Warner Bros. // 2007 // 880 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Katie Herrell (Retired) // March 19th, 2008
"Where nothing ever changed until one outsider changed everything."
Leave reality, normalcy, and believability behind before immersing yourself in senior year at Tree Hill High.
Season Four of One Tree Hill finds the cast nearing high school graduation, but not without a traumatic and dramatic senior year. Besides the expected love and hate dynamics that define any high schooler's life, this tight-knit group of friends experiences pregnancy, death, stalking...and point shaving. It's just another year of adrenalin on this teen soap.
The executives of the fourth season opener for the CW's One Tree Hill should be very proud. With a beautifully shot car crash into an icy river, old and new visitors alike have reason to tune in...and be sucked in. This drama starring transparently clandestine "high schoolers" begins the fourth season with plenty of cliff-hanging run-off from season three. Thankfully, there are plenty of dialogue footnotes thrown in for the newbies.
On the heels of both a prominent character's death and the marriage of two of the seniors, season four hooks the viewer with the aforementioned car crash. The visual of the newly married Haley James Scott (Bethany Joy Galeotti) screaming atop a bridge in her wedding dress as her husband plays hero by diving into the water after two sinking wedding guests is powerful. Framed by their stretch limo with a backdrop of Wilmington, North Carolina, where the series is shot, the stage is set for a dramatic story-line set in quaint surroundings.
Unfortunately, the big budget theatrics of episode one aren't carried through the entire season, and the show doesn't really take advantage of its non-Hollywood surroundings. Soon, the visuals move to staged surroundings (the high school, the kids' bedrooms) and overly repeated settings (routine visits to the cemetery). Fortunately, the storyline is hemmed in by nothing, as an unbelievable, yet enjoyable, chain of events begins.
In episode three, "Good News for People Who Love Bad News," the first of many revolving characters is introduced to spice up the lives of the consistent cast. Derek, Peyton Sawyer's (Hilarie Burton) proclaimed half-brother arrives unannounced and wreaks havoc off and on until episode 18 when he is dramatically downsized by a victimized Peyton and Brooke Davis (Sophia Bush). Derek is just one of many atrocities in Peyton's life and only when her real half brother appears (a plot twist which somehow seems more unrealistic than her fake half-brother's arrival) and she commits to her love for Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) does Peyton get to enjoy life a bit.
But enjoying life is something that only comes to the characters of One Tree Hill in snippets. Despite the open-door policy (quite literally, which causes frequent uncomfortable moments for this frisky group of friends) Tree Hill is not a safe place. There are bad guys out to ruin the fun of the pretty (guys and gals alike) teenagers. One such character, introduced in episode six, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" (a title that illustrates my earlier open-door policy comment), is Dante, the shady, sneaky, gambler played by an excellent Rick Fox. Dante, like Derek, is an "arc" in the story-line, this time threatening Nathan Scott (James Lafferty) with a lead pipe to the knee if he doesn't lose the state basketball championships.
Dante's presence is more ominous than Derek's because he relies on understatement and a sly coolness to convey his evil where Dylan is a twitching, tattooed psychopath pretty much from the get-go. Dante's arc culminates in episode nine, "Some You Give Away," with the most cinematically powerful episode since the season opener.
The bonus feature of commentary from creative/executive producer Mark Schwahn and Rick Fox on episode nine is an interesting inside look at the episode and at how a serial television series is produced. As Schwahn also wrote the episode, his walk-through is particularly insightful. Centering on the state basketball championships, the episode is built up by a stampeding crowd that loosens plaster particles onto the long-time Tree Hill coach's (Whitey Durham, played by Barry Corbin -- the best actor of the entire cast) desk. The close-up shots of the howling extras are the result of splicing hand-held camera footage into the more polished on-court scenes, creating a fast-moving and high-energy scenario. Contrast that with back directing of radio announcements from an earlier Tree Hill championship berth and real footage from televised basketball games, and the atmosphere of the episode becomes both dynamic and storied.
The commentary from Schwahn also touches on the soundtrack process and how he'll hear music that is "One Tree Hill" and stockpile it for the right episode. Taking into consideration both the dialogue of the characters and the lyrics of the songs, the producers try to run several scenes with different characters through one song, creating a very fluid feeling...even when the characters are locationally removed from one another. The music of One Tree Hill is indie and relevant to the characters' ages and circumstances, but unlike some other television series, such as The O.C., it never takes away from the characters themselves. On the other hand, aside from the theme song, "I Don't Want to Be" by Gavin Degraw, none of the songs sticks with you after an episode.
Schwahn's commentary, which also accompanies episode 17, "It Gets the Worst at Night" (along with commentary from executive producers Joe Davola and Greg Prange), adds depth to a television series that at first watch is a teen drama that centers itself on outlandish stories. In episode 17, the kids of Tree Hill prepare to go to a road trip to to Honey Grove, Texas. On screen, the characters pile into a super-sized S.U.V. -- artfully displayed by a sweeping crane shot I realized thanks to Schwahn -- to save their friend "Mouth" (Lee Norris), the Screech of One Tree Hill, from the wiles of redhead Rachel Gattina (Danneel Harris).
But off camera, the cast and crew are quite literally making the same trek due to Honey Grove winning a contest to host One Tree Hill in their town. The undertaking was a huge one as the cast and crew had to travel from both Wilmington and Los Angeles themselves while also shooting the Tree Hill kids making the journey. It turns out cramming six teens into an S.U.V. for a driving segment is fraught with logistical issues such as giving them direction via walkie talkie and making it look like they're actually driving when they aren't. All this for one episode.
After returning to Tree Hill, the teens descend upon graduation and a culmination of several storylines in quick succession, popping out a couple babies and rehashing a murder or two. And although season four seems to tidy up just in time for episode 21, "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone," the uncertainty of where each cast member will be come graduation looms heavy. Prepare for season five.
Without the introduction of "Clean Teens" ("virgins for life") and an ironic segment in episode 17 where the Tree Hill kids "interview" the Honey Grove prom goers about their amazingly bland lives, One Tree Hill threatens to drown itself in its soap opera ways. The adult characters do nothing to temper the out-of-control aspects of the series, rather fortifying the outlandishness with their drug addictions and gun-toting. This series might have been better off shot in Los Angeles -- then they could have added plastic surgery to the mix. Wait, that happens anyway with Rachel's introduction to the series.
Plus, several of the actors are riding on their gossip mag popularity rather than their acting chops.
This show is not for the TV-as-an-educational-tool group. The bio for Bethany Joy Galeotti says her younger sister is not allowed to watch the show -- and with good reason. But for the TV-as-an-escape-from-reality camp, One Tree Hill is close to perfection.
Guilty. Repeat offenders.
Review content copyright © 2008 Katie Herrell; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 880 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Unaired Scenes
* Gag Reel
* "One Tree Hill in Your Town"
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 1
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 2
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 3