Thursday, November 02, 2006

The O.C.: Who are you to say chickens can't fly?

Spoilers for "The O.C." (posted a little early because I'll be out for the rest of the evening) just as soon as I remember what wise man once said "Cage matches work. Of course they work. If they didn't work, everyone would still be inside the cage."... Damn. That was... not bad. No, better than that. That was good. Confident, in character, funny on occasion (any scene with Che), genuinely touching at others (the comic book store intervention), really the most like itself the show has felt in a long time, maybe even going back to season one. There's too much bad karma built up over the last two years, not to mention too much plot that Josh burnt through in the first one, for the series to ever really recapture the magic of the good ol' days, but this was a quality level I didn't think the show could hit anymore. I actually watched it twice, and it's grown on me even in the week since the second time. Ryan's cage-fighting sounded cheesey in theory, but it worked in execution, playing into his constant need for self-flagellation and difficulty in thinking without his fists. I've grown tired of dramas that do in media res openings, but that entire opening sequence -- from Ryan cleaning his wounds in that dingy supply closet to the WTF? meeting with Julie at the Mermaid Inn (where the two of them used to sleep with Luke and Theresa, respectively) -- really drew me in and hit harder when we revisted it two-thirds of the way through. (The reveal of where Kaitlin got the Pretty Woman boots was particularly nice.) Back when Josh capped Marissa in the finale, I wrote:
Ryan has always been and will always be an angsty character. It's his reason for being on this show. But there's a difference between the "Sorry, nice rich Jewish man, for accidentally burning down your father-in-law's model home and getting into fights at every cotillion" kind of angst and the "My explosive temper triggered a series of events that led to the tragic death of the only girl I've ever loved" angst, and I don't see how either Ryan or the show pulls out of this. Julie can still be funny and bitchy after her wrinkly sugar daddy husband dies, but her daughter? Does Summer get over her best friend dying anytime soon? Is Taylor quite as amusing taking Marissa's place in the inner circle? Bah. No good can come from this.
Mea culpa. The show isn't skirting the consequences of Marissa's death, but in spite of the mood lighting and the cage fights and Julie's pills, it doesn't feel overwrought, but just right. It also helps that I've seen the first four episodes and have witnessed some of the light near the end of the tunnel, but I felt okay with it even at the end of the first hour. Marissa is proving a more useful character in death than she ever was in life. Everybody's responding differently: Ryan through his masochistic fights (and, after the intervention, by unbottling his anger to win his last fight and go hunting for Volchok), Summer by latching onto Che and keeping Newport at a physical and emotional distance, Seth by going into a corner and doing his best not to bother either his best friend or his girlfriend, Kaitlin by tempering her conniving with about 5% more compassion for her mom, etc. Yes, parts of it are melodramatic, but that's what this show is -- just, on its better days, it's a smart melodrama. Ben McKenzie, Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke all gave among their best performances, and there was just enough of the funny ("Let me buy you a new toothbrush," Luke's dorky kid brothers) to reassure us that Josh knows where the show needs to go once he gets through this shiva period. It's probably going to get slaughtered by "Grey's," "CSI" and possibly even "Supernatural," but at least I don't feel like I'm just watching the show out of nostalgia for the book-worthy days. What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I thought Luke's twin brothers made the show feel like what Josh said it wouldn't: Baby Muppets, Saved by the Bell the College Years, whatever the quote was.

Aside from them and the jailbait Cooper bringing the show to Nikki Reed level bad, I agree, this was the strongest the show has been in some time.

Anonymous said...

That was really good. Better than it's been in years. I tuned in not thinking I would watch it really, but the opening three minutes had me in. You could actually feel emotion - grief, anger, sadness, love - coming off the screen. Barton had to die to allow this cast to live. She was such a bony life sucker from scenes and she made everything all about her and she had no depth. Rachel Bilson conveys more emotion, even Willa, in a single look than Mischa could in an entire crying jag.

Ben McKenzie did his best work ever in this episode. Under Siege 3 with Benny Mac? And Melinda Clarke may be the most underrated actress working in tv.

With Grey's circling a drain of annoying froth and cutesty humor, perhaps the OC can rediscover its soul and maybe (thought doubtful) some of its viewers.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those people that kept watching the show because of the first few episodes. They had me hooked, and even when the series went bad, I still felt obligated to watch.

But damn, it's worth it. Not only is the writing a whole lot better, but it's also good to see the art department knock it down a notch and make the whole thing a bit more realistic. Julie in particular looks a lot better. I mean, she looks like a real person, and coupled with her great acting in this episode, she has a lot more impact on screen. It's a lot easier to relate with what she's going through.

McKenzie really stepped up his acting in the final episode of the last season, as he seemed a lot less angsty, talking a lot more, and not just sticking to the typical brooding character portrayal. In this episode, he was back to angsty, but it worked, and he still seemed a lot more personable than in the past. That and he plain just looks better than he has in the past.

