..

THE O. C.
Season One

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan, Benjamin McKenzie, Mischa Barton, Adam Brody, Chris Charmack, Melinda Clarke, Rachel Bilson
Directors:  Various
Studio:  Warner Home Video
Picture:  Color Full screen
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Features:  See review
Length:  Seven discs, 1186 minutes, 27 episodes
Release Date: October 26, 2004

"My father, the struggling Jew from the Bronx... and my mother, Waspy McWasp."

Shows ***1/2

Here is one series which I did not want to watch.  I expected it to be a bad imitation of 90210, which was groundbreaking and fun for several seasons, then just repeated itself for years.  In fact, almost every new prime time soap has failed since their heyday in the 1980's.  I expected this one to be be even worse than expected.

"Gentiles. I love your mother more than words, but not funny. Get yourself some funnier friends."

Okay, I was wrong.  Creator Josh Schwartz claims to have never even seen 90210 and actually stays away from the whole standard soap milieu.  The show develops organically, actually allowing characters to be real human beings.  While some of the plot lines are common to any drama, the characters are unique.  There is plenty of comic relief, mainly from Peter Gallagher's portrayal of Sandy Cohen, the runaway from Brooklyn who became a legal advocate for teens and others in trouble.  His son Seth is to me the whole reason to watch the show.  He is the ultimate nerd---comics, good student, no athletic ability, smart-talks his way in and out of trouble, and of course has a lifelong crush on a pretty girl who does not even know he is alive.   Adam Brody actually ad-libs much of his dialogue, and is so funny in his earnestness that I actually feel like I am back in school hanging with him, wondering how to approach the girls. 

"Open your mind here, dad. This isn't me we're talking about. With Ryan here, we have a chance to have a real athlete in the family. Someone to achieve all that your Jewishness has prevented me from accomplishing."

They say every story has one of two plots: a stranger comes to town, or the group takes a journey.  In this case, the stranger in town is Ryan, a troubled teen Sandy takes under his wing when his family leaves town.  Ryan continues to get into trouble although usually it is when he defends Seth or other friends.  Eventually, Seth sees him as the friend and brother he never had, and his family comes to adore him as well.  While Ryan starts the series off as a James Dean clone, he grows with every episode, as do the people around him.  The ultimate nerd revenge moment was definitely when Seth goes from having no girlfriends to having two, and his father Sandy just can't be prouder.  Since Seth loves comics, Anna actually writes and draws one for him, while Summer dresses up as Wonder Woman, complete with golden lasso!  Oh, what will Seth do?  When Seth settles on Summer and they go to bed, they actually injure themselves!!!  

"Just because you're leaving doesn't mean I'm letting you go."

Personally I can't watch movies or TV if I don't like most of the characters, and in this show's curious ability to be dramatic without taking itself too seriously, I like everyone.  Whereas other teen dramas were totally unrealistic and needed cheap gags for laughs, this show demonstrates people laughing at their own situations, many of which we have all faced.  The Cohens seem like fish out of water, with their genuineness amid their wealth.  Sandy's quest for justice, Ryan's search for stability, Kirsten's quest for normalcy of any kind in home and career, and Seth's creative kookiness in trying to reconcile cool with nerdy, Judaism with WASPism (Chrismukkah, anyone?) are all easy to relate to in their humanity.  The above quote, from the parting of Sandy and Ryan, was so real and human it was hard to believe the characters were not even related.

"Drinking, crying, cops, well it must be Christmas."

Episode List:  1) Pilot, 2) The Model Home, 3) The Gamble, 4) The Debut, 5) The Outsider, 6) The Girlfriend, 7) The Escape, 8) The Rescue, 9) The Heights, 10) The Perfect Couple, 12) The Secret, 13) The Best Chrismukkah Ever, 14) The Countdown, 15) The Third Wheel, 16) The Links, 17) The Rivals, 18) The Truth, 19) The Heartbreak, 20) The Telenovela, 21) The Goodbye Girl, 22) The L.A., 23) The Nana, 24) The Proposal, 25) The Shower, 26) The Strip, 27) The Ties That Bind.

"He's a consultant."
"Could you be please be a little more vague?"
"He knows people."
"You did it! That was more vague."

Video ***

Most TV shows look better on DVD, but something is wrong with this one.  While the colors are all fine, there is a pronounced rippling in the picture.  Someone needs to do a better transfer, since the original broadcasts were better than this.  An unfortunate problem which is really only noticeable on big TV's or from viewing up close.

Audio **

The stereo soundtrack is mostly dialogue-oriented, without a lot of dynamic range, but serves the scope of the show well enough.

Features ***1/2

The O.C. Unseen: Unaired Scenes; Commentary on Pilot by Creator/Producer Josh Schwartz and Supervising Producer Stephanie Savage; Casting the O.C. With Josh Schwartz and casting director Patrick Rush; Inside the Real O.C. with Executive Producer McG; The Music of the O.C. with music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas; Season 2 Sneak Peek with josh and the Stars; On-Screen Music-Track Guide for select episodes; DVD-Rom weblink to the O/C/ Online Music Sampler.

Nothing incredible but the interviews with cast and writers are interesting.  The deleted scenes are brief but do cast more light on the episodes from which they were taken.  The challenge of casting a big show like this one is also explored.  The preview of Season Two has been played ad nauseum on Fox already.

Summary:

With more action and drama in the inaugural season than many series pack into an entire run (27 episodes), this surprisingly good show from Fox manages to keep WB from claiming the crown for teen TV once again.  Other than the barely serviceable picture transfer to DVD, and excellent product in every way.