Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Season Three Preview

Welcome back to the reviews, bitch!

Hard to believe a whole summer has gone by, but it has. Almost, at least. The third season is still a week or so away (depending on when I finish this thing), but it’s amazing to think the wait is almost over. Last season, it was a six month wait that nearly killed every fan of the show, so this is a big improvement.

So for those new to my reviews, let me explain who I am. My name’s Drew and I’m a 19 year old college student. I take this show way too seriously, write excruciatingly long analyses about the show, and I do it week-in and week-out because I enjoy people thinking I’m an expert on the show and my ego’s big enough to believe that people should care about what I think. I’m also suffering from what I believe is the on-set of carpal tunnel syndrome, but a throbbing pain and a hand disfiguration won’t stop me as we approach this pivotal third season.

Why’s the third season pivotal, you ask? Because it’s the first season that the show has to be perfect. The first season has to be really good to attract an audience and get renewed for a second season. The second season is a time for experimentation (and The O.C. sure as hell experimented last year) and a time to find out what works and what doesn’t. With the third season, the guesswork is over. You’ve played with the fans, you’ve tested them, you’ve seen what they like and what they don’t, and you’ve had time to get it right. The fair-weather fans are gone and the real fans have stayed. You have to make it worth their while.

And that brings us here.

A few days ago, there was a message thread on asking why the second season failed. Talk about a loaded question. But let’s try to answer it.

Underdeveloped Supporting Characters…

I remember sitting and watching the season two previews and seeing a shot of DJ. Tan, muscular, good-looking guy with a hose in his hand because wet is sexy and the phallic symbolism hits you over the head. And I knew that he was a bad idea. I just didn’t know how bad. But it wasn’t so much that they cast a man only for his sex appeal. It was the fact that he had no character. Was he a good guy, bad guy, confused guy? Did he care about Marissa? Was he rich or poor? Did Marissa care about him? Just absolutely terrible.

Lindsay and Alex, the two most impressive new characters, shook things up and then died a slow, painful death. Lindsay was dedicated, something that other characters hadn’t been, but she kept enough of the anti-rich scorn to make us fall for her. And the Caleb story was brilliantly crafted. But after Caleb revealed his error in judgment, Lindsay completely deteriorated. Every episode was a break-up with Ryan (I’m not even sure then they would get together). She went from sensible to whining. When exactly did she decide that Caleb was worth caring about? When did she decide that she hated her mom enough to move in with Caleb? Unfortunately, by the time they made her reasonable again, it was just in time for her to leave. As far as Alex, we’ll get to her more in a few minutes.

Zach was the only character to stick around the entire season (minus the finale) and I’m still not sure what to think. I liked him initially considering he was written a nice guy. Nothing more, nothing less. He was just nice. And that’s fine. He didn’t bother me. But he took up the space that could belong to someone with, I don’t know, a personality. If you’re a writer and you’re going to invest twenty-plus episodes into a person, you better make sure the audience wants to do the same. But why should we have wanted to with Zach? One of the biggest problems with Zach was that he was painted as a bad guy, eventually, when, in reality, he wasn’t. Seth was conniving, willing to backstab and betray someone who really had done nothing wrong. Then Summer leaves Zach at the airport and he’s completely understanding about it. So in order to make sure the audience knows who to root for, they bastardize Zach for a few episodes before suddenly making him okay again. It just doesn’t add up. Zach won’t be back this year and that’s too bad—there was a lot of undiscovered potential.

Who are These People?

Sandy almost cheats? Sandy leaves his wife in such a depression that she becomes an alcoholic? Sandy almost throws away his entire marriage for a girl he claims to have no feelings for?

Ryan doesn’t fight? Ryan tries school, works hard, and then forgets about working hard?

Seth becomes too self-absorbed to even recognize anyone else exists? Seth becomes less funny and more obnoxious? Seth’s a jerk?

Summer’s indecisive to the point of being a bitch? Summer’s mean? Summer’s shrill?

Caleb has a heart and cares about Lindsay? Caleb suddenly makes fun of Ryan at every turn?

Marissa’s a lesbian?

Yeah, that pretty much covers it. If you don’t get it from that, then you shouldn’t even bother watching the show.

I Kissed a Girl…

If ever a storyline on this show was butchered, it was this one: Marissa and Alex. Josh claimed it wasn’t a publicity stunt despite the fact it aired at one of the most important television times of the year: February sweeps. He claimed it was about Marissa finding someone to care about. Why then did the story end with the realization that it was all just to make her mom mad? Why did Alex go from caring, understanding, and pretty cool to a bitch (though the fight with Ryan was badass)? It didn’t make sense. It was horribly done. And the kiss that we were all excited about turned out to be nothing. Once they finally just stopped trying to make us believe we should care and turned them into sexual deviants, the story was fine. By then, though, it was too late to salvage. Alex, we hardly knew ye.

But not all was lost on the second season. Bringing Trey into the mix proved to be a catalyst for a strong run of episodes down the stretch, but it was barely enough to salvage the season because they were forced to make Trey’s turn from lost brother to miscreant a very quick one.

I had no problems with making Trey a bad guy because it seemed perfectly in-line to me. It was extremely Shakespearean in the sense that it could be seen as based on familial jealousy (look no further than King Lear) and it was never actually shown that he was a good guy. Most of the first few episodes revolved around Ryan’s reaction to Trey, not Trey in general. But I don’t know if turning Trey so quickly was a good idea. They had to, I understand that (Trey’s shooting was a season-ending event and trying to drag him out throughout the third season would have been too much), but it was another case of the show doing too much too soon. After all, that’s what put the show in the situation it was in. The first season was jam-packed thanks to the fact that FOX ordered twenty-seven episodes, so the second season had nothing left.

Well, maybe a little.

Aside from Trey’s death, the season succeeded with its bookends revolving around Caleb. First it was Caleb’s legal troubles and finally Caleb’s death. It was a risky move to kill Caleb, though it provided a tremendous shock for the fans and also opened up many possibilities. Julie will definitely sort through Caleb’s money this season and Newport Beach will be forced to deal with finding a new owner (notice I said Newport Beach, not the Newport Group because remember, the Group owns the Beach more-or-less). Kirsten will struggle to fit back into a world she spends a lot of times hating and she’ll have to do it sorting through the issues she had with Caleb (whether those will be addressed explicitly I can’t say, but they’ll always be looming over her head).

And can I just say that Kelly Rowan was amazing last year? While I didn’t like her weight loss, she conveyed a troubled soul perfectly. Her problems went beyond alcoholism and into familial and societal as well. She looked the part and her anger felt real. That’s all you can ask for. Then again, after the Rebecca debacle (I don’t even want to cover that in detail), I think most of us diehard fans wanted to turn to the bottle for at least a night.

This year’s love had better last

Heaven knows it