A subdued Seth is good, and the new Summer also works well, as well as the somewhat subdued makeup. Che seems a decent addition, and almost makes me want to give Everwood a try. Kaitlin I'm actually liking, but not so much her entourage. At the least, I'm liking her a whole lot more than I did Marisa.

It maybe would have been nice to have had a slight change of the title credits, as while the song still suits, and the footage for each character fits better than it did in the past, I wouldn't mind something a bit darker and a bit more serious. Actually, I'd like to see the dark tone continue with the show as a whole, as it seems like The O.C. is at its best when it's dark.

Hats off to Swartz, as I really doubted he could return the series back to form. If it continues like this, it may even get first priority to Grey's. CSI I still love, but that really is a Tivo show. I just hope it does well enough, viewer wise, that it gets a backlot order.

On a side note, there's just one thing that bugs me with all shows. They make a whole ton of breakfast for the whole family, and it's common that they might eat a rasher of bacon on the run, and leave the rest just sitting there. Bah, if that's all I have to complain about, you can see how much I liked the episode.

Side, side note: Alan, a question. I know that 100 episodes is the magical point for television shows, as it generally marks the point where syndication begins, and does the cash. I know that it's especially poignant with comedies, such as The Simpsons and Everybody Loves Raymond, but is syndication as important with dramas? I ask because with the current order, The O.C. will top out at, I think, 97 episodes. Will crossing the threshold alone be enough to have the series go on?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ooda, DVDs have rendered syndication much less important in the business model, and if a show like The O.C. winds up in perpetual repeats anywhere, it'll be on a cable channel (afternoons on TNT, maybe?), where the magic 100 number doesn't really matter anymore.

The ratings were even more pitiful than anticipated: a 50% drop from the season three premiere (which, in fairness, was at 8 with only Survivor as real competition) and a statistical dead heat with Supernatural, even way behind (as in, one-third the audience of) Deal or No Deal.

Josh has said Fox is going to warn him if he has to write a series finale for show 16, but with those numbers, I don't know that the show is even on the air that long.

Anonymous said...

I love that this show will become Veronica Mars. A critical darling again with no ratings. It's become Freaks and Geeks! But if it stays this good, I will keep watching.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I believe that with the current episode order the show will only hit 92 episodes.

How much advance notice is Schwartz going to get? As far as I know the show didn't delay the start of production this year, so I imagine they'll be filming episode 16 in the not too distant future.

Any chance Fox will move the show to another night? Their new shows are tanking and it looks like Thursdays are a lost cause. Of course maybe this will be the year they move AI to a Wednesday performance/Thursday results schedule in which case all bets are off.

Anonymous said...

That was an excellent, excellent premiere. For the past few seasons I have been watching out of nostalgia alone (and my annoying inability to quit TV shows), but this episode really shined. I felt like I was watching the people I fell in love with again. I was especially happy with Rachel Bilson's performace -- she really sold Summer's desperation and feelings of loss in a very subtle and emotional way.

I do hope that if Fox decides to end the show earlier than the planned 16 episodes, they give Josh Schwartz the heads up so he can go out on his own terms and not leave us hanging, story-wise. These characters deserve a true ending.

Anonymous said...

Sigh, that's what I was scared of. There's no way to spin the 2.2 in a good way, as even though it was probably filled with the group the advertisers love, it's still too little to make it even worth justifying.

But yeah, you're right that with these numbers, it will be lucky to get even to sixteen episodes. Hmm, moving it to another night may help things, but considering a CW show bet it, and it wasn't even America's Top Model or one of their other powerhouses, really doesn't bode well for the show.

I kind of forgot about DVD's, and I can see your point in that regard. Unfortunately, I never remember The O.C. being a strong player in that arena.

Sigh, at least the news of a second season pickup of Dexter is can get me over this bad news.

Anonymous said...

OC is moving to wednesday nights. just read it on zap2it.

Anonymous said...

Good to see that they decided to make a change quickly. That and they killed Happy Hour, which I honestly did not expect to see survive the baseball hiatus.

Anonymous said...

Hey Alan, hopefully you'll take a look at this comment. At the beginning of the OC premiere, they did the whole 6 month later thing, then they did the 36 hours previous time warp after the beginning. Was this a reference to Battlestar Galactica?

I'm sure you'll recognize the 6 month later thing as very similar to how Battlestar ended season 2, even though they did it during the end of season 2 to lead to a cliffhanger. Then the whole time warp thing at the beginning of the episode has been done on at least a few Battlestar episodes. Just wondering if you discussed this with Josh Schwarz at all. Thanks.

Alan Sepinwall said...

SP, the in media res opening device existed long before Ron Moore started overusing it in Galactica season 2.5. Studio 60 even used it last night. More often than not, it's an attempt to dress up an episode that would otherwise have a dull beginning, but Josh used it really well here.