The OC swept into our living rooms last summer like a breath of fresh Newport Beach air – and left us two weeks ago like the smog over The 5 Freeway. Like the eponymous county, the show was at once beautiful, charming, and colorful — but also left us with a mediocre aftertaste.I suppose it’s time I drop the metaphors. THE OC started out great, and after about ten episodes, it began a precipitous decline that only occasionally seemed to reverse itself. The first half of the season provided us with a campy, but well written look into the world of this Newport Beach community. The teens drank – and not in that lame Afterschool Special way. They really drank – from red plastic cups and kegs. And when they weren’t drinking, they were having threesomes, or even firing off shotguns. Suddenly, we weren’t in the world of Beverly Hills 90210. All the teens didn’t stop and say ‘Man, drinking is bad for us. We should be responsible teens.’ No, they just kept on drinking – and poor Marissa, she was lucky if she even made it to her bed – episode one had her snuggling up to some wayward ants on the blacktop of her driveway.
While the teens all cavorted on the beaches and displayed remarkable local pride (“This is how we do it in The OC, bitch!”), the adults actually spent a lot of time acting like, well, adults. Sandy and Kirsten Cohen were a strongly written duo whose interactions – throughout the entire season, no less – remained mature and thankfully unmelodramatic. Add the camp factor with Julie Cooper, the witty banter of Seth Cohen, the romantic tension of Summer, and the over the top bully of Luke, and we can pretty much ignore Mischa Barton’s ill-advised attempts at acting (darting eyes and awkward vocal inflections do not a great actress make).
By November, The OC had become a well-oiled machine with a nearly flawless Thanksgiving episode followed by the Luke’s Gay Dad gem and then the catchphrase spawning Christmakkuh installment. But by the New Years episode, the machine started to sputter. Suddenly, the teens were spending more time with the adults than at parties with other kids. Ryan – the bad seed, supposedly – was starting to become righteous by condemning Marissa’s drinking habits, and Oliver had, well, come into existence.
Over the next few months – and hitting fever pitch with the notorious Rooney episode – The OC began falling apart. Righteousness seemed to be the soup du jour as nearly every episode featured Ryan ponderously scolding whoever whenever wherever (no one seemed to care about his unprotected sex though). The irreverance that was so anti-Beverly Hills 90210 was gone, and in its place the Afterschool Special. Furthermore, as the Oliver saga dragged on – and then later its aftermath – Ryan and Marissa took centerstage with their laborious and way too melodramatic hijinx. Luckily, Seth, Summer and Anna kept things going for us – but how can we not get frustrated when the most interesting characters are relegated to the sidelines? Also, remember when Marissa, Summer and Luke were cool? At what point did they all become dorks? Can we have a little high school context here?
We did get a few bones tossed our way – namely Julie and Luke, a beauty of a soap storyline. Come to think of it, anything with Julie was pretty much destined to be great. Haley has been a nice addition too. And a breezy episode in Las Vegas gave us hope that the writers hadn’t totally forgotten the spirit of the show.
Unfortunately, a somber and emo-filled season finale reminded us of the lame direction the series seemed to take. It’s not too late for The OC though. There are still all those lovable quirks: Kirsten turning to the bottle when the going gets tough, the predictable cueing of the emo music before the show’s closing credits, the lighthearted breakfast banter accompanied by spritely plucking strings, and of course the liberal use of ‘hey’ as the preferred salutation in Newport Beach. Ryan and Marissa alone challenge the eskimos’ 26 words for “snow” with their various “hey” inflections.
I’m not a hater of The OC. Truth is that I love it. I gripe because I love. We need more Seth and Summer, less Paris Hilton/Death Cab for Cutie-esque guest spots. We need storylines to pan out and not shoot their loads in two episodes (whatever happened to that flirty lawyer in Sandy’s firm? Wasn’t she dating Jimmy when, oh nevermind…). For better or worse, I’ll be watching.
Season Grade: B+
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