TV Eye

Pale imitations

<i>North Shore</i>
North Shore

After several weeks of holding my tongue, I've just got to vent. I miss The OC. Now, didn't I tell you a year ago that this show, which launched under the radar, would be a hit? Didn't I? Didn't I? And since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, three new series have tried to re-create the OC magic with lame results: North Shore, Summerland, and The Mountain. A pristine beach location cannot do the work of strong stories and interesting characters, yet that's what North Shore tries to get away with (as does The Mountain, except in snow). Summerland tries to bank on the adults/parents "getting real" with their kids in a Party of Five approach (Lori Loughlin plays the alpha mom). Unlike The OC, which handles this approach effortlessly, Summerland flops like a soggy swimsuit.

With that, my OC-pining friends, here are my reasons why The OC rocks and why the rest should walk.

Rich Man, Poor Man: Ryan (Austin's own Benjamin McKenzie) lands in Orange County from the wrong side of the tracks and falls for the lovely rich girl next door, Marissa (Mischa Barton). Yeah, McKenzie is as clean-cut as they come, and Barton is the weak link in the show, but that's not the point. The point is that love across class is a great source of tension. Trying to re-create that mojo are North Shore's Jason (Kristoffer Polaha) and Nicole (Brooke Burns), former lovers who find themselves working at the same Hawaiian resort. She's the rich girl from a hotel empire-owning family. He's the guy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and wonders why, of all the Hawaiian luxury hotels, she shows up at his. Then Nicole reveals she's engaged. Wow. Didn't see that coming. Did I mention that they have zero sexual chemistry?

Bitch-kitty Summer (Rachel Bilson): She had me at "Chino? Ew?" It's great fun to watch Summer sometimes tumble over her self-inflicted snarkiness. But the queen bitch of the show is Melinda Clarke's Midge-doll-eyed Julie Cooper-Nichol. She's from the wrong side of the tracks, too, and will scratch your eyes out if you even think about taking all that she's slept her way to the top for. What makes both Summer and Julie palatable is that they're not just bitchy, they're vulnerable, too.

Love, exciting and new: A soap isn't a soap if someone isn't getting busy. Who can forget the episode where Summer and Seth finally canoodled? Teen sex is usually portrayed as something magical when in reality, the first time is often memorable for all the wrong reasons. It was sex education with a twist: honesty. And it was on a prime-time soap.

People come and go so quickly here: The entrances and exits of key characters (buh bye, Anna – sniff, sniff – and Luke) kept the show fresh. Set in vacation resorts, both North Shore and The Mountain have a convenient way to bring new faces. The problem is, the guests leave while the regular cast of boring characters stays. In other words, that creepy Oliver (Taylor Handley) from The OC would improve either show.

It's funny: What I hate about most soaps is that they take themselves so darn seriously. Not so with The OC. This is a show that's not afraid to poke fun at itself, as in the episode when McKenzie's Ryan sneers at a 30-year-old on a prime-time soap trying to play a teenager ("Who does he think he's fooling?"). As McKenzie is a decade past 17, well, you get the gist, right?

Father knows best: TV Guide recently ran an article titled "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time." The OC's Peter Gallagher (as Sandy Cohen) came in 25th, after Tony Danza (Who's the Boss) and Tim Allen (Home Improvement). On my list, he would have been in the top five. What Gallagher and Kelly Rowan (as wife Kirsten) bring to the show are real parents with their own dilemmas and foibles. They're not perfect like the Cleavers, but they're not clueless in the 90210 tradition. And Sandy Cohen surfs. How cool is that?

And finally, the top reason why The OC rocks and the rest should walk: Seth Cohen. No one banters like that loveable dweeb, played by Adam Brody. He brings heart to the dorky smart guy and humor to the underdog, and The OC is better for it. And who else but Brody could pull off a crazy, lame-assed idea like Chrismukah? Gotta love him.

North Shore airs Mondays at 7pm on Fox. Summerland airs Mondays at 8pm on the WB. The Mountain premieres on the WB this fall. The OC can't return soon enough.

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The O.C., North Shore, Summerland, The Mountain, Adam Brody, Benjamin McKenzie, Mischa Barton, Kristoffer Polaha, Brooke Burns, Rachel Bilson, Melinda Clarke, Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan

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