Southern California native Judge Jesse Ataide finds out what Southern California living is really like!
Our reviews of The O.C.: The Complete First Season (published January 5th, 2005), The O.C.: The Complete Third Season (published February 5th, 2007), The O.C.: The Complete Fourth Season (published May 31st, 2007), and The O.C.: The Complete Series (published January 9th, 2008) are also available.
"California here we come, right back where we started from."
Any teenager or 20-something living in California should be well aware of the cultural impact the smash hit television show The O.C. has had during its first two years of existence. The question "are you from the O.C.?" has now replaced the ubiquitous "do you surf?" as the first question asked by our out-of-state and international peers when first discovering our citizenship of the Golden State. That's a big deal.
Facts of the Case
As season two starts, we find the key players from season one are scattered all over the place: Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie, Junebug) has moved out of the Cohen home and is trying to make things work with the girlfriend he got pregnant. Ryan's move in turn has caused Seth (Adam Brody, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) to disown his native Newport Beach and flee to Portland. Left behind in sunny Newport is Marissa (Mischa Barton, Lost and Delirious) and Summer (Rachel Bilson), Ryan and Seth's understandably bewildered and hurt girlfriends, as well as Seth's two distraught parents, Sandy (Peter Gallagher, sex, lies and videotape) and Kirsten (Kelly Rowan, Three to Tango). Luckily, by the end of the first episode all the characters are back in place and reassembled to start off another season.
And what a busy year it ends up being! Not only were there the expected romantic tangles, new love interests, relationship problems and lots and lots of trendy clothes in season two, but alcoholism, attempted rape, murder, criminal charges, drug use, pornography, pregnancy loss, unexpected death, a fugitive lover, a fugitive brother, and of course, Marissa's much hyped lesbian fling with Seth's sexy ex Alex (Olivia Wilde). This is SoCal, baby—and if a little is good, a lot is much better!
Just spend a little time searching on the internet, and it quickly becomes obvious what a devoted and widespread following this teenage primetime soap has spawned: countless fan sites, numerous message boards, and endless links on where to buy the clothes worn by characters on the series. Obviously, The O.C. has become one of those rare shows whose influence has begun to extend far beyond the television screen, and has actually started to take an active role in shaping American teenage pop culture.
That's what I've come to find so fascinating about The O.C., and the reason I use to justify my obsession with this show, which at its core is just the latest television series to take advantage of the tried-and-true formula of taking a large group of good looking people and setting them in a long, convoluted progression of romantic and sexual entanglements that keeps the audience coming back each week to see what will happen next.
Admittedly, season two came dangerously close to stumbling on a number of occasions. During the first episodes each of the main characters all take on new love interests, effectively doubling the number of teenage characters to keep track of in every episode. In addition, not only are there four new major players to keep track of, but quite quickly all the storylines are twisting together and overlapping: Seth becomes good friends with Summer's new boyfriend through their mutual interest in comic books, Marissa takes up with the yard boy before (infamously) becoming involved with Seth's boss-turned-girlfriend, and Ryan's new girlfriend ends up being…well, you'll have to watch yourself to find out that particular revelation (it's a shocker).
The problem is, with all of these new plotlines (and these aren't even including the ones involving Kirsten's father's legal problems that threatens to tear the family apart, the return of Ryan's troubled brother and Kirsten and Sandy's respective romantic indiscretions), the series quickly begins to get bogged down with too many complications. When it comes down to it, audiences wanted what initially brought them to the show—more stories involving the key players, namely the tangled relationships between Ryan and Marissa, and Seth and Summer.
Not surprisingly, ratings were down two-thirds of the way into the season and the devoted fan base was starting to complain. The solution? A number of storylines, most prominently Marissa's controversial lesbian relationship, were axed, and the show made a move to get back to the basics. With only Ryan's troubled brother Trey (Logan Marshall-Green) present to further complicate the inevitable daily complexity of the main character's lives, season two concluded with a shocking crescendo that sets a dramatic and highly-charged stage for season three.
But perhaps the most shocking development in The O.C.'s second season is the tension that emerges in the show's fundamental relationship. Sandy and Kirsten are the stable foundation this show is built upon, and the unexpected fracturing of their seemingly solid relationship sends tremors that affect the proceedings of all the other characters. This just demonstrates that for all of its glamorous trappings and gorgeous young bodies, The O.C. is a show based on relationships.
Season two boasted some really terrific episodes, but two in particular stand out from the rest. All of the storylines in the first half of the season converge in "The Chrismakkah That Almost Wasn't" (Episode 6), which automatically guarantees emotional fireworks. The observance of "Chrismakkah," Seth's ingenious fusion of the Cohen's Anglo and Jewish holiday celebrations, ends up not only functioning as a major revelatory moment for the entire show, but somehow the episode also ends up being funny, poignant, and extremely sweet too (it's a perfect Christmas episode). "The Rainy Day Women" (yes, named after the Bob Dylan song) is the other standout episode, with an ingenious closing Spider-man homage that will please both comic book fans and hopeless romantics alike. The creators of the show seem to have recognized the quality of these two episodes as well, so both are accompanied by commentaries with the show's mastermind Josh Schwartz, who is joined by various producers and technical staff. Overall, both commentaries manage to be both informative (who would have thought T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was one of the main influences on the show?) and rather fun (it certainly sounds like they had fun making it, at least).
The O.C.: The Complete First Season was presented in full-frame, and there was apparently some flaws in the presentation. Not so with Season Two. The picture this time around is first rate, with an anamorphic widescreen presentation and a crisp, colorful image with few noticeable defects. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is also extremely good, which is certainly a must for such a dialogue-driven show.
Besides the two commentaries, there is an extra scene added to "Rainy Day Women," but beyond that, the extras in this set are rather skimpy. The first featurette, "Beachy Couture: How O.C. Fashion is Made" gives young fans a look at where their fashion trends partly start at, while "The O.C.—Obsess Completely" is total fluff that only die-hard fans will get anything out of. The "Gags and Goofs" clips are worth a look, however. And finally, the packaging looks great, with an accompanying booklet filled with full-color photos of the show's attractive cast.
So The O.C. presents to an international audience all the stereotypes of Southern California living: the beautiful beaches, the endless sunshine, the perfectly tanned bodies, the oceanfront estates, the overwhelming shallowness of the culture—honestly, we should be offended.
But the fact of the matter is we're just as hooked as everybody else.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary on Two Episodes
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