Fox was typically overzealous in its promotion of the “OC”‘s second season. Besides running two nearly identical, hour-long promotional cockteases (singular revelation: The Cohen pool is fake) and shelling MLB postseason play with breathless spots about the upcoming premiere, game four of the ALCS saw Summer spelling Bill Mueller at the hot corner. The frenzied buzz puts pressure on the show to deliver consistently on quality during its sophomore outing. But its return is still welcome, because the “Baywatch Nights” plot rehashes on “North Shore” weren’t exactly anchoring the network’s dramatic output. The “OC”‘s move to an earlier time slot suggests a courting of the youth vote. And this season’s addition of a Peach Pit-style hangout (sort of predicted here) should unleash a hilariously blatant torrent of Franz Ferdanistic and Killersian guest shots. But since that’s the way it’s gonna be, I hope Le Tigre’s Universal contract stipulates a makeout session between Kathleen Hannah and Julie Cooper Nichol.
As you’ll recall, the “OC”‘s first set ended on conflicting notes of resentment, resignation, and vacuous happiness. In the latter category there was Julie’s marriage to the White Devil Caleb Nichol, which even Jem’s luscious reading of “Maybe I’m Amazed” couldn’t fill with anything more than cold-blooded opportunity. Then there was Ryan, and his intension to leave the land of poon and honey in favor of a walk-up in Chino with his ex and the unborn child he may or may not have sired. And finally we had Seth Cohen, who sailed into the sunset on the swells of Jeff Buckley’s bittersweet wail, events having set his jaw most melodramatically against his dream girl, his perfect family, and the adopted brother who he somewhat irrationally felt had betrayed him. Newport was a shambles, and the eyebrows of Sandy Cohen were furrowed.
As season two opens, Peter Gallagher’s Sandy is catching hell from his worrywart (and too thin) wife Kirsten for letting Seth go. Elsewhere, spurned by Chino, Marissa’s spending her lockdown at the Caleb and Julie manse downing Newport Ice Teas and unleashing spectacularly overacted frustration screams at her White Devil trophy case mother. Even Summer has to admit the Fawn’s drinking is out of hand, but she has her own problems. Declaring herself done with relationships, she gets off the best line of the show in her dismissal Seth. “I don’t cry over bitches on boats!” You heard? Meanwhile, Seth himself has landed in Portland with Labrador Luke and his gay dad, where he’s remade himself as a dark-eyed loner. Seth’s developed a streak of Chino-style caged animal poise, and his famous sarcasm is now tinged with cynicism. Speaking of Chino, Ryan fills his construction job days with long looks at the life that could’ve been, right through the dingy bathrobe of the preggers wife he’s got now. A music cue featuring Springsteen’s “The River” wouldn’t have been out of place. “Then I got [Theresa] pregnant/And man that was all she wrote/And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat…”
With such a weighty series of setups, it’s irritating that the episode opted for such a quickie resolution. Sandy visits Portland and tells Seth he can stay; they’re joined by Ryan, who felt compelled to help out after his own visit from the uniter Peter Gallagher. Besides, Chino/East Germany is terrible anyway, and there’s burgers and Playstation in Portland. Things get a lot less sucky for Ryan when Theresa calls to tell him she lost the baby, and with that he and Seth are on a plane back to Newport, their seemingly resigned lives apart, away, and steeped in existential darkness scrapped in favor of the Cohen house, high school, and good old sunny Newport. Never mind that Seth spent the first half-hour hating his family and the town. Forget about Ryan’s entire relationship with Theresa and his Chino existence – it’s all made well by the duo bounding into the Cohen kitchen and a back-to-normal Seth one liner about changing the décor the minute he’s gone. That Theresa’s baby isn’t actually lost provides a nice midseason plot hook. But in the meantime everyone’s back in their original positions, with the promising plot line of a Dark Lord of the Seth dashed in favor of the usual diet of track jackets and London Calling LPs. The episode also glossed over the obvious homoerotic subtext of Ryan and Seth’s separation (Seth: “I’m not coming unless Ryan does”) with a weak joke about dudes hugging.
The “OC”‘s charm has always been in its riffing of traditional soap opera melodrama off a sardonic, almost fringe-dwelling wit and a sense of the self-aware more powerful than sixteen Cheney heart attacks. There were flashes of all of this in the premiere, with Caleb the White Devil looking at criminal prosecution for his shady backroom businessin’, the Doe Eyed Fawn lolling like an angry drunk behind 1980s sunglasses, and Summer not taking Seth back without a sassy fight. But the show wasn’t ultimately anything other than a righting of the cast axis, and only set up a bunch of homeroom awkward glances. It’s great to have a watchable fiction-based show back, since reality programming’s been killing our brains like a poisonous, ride-pimping mushroom. But with the mandate of the people behind it, let’s hope the “OC” doesn’t dumb things down. If Ian Ziering shows up as an assistant principal in season two, I’m switching to “Life as We Know it”.
Be sure to read all of the Glorious Noise coverage of The O.C. It’s good.