Warner Bros. // 2003 // 944 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Neal Solon (Retired) // July 6th, 2005
"People always leave."
The WB has been the butt of many jokes throughout the years. It often gets lumped in with channels like UPN; so much so that when I finally got cable TV around the turn of the millennium, I did not know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. The network features some incredibly well written shows including, most notably, Gilmore Girls. In 2003, the WB debuted a new series starring one of the network's young stalwarts, Chad Michael Murray. The question of the day was whether this would be another Gilmore Girls, or some mindless throwaway.
Lucas (Chad Michael Murray, Gilmore Girls, A Cinderella Story) and Nathan (James Lafferty, A Season on the Brink) are half-brothers who live in Tree Hill, North Carolina. Lucas' mother, Karen (Moira Kelly, The West Wing, Henry Hill), and the boys' father, Dan (Paul Johansson, Beverly Hills, 90210, John Q), had a "thing" many years ago, back in high school. They made plans to get married. At the last minute, Dan ran off to college to pursue a career in basketball and left Karen pregnant with Lucas and on her own. Dan's freedom didn't last long, however. He soon found himself the soon-to-be father of another child, Nathan. The only difference this time was that he stuck around and married the mother-to-be, Deb (Barbara Alyn Woods, Flesh and Bone). Before Deb gave birth, the couple moved back to Tree Hill and to Dan's past. Now Lucas and Nathan are in high school, and they can't avoid their families' sordid past.
One Tree Hill: The Complete First Season collects the first 22 episodes of the show, each roughly 43 minutes long, on six discs as follows:
* "The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most"
* "Are You True?"
* "Crash into You"
* "All That You Can't Leave Behind (aka Where I End and You Begin)"
* "Every Night Is Another Story"
* "Life in a Glass House"
* "The Search for Something More"
* "With Arms Outstretched"
* "You Gotta Go There to Come Back"
* "The Living Years"
* "Crash Course in Polite Conversations"
* "Hanging By A Moment"
* "I Shall Believe"
* "Suddenly Everything Has Changed"
* "The First Cut is the Deepest"
* "Spirit in the Night"
* "To Wish Impossible Things"
* "How Can You Be Sure?"
* "What Is And What Should Never Be"
* "The Leaving Song"
* "The Games That Play Us"
The premise of One Tree Hill strikes me as a bit absurd. Nathan and Lucas Scott have lived in Tree Hill, NC for their entire lives, and Tree Hill seems to be a small town. The idea that the half-brothers have not crossed paths enough to have to deal with the fact that they are related is odd. Sure, they run in different circles. Nathan is popular, while Lucas is a bit of an outsider, but this doesn't explain the fact that it is not until early high school that the boys finally butt heads, confronting each other and their "family" past.
If one can get beyond the implausibility of the situation described above, however, One Tree Hill: The Complete First Season is a surprisingly rewarding experience. Throughout its first season, One Tree Hill distinguishes itself from other teen dramas by dealing with more than just the backstabbing, backbiting, and backwards morals of today's youth. Certainly, the show contains its fair share of this petty drama, but it also explores the reasons behind it. Much of the show is based on the mistakes the teens' parents have made and the way these mistakes manifest themselves in the students' lives.
The issues the show deals with range from the death, divorce, infidelity, and absence of parents to teenage pregnancy, popularity, and peer pressure. At the center of everything is the ongoing rivalry between Nathan and Lucas. Both James Lafferty and Chad Michael Murray do commendable work with these characters, and the show is at its best when focusing on the issues that stem from the conflict between the two of them and the conflicts between their parents.
Among the other things that make One Tree Hill successful is the show's exploration of its characters. One Tree Hill is really an ensemble show, and each of the main players has a unique and well-developed backstory. This allows each character to more effectively contribute to the show, and helps reveal the motivation behind his or her actions.
I have mentioned the performances of Lucas, Nathan, and their parents, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other recurring characters. Brooke (Sophia Bush), Peyton (Hilarie Burton), and Haley (Bethany Joy Lenz) are a popular cheerleader, an enigmatic, pseudo-punk rebel, and a straight-laced tutor, respectively. They are important because of their relationships with Lucas and Nathan throughout the season, and because of the different emotional baggage that they carry. While they may all sound like stereotypes, they are, in fact, dynamic characters, and each actress presents her character well. Also recurring as a central characters in the show are Keith Scott (Craig Sheffer, A River Runs Through It), as Lucas' uncle and primary male role model, and Whitey Durham (Barry Corbin, Northern Exposure, WarGames), as the Tree Hill basketball coach.
However, despite all-around solid performances and unusual plotlines, One Tree Hill: The Complete First Season does not always succeed. Lucas and Nathan's relationship begins to improve midseason, and as this happens, the show begins to falter. The writers, in need of new dramatic situations for the characters, begin to rely on more typical teen drama fare. One Tree Hill devolves into mundane genre television for a few episodes, spending too much time exploring an artificially dramatic love pentagram involving Lucas, Nathan, Brooke, Peyton, and Haley. Though each of these girls is integral to the show, when entire episodes focus on their in-fighting, the result is subpar. By the end of Disc Five, however, the show manages to recapture the atypical foci that make it refreshing, and the season closes with a bang.
Part of what makes the end of the season so strong is that its creators did not know if the WB would renew the show. The last few episodes bring some form of closure to the major story arcs, while leaving the door wide open for further development should the show continue. It is an artfully employed strategy that paid off. The first season seems like an entity unto itself, not ending with the typical season-closing cliffhangers but still leaving ample room for the implications of this season to be explored in the future. The ending of the season confirms one of Peyton's fears that is the focus of an episode early on: that "people always leave." As we watch the last few episodes, everyone is leaving in some way or another, but we certainly get the feeling that they'll be back if the show is.
The show was ultimately renewed, and the DVDs were put together and released to coincide with the second season's return after a winter hiatus. This DVD set from Warner Brothers certainly does this fledgling television show justice. Both the audio and video are of the quality one would expect from a recent television show. The only issues I had with either were during the included deleted scenes and commentaries, where the audio levels were uneven and necessitated my constantly adjusting the volume on my receiver to be able to hear what was being said while not annoying the neighbors.
The extras are extensive. Each disc contains a number of deleted scenes excised from the episodes on that disc. I found the fact that these were spread out across all six discs perturbing, until I realized that the intent was to keep each scene with the episode it came from. Some of the deleted scenes are redundant, some have interesting moments, and some have genuinely worthwhile subplots that were cut out in the interest of time. Like most collections of deleted scenes they are a mixed bag, but I found this collection to be more worthwhile than not. Each series of deleted scenes features an introduction from series creator Mark Schwahn.
Also included are commentaries on three episodes: "Pilot," "The First Cut is the Deepest," and "The Games That Play Us." Commentaries on the first two episodes feature Schwahn and producer Joe Davola. The season finale, "The Games That Play Us," features two commentaries, one from the central cast members under thirty and one from those over thirty. The commentaries from the various groups each provide a different listening experience. The stars seem to be having more fun recording their tracks, but all four commentaries provide interesting anecdotes and facts about the filming of the show. The one complaint I have is that the audio from the original soundtrack is so quiet while the commentaries are playing that viewers have no frame of reference when Mark Schwahn and Joe Davola rattle on about their purposeful choices of music.
Also included, as supplements, are a brief making-of featurette, which includes interviews with the cast members; a musical performance by Gavin DeGraw, who did the show's theme song; three short video diaries; and footage of a practical joke from the set. In all, it is a worthy set of extras full of interesting tidbits with only occasional overlap between features.
I think it should be noted that the vision of the show's creators involves music from the outset. Each episode is named for or modeled after a song title, and the show itself is named after a U2 song. Watching each episode, you come to realize that the music is chosen quite purposefully, and it's done to great effect, as is most everything else on the show. One Tree Hill: The Complete First Season manages to stand out in a world of mundane television. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it's certainly better than most of what passes for teen-oriented dramatic television these days.
All parties involved are free to go. I, for one, look forward to seeing what's been done with Season Two. I only hope that the writers heed my warnings to avoid too much of the petty drama that plagues my television.
Review content copyright © 2005 Neal Solon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 944 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 48 Minutes of Unaired Scenes
* Four Audio Commentaries
* Three Video Diaries
* Making of Featurette
* Performance of "Chariot" by Gavin DeGraw
* Christmas Elf Costume Gag
* Official Site
* Tree Hill High School
* Punk & Disorderly
* Ravens Hoops
* One Tree Hill Online (Fan Site)
* One Tree Hill Central (Fan Site)