Two-timing, three-timing, tortured looks, and Machiavellian scheming are the talking points of any soap opera. “The OC” acknowledges this – its broad story arcs have nothing on the teen-eat-teen world and war paint of “The Tribe.” However, since its inception, “The OC” has dutifully defined and deepened its characters with a clever combination of understated grace, real world cynicism, and pop culture relevancy. Throwaway moments – eating bagels around the kitchen island, listening to Journey while driving – become opportunities to subtly develop backstories and motivations, often with a wry, knowing humor that’s largely absent from TV land. “Tonight! Richard Moll guest stars on a very special episode of ‘Overweight, Insensitive Guy Is Harangued by Hot, Exasperated Wife’!”
Last night’s “OC” still filled its margins with running jokes about snack bar treats and Seth Cohen’s pre-Summer geek fief, not to mention a series of hilarious allusions to his being ambiguously gay. “How did you know about the Care Bear Stare?” But as the series finale nears, it’s become increasingly difficult for the show to balance its banter and quiet moments of character interaction with the requirements of melodrama. Last night’s episode had to have pulled a muscle, supporting a bloated central plot (The Lighthouse! Jimmy Cooper! Julie Cooper! That bastard Caleb Nichol!) while trying to accommodate Marissa’s ongoing psychosis and Luke’s drunken farewell to both the doe-eyed fawn and Julie. (As it turns out, he used her and she used him, but only one of them cared.)
To alleviate the pressure on its signature (live-action) show, Fox should really give “The OC” a spotter. You know, another program to offset some of the strain at being smart, funny, and beautiful all at once. (Aside to Maggie Gyllenhaal: how do you do it?) This fantasy spotter of Fox’s would share the heft of “The OC”‘s wily cynicism, but amplify it by existing in an environment where crazy has made real life like fantasy, and vice versa. It would need a bold female central character, as a foil to Chino’s sleepwalking reactiveness. But while this female lead would sculpt the show’s voice, there would still be enough for the supporting cast to do in order for their deftly-rendered characters to remain relevant. This imaginary program would derive its darkest, richest humor from supposedly off-limits subjects (lesbianism, blow job-induced infidelity, runaway nuns); it might also admit that human beings often drink alcohol. Especially the young ones!
Well, RIP “Wonderfalls.” At least Fox gave you the old college try for three weeks.
With the axing of “Wonderfalls” (don’t these stuffed shirts see the groundswell of excitement over the “Freaks and Geeks” box? Jeez), “The OC”‘s only support comes from “American Idol” and the callous, self-esteem daisy cutter that is “The Swan.” Sure, there’s “24.” But even if that show’s finally found a groove with just a few hours left, for all I know about what’s going on, Jack Bauer’s going to need to tag team with Sidney and Vaughan to stop the Covenant from unleashing more of Rimbaldi’s virus. No, Chino and Seth and Summer and the gang’ll get no help from CTU or the CIA. It’s up to them to lessen the melodrama a bit and accentuate character relationships that have been running on vapors for a couple of episodes now. Last night’s best moments were between Seth and Summer. They’ve settled into a genuine and believable relationship based on smarmy comment and a comfort with one another, but we haven’t been privy to how it exactly came about, since the specter of Marissa’s batshit craziness looms, and Caleb Nichol is still the only game in town for the moral compasses of Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows. First the White Devil loaned Sanford money to buy The Lighthouse. Now he’s buying it back, and marrying the ex-wife of Sandy’s disgraced business partner. That! Makes! Julie! Kirsten’s! Stepmom! See how contrived this is? It’s nasty, fun, silly, and even a little cool to see how much this milquetoast pirate colony will actually topple in on itself. But between all of these machinations, “The OC” is losing those moments that let its characters breathe.