Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger wants to explore the classic dichotomy of blonde versus brunette—particularly if Jeri Ryan and Melinda Clarke are willing to help him with the research.
Our reviews of The O.C.: The Complete First Season (published January 5th, 2005), The O.C.: The Complete Second Season (published November 2nd, 2005), 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.
"Cause everyone knows that Marissa was the popular one, and Seth, no judgment, but it's not like you got any cooler in the last two years. I mean, everyone just acted that way because they were afraid of Ryan Atwood. I mean, even as a senior, you're still pretty much the biggest geek in Newport."—Taylor Townsend
ABBA took it to stratospheric heights of music fame in the '70's, a feat reattempted in 1998 by The A*Teens. Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica turned it into one of the most successful comics of all time. Beverly Hills, 90210 ran wild with it, while Dawson's Creek took it back to basics. And now, the blonde guy/blonde girl/brunette guy/brunette girl pop culture quartet is back again in the form of The O.C.
Whether innate symmetry or contrast (or both) is responsible for the enduring appeal of this simple formula is beside the point. The point is that it works. And make no mistake: The O.C.'s bread and butter is formula—conventions formed by its melodramatic, soap-operatic, teen-pop-idol predecessors. Formula rules the quartet of O.C. teens, just as it does the quartet of adults (who mix up the pairings into brunette guy/blonde girl-blonde guy/brunette girl for a change of pace). No hoary chestnut of the teen melodrama is left unplucked, no twist of relationship left untwisted. Oddly enough, The O.C. manages to seem fresh and remain watchable despite its formulaic roots. In fact, The O.C. turned this venerable blonde-blonde-brunette-brunette thing into yet another cultural phenomenon.
Despite its initial, monumental splash in the cultural soup, The O.C. was cancelled half way into Season Four. This leaves The O.C.: The Complete Third Season as the last intact story arc of the show. On one hand I'm in a good position to critique this third season because it's my sole exposure to The O.C.. Of course, that also means I can't compare it to the previous seasons, which I gather from the reviews of my fellow judges were sunnier and more enjoyable than this dark season (I refer you to those previous reviews to get the backstory for the show).
We'll get to that in a moment, but as an O.C. virgin, I'm impressed with the show. It is much better than it has a right to be. The O.C. moves more quickly than Beverly Hills, 90210 and isn't as moralistic or brow beating. It also sidesteps the intense navel gazing of Dawson's Creek. In fact, The O.C.'s blithe pop vibe reminds me most of The A*Teens, who won't win any Grammys but are fun nonetheless.
None of the teen actors—Benjamin McKenzie, Rachel Bilson, Adam Brody, and Mischa Barton—blew me away with their acting prowess in the same way that Joshua Jackson, Michelle Williams, or Alexis Bledel have done in similar roles. Yet they are highly watchable and have a pleasing chemistry together. Adam Brody is the most impressive of the young cast, though I expect his impact is greater in previous seasons; his patter seems pretty slick by this point, but is effective and funny. The adult cast—Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan, Melinda Clarke, and (briefly) Tate Donovan—was a pleasant surprise. Melinda Clarke doesn't quite reach Lady Heather status, but capitalizes on her mysterious charisma. Tate Donovan outshines his past roles and Kelly Rowan parlays her successful television career into another compelling character. But the real shocker in this department is Peter Gallagher, who plays a likeable, noble role model and pulls it off. Maybe I've seen his darker roles and pigeonholed Gallagher, but I didn't expect him to be a sympathetic guy. These core characters are impressive.
That's where the strife comes in. Series creator Josh Schwartz took a step back from the show, perhaps too early. He can be forgiven in this decision as the show was doing very well. But the creative team filled the Schwartz vacuum with gloom, doom, and lots of nasty characters. If fan outcry is any indication, this direction runs counter to the vibe that people fell in love with.
New characters Taylor Townsend (Autumn Reeser), Kevin Volchok (Cam Gigandet), Heather (Erin Foster), Dean Hess (Eric Mabius), and Charlotte Morgan (Jeri Ryan) were detestable additions to the Season Three cast. None of them had any redeeming qualities; they were slimy, conniving, unlikable people who brought the average quality of humanity on the show way down. Honestly, I thought Jeri Ryan made a compelling bad girl, and not just because she's painfully hot. I also found Autumn Reeser a more likeable version of Paris Geller from Gilmore Girls. But the rest of them were pretty much detestable. Dean Hess was a particularly unrealistic thorn in the side, while Cam Gigandet doesn't imbue his bad boy with any redeeming qualities.
The primary purpose for these characters, especially in the first half of the season, is to set up anticipation for their downfalls. Again with the formula—night time soaps have been doing this for years. The trick works, too. I was really happy to see Dean Hess go, and couldn't wait for the moment when Charlotte was busted. Unfortunately, many of these moments are anticlimactic. The bluffing of Taylor Townsend is lame, and Dean Hess deserved a higher profile sendoff.
With these seedy characters come fundamental changes to the show's structure, which also made O.C. fans cringe. The season kicks off with one aftermath and ends with another. If you aren't familiar with a highly publicized spoiler from one of the show's leads about the fate of a major character, I won't ruin it for you…let's just say that Season Three is in many ways a sharp detour from the familiar path that made fans happy. Even so, the show retains its self-aware sense of satire. For example, Seth comes charging into Ryan's room, certain that our brooding hero has fled in an ill-conceived, late-night vanishing act. The camera pans dramatically around Ryan's empty room while a musical crescendo builds. Then Ryan steps out of the bathroom running a towel through his hair, and the gag is revealed.
This boxed set is presented in widescreen anamorphic (despite reviews I've seen to the contrary) with clarity and good contrast. There is twitter every once in awhile, but nothing that detracted from the crisp, glossy feel of the show. The O.C. follows Dawson's Creek's convention of highlighting promising young artists in the soundtrack, but does it less obviously. The sound mix is up to snuff, carrying both music and dialogue clearly with no distortion. The extras package is big, if not deep. The gag reel is the best featurette. Josh Schwartz provides commentary in "Pass the Remote," a somewhat awkward yet interesting format for distilling episode commentary into the good parts. "What's in a Name?" is more to the point, detailing the real-world counterparts to some of the characters in the show. For some reason, the prom episode always seems to get the featurette, and Season Three of The O.C. is no exception: cast, crew, and creator wax poetic about prom and recreating it onscreen. All told, the extras package is glossy, amiable fluff with several funny moments buried here and there.
It may have been a rocky season for fans of the show, and it is certainly formulaic melodrama that won't surprise any veteran of trashy TV. Nonetheless, The O.C.: The Complete Third Season kept me watching throughout, which is all I ask of a TV show. The beautiful people and stunning locations didn't hurt. But nothing can erase the truth that this season was the beginning of the end for The O.C.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "The Party Favor: From Script to Screen" featurette
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