TV Eye

Those Darn Rich Kids

<i>The OC</i>
The OC

When The OC premiered in August of last year, no one knew what to expect. A new drama series launch in August was unheard of, and while serialized dramas about young adults were not new, there had been something of a dry spell when The OC premiered, and as far as some media pundits were concerned, the serialized drama was dead. The OC changed all of that. By tweaking the teen drama, making the language and humor more challenging, the characters appealing to a broader audience – in short, snubbing its nose at convention – The OC went on to be the highest-rated drama of its time period among the coveted 18-34 demographic and, hey, a few of us vintage broads dug it, too.

Next week, The OC returns for a second season, taking a berth during the highly competitive Thursday night lineup. Loyal OC fans aren't worried. But series creator Josh Schwartz isn't taking success lightly.

"Changing the show up," says Schwartz of the challenges in launching the series' second season during a conference call with media writers on Oct. 14, "we've tried to really not just recycle our storylines. ... We've tried to evolve the show, too. There's less spectacle than there was last year. Last year, we really had something to prove, and we wanted to make a big splash and get seen. Now that's happened, and this year we wanted to slow down the storytelling a little bit; dig in with our characters; not drive everything through; a black-tie affair that you knew was going to culminate in a brawl, which I love to do and we'll get to this season, as well. But I think it was really about how can this show mature and evolve and be different from what it was last year, and evolve the characters."

Screening the first two episodes of the new season ("The Distance" and "The Way We Were"), it's clear that Schwartz and crew are pushing their characters and situations in ways that might surprise and challenge fans. The rapid-fire, smart humor and adolescent situations have given way (somewhat) to the sobering, life-changing aftershocks that last season's events wrought. In short, actions have reactions.

As fans know, Ryan's (Austin's own Benjamin McKenzie) decision to be a responsible husband and father to his ex-girlfriend and her unborn child sent a tsunami through his OC family. When the new season begins, Ryan is doing construction work back in Chino, while Theresa (Navi Rawat) gestates. Their union is cordial, but the love they once shared is now a very distant memory.

The Cohen household is a mess, literally and figuratively. Remodeling their house serves as a convenient visual metaphor for the state of the family. Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) is mad at husband Sandy (Peter Gallagher) for not retrieving their runaway son, Seth (Adam Brody). Conveniently separated by sheets of plastic and the wail of power tools, their relationship is strained, and the few meaningful conversations they have, tense.

Angry with his parents for not intervening when Ryan left, the "adorkable" Seth set sail for parts unknown, ditching his girlfriend, Summer (Rachel Bilson), and the OC scene that Ryan made tolerable. By the middle of the first episode, we discover he's found a surprising welcome mat outside OC.

After witnessing her family's meltdown, her mother Julie's (Melinda Clarke) power marriage to Caleb Nichol (Alan Dale), not to mention the departure of the love of her life, Marissa (Mischa Barton) is the least able to cope with all the drama. We learn that Marissa and Summer spent the summer poolside, with Summer chastising Marissa for drinking too much while ogling DJ, (Nicholas Gonzalez) the hunky yard guy.

Several new characters (and a few old ones) will join The OC this season. Chief among them is Michael Cassidy as Zach, who Schwartz describes as "the WASP Seth, aka the anti-Cohen." Other new faces include Shannon Lucio as Lindsay, a new Harbor High student and Olivia Wilde as Alex, "the bad girl who runs the Bait Shop, which is the new club the kids are going to be hanging out at," Schwartz says. "She's our 'Nat' [of Beverly Hills 90210]."

The second season of The OC premieres Thursday, Nov. 4, at 7pm on Fox. The DVD of season one was released Tuesday, as were two soundtracks, including the highly anticipated Have a Very Merry Christmukkah, described as "a holiday album for hipsters," and a second CD, with 25 tunes featured on the series.

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