Died Syndrome. "I don't do sarcasm anymore. I'm post-ironic," she explains to her shelved boyfriend back home, Seth. She putatively began protesting eco-style to bury her depression, though she quickly overcomes that with a borderline-ingenious, Summer-style roundabout the five stages of grief, completely contained in an opening scene.

It's never a good idea to leave too much of the idea making to The O.C. show-runners though, as they set yet another counteractive character between Seth and Summer: Chris Pratt's (late of Everwood) Che. Che, the buddy Matthew McConaughey should have had in Dazed and Confused, acts almost as an unwelcome distraction, save for Chris Pratt's incredible performance as a righteous tree lover. Though it seems familiar — remember season two's manstraction Zach, whose Michael Cassidy was even more boring than Marissa?

As with previous seasons, there's potential for some sudsy fun. Look at this season's best story arcs: New regular Taylor Townsend (Autumn Reeser, who very well may outplace Bilson's Summer) returns from France married, unhappy, and as effervescent as ever. Reeser, a fast-talking (faster than those Gilmore women for sure) sultry vixen, is a welcome addition. Plus, the hint towards a possible Ryan-Taylor lovefest is good O.C. fun.

On the home front, Julie Cooper-Nichol (Melinda Clarke) has had another falling out with an entrepreneur, this time being Summer's father (Michael Nouri). Mourning, a side we haven't seen from Julie (her late husband Caleb wasn't deserving of much tears), is envoked from the layering Clarke brings to the character. Her rebound as a Desperate elder women looking for younger men is deliciously sordid, and a fine sampling of season one. Willa Holland as Marissa's trouble-prone little sister Kaitlin, and the Cohens (Peter Gallagher and Kelly Rowen's Sandy and Kirsten) remain the sanest people in all of Newport, resting cozily on decent.

Out of all the ludicrousness, The O.C. (slightly) maintains its promise from the pilot: no matter how ridiculous or implausible a situation may seem, its characters act in (semi)believable ways (though it's hard to see how anything would lead to cage fighting). Breaking away from Marissa seems to force the show into a corner, though the November 16th episode showed major progress, for which we can be thankful. Amongst all of this, The O.C. has managed to be as self-aware (it has its own mockusoap called The Valley, wherein the show admits its own faults), and surprisingly sharp-tongued as before. Nasty, overly-dramatic, and wry, The O.C. is almost back – sort of.

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About Aleks Chan

  • I still enjoy this show as a guilty pleasure. It was never really good in any artistic way, always plastic. [Certainly it was better in the first season, but once the plot’s gears got rolling, it could sometimes make your eyes start rolling too, even then.]

    But it rarely takes itself too seriously [although when it does, watch out]. So there are laughs, mostly intentional [some even based on actual wit], and a good, or at least good enough, cast, especially Brody and Bilson and even McKenzie, who is often forced to be all broody and serious.

    I do admit that Ryan resorting to cage-fighting to bury his grief was one of the sillier things I’ve seen recently on any show.

  • This is a guilty pleasure for me as well. Maybe one reason is that I’m so perplexed over the fact that this tv “The O.C.” is so different from the “O.C.” that I live in.

    As for Ryan and his turning to cage fighting? It makes sense to me. After all, throughout each season, he always has to fight down that demon inside of him that makes him want to use violence to right what he considers wrongs. After season two, the powers that be knew they had to step it up a notch or two. Perhaps the cage fighting is taking it a bit further than necessary for the show in the long run? Because once you cage fight, where do you go from there?

    Great review, btw.

  • lauren

    I think cam is hell of a hottie he’s actually hotter then zack efron.