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The O.C.: Season 1
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When Ryan Atwood, a tough, guarded, fiercely intelligent 16-year-old plunges headlong into the wealthy, privileged community of Newport Beach, he soon discovers that the ruling families of Orange County are every bit as territorial as the tough crowd with which he ran on the streets of Chino. For Sandy Cohen, the idealistic public defender who takes Ryan in; his wife Kirsten, the linchpin of O.C. society; their awkward adolescent son, Seth; and the beautiful troubled girl next door, Marissa Copper - Ryan's presence will forever change their lives.
It looked like a standard teen soap on the outside, but once you scratched the surface of the glittery, sun-dappled Fox drama The O.C., you'd find underneath a number of surprisingly well-developed characters, fun plots that played around with their soap conventions, and some of the wittiest dialogue this side of an Aaron Sorkin show. The setup was pure high concept: hunky, brooding Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) was a good kid from Chino starting to go bad, and thanks to the interference of his lawyer, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), finds himself whisked away from the wrong side of the tracks to the mansions and manicured lawns of Orange County. Soon, Ryan finds himself living in the Cohens' pool house, involved with troubled rich girl Marissa (Mischa Barton), and bristling against the societal confines of his new home, as the people may be richer but they're just as screwed up as anyone else. Still, somehow, he manages to bring out the humanity of the superficial people around him, and they become all the better for knowing him.
Okay, enough with the Beverly Hills, 90210 scenario--what The O.C. turned out to be was the most addictive TV soap in recent memory, and one with a brain to boot. Smarter than Melrose Place, sexier than 90210, funnier than Felicity, and not as enamored of itself as Dawson's Creek, The O.C. reveled in clever and hilarious dialogue (the pilot episode earned a WGA nomination) and quirky, eccentric characters. Most noteworthy was breakout star Adam Brody, who as Ryan's geeky newfangled brother-type Seth practically stole the teen heartthrob mantle away from Russell Crowe-lookalike McKenzie. Barton was a bit of a blank as the troubled Marissa, but her best pal, the blissfully superficial Summer, was played by Rachel Bilson as the perfect supporting character in a dizzy farce. And the adults, especially Gallagher and Kelly Rowan as the supportive Cohens, grounded the other half of the show in you know, like, maturity. Not that The O.C. ever forgot the fun that was to be had in TV-land, as most every other episode ended with a fistfight or someone falling into a pool--sometimes both. Here was a soap you could purely enjoy without guilt. --Mark Englehart
- All 27 episodes from the 2003-04 season
- On-screen music track guide viewing mode on six episodes
- Unaired scenes
- Featurette on casting the series
- Inside the real OC with executive producer McG
- Featurette on the music used in the series
- Season 2 sneek peak
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The first season had a lot of episodes (27 in all) and as a result the story lines were kind of all over the place. It had a very large ensemble cast (some of whom would eventually be weeded out) and there was a lot going on with all the characters. The main story revolved around Ryan Atwood (played by Benjamin McKenzie) who was a good kid from Chino, but who had a bad family situation and was starting to follow his brother into a life of Crime. His public defender Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) ends up taking him in (initially for the weekend) much to the chagrin of his wife (Kelly Rowan). The first part of the season really plays on Ryan adjusting to life in the rich, glitzy Newport Beach as he falls for the girl next door, Marissa (played by Mischa Barton), befriends the Cohen's teenage son Seth (played wonderfully by Adam Brody) and is always teetering on the edge of going back to juvie.
The adult stories center around the Cohen's, the next door neighbors the Coopers and Kirsten Cohen's rich real estate mogul Caleb (played by Alan Dale). The standout from that story in my opinion was Julie Cooper, played by Melinda Clarke, who does a great "bad guy" character. In the beginning of the series she was almost an over the top caricature of the rich, snobby housewife who only cares about money, gossip and how she looks. Clarke stole almost every scene she was in, especially when her character was basically the butt of a joke, and she became more and more central to the story.
The first season almost suffered from doing too much too soon. They were jamming so many stories into the first season that it seemed to jump all over the place. They honestly probably had enough material in the Ryan "crossing the tracks" story, and developing that to get through the season without introducing Kirsten's sister, some of the other Chino characters etc until season 2. That said, the show did a good enough job of juggling it all, ending a couple of the story lines (even though it meant getting rid of a couple of the characters), and making things flow well enough that it did not get too hard to follow.
Overall the show was very good and entertaining. It was at time somewhat formulaic, given the genre. The themes mirrored many other similar shows, but thew in a Westside Story vibe and made it unique enough that it did not just seem like a carbon copy. The writing and acting were very good. The Ryan-Seth relationship (and all the things that stemmed from that like the Seth-Summer-Anna love triangle) made the teen part of the show work, and Peter Gallagher, who was involved in almost all the story lines set around the adults made everything else work. It definitely had the guilty pleasure soap-opera elements to it. Lots of skin (especially early on) and the will they/wont they bounce with the Ryan-Marissa relationship, but it also focused on more serious subjects like physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, homosexuality, abortion and the seemingly required adult-teenager sexual relationship.
As far as extras go, there are a few making of and behind the scenes features on the last disc, as well as some deleted scenes. There are also commentary tracks on select episodes. Definitely enough there for those who like to watch the bonus material. The show is certainly not for everyone. If you only watch documentaries and high-brow dramas, this is not going to be your cup of tea. But it is a show that blended comedy and drama, and touched on enough serious subject matter that if you are a fan of the genre then you will probably like it.
I didn't catch the show during the 2003-2004 TV season, but viewed the entire season on the subsequently released DVD set. The story centers around fish-out-of-water Ryan, a brooding, bad-boy teenager who moves in with a rich Newport Beach family in Southern California. The Cohens are a family with money - mother Kirsten works for her rich father, who is at odds with father Sandy, a local attorney. It's Sandy who represents Ryan in a case and ultimately invites him into his home.
The key partnership in the series is between Ryan and Seth, the Cohen's son. The show centers around dorky Seth's relationship to bad-boy Ryan, who is sort of like the big brother he never had. The boys juggle relationships with fellow classmates Marissa and Summer, while tackling the usual blend of teen drama along the way.
I always think I've seen it all when I see a teen drama like Beverly Hills 90210, which was remixed for the late nineties with Dawson's Creek. But The OC somehow manages to be just as good, if not better, during its first season. The first half of the season was particularly good, with things slowing down after a plot involving an unstable friend of Marissa's named Oliver, who develops an obsessive crush. Other plots involve Marissa's struggle with alcohol and the divorce of her mother and father.
Perhaps the slight lag during the last quarter of the season kicked off the amazingly swift downfall of the series. In the end, four seasons aired, each with a major percentage of viewer loss in the ratings. Adam Brody, Mischa Barton, Benjamin McKenzie, Kelly Rowan, Rachel Bilson and Peter Gallagher are the main cast of stars that propelled this FOX drama into an overnight sensation that burned out way before it should have.
(I originally posted this review at my personal website: jasonhink.com)
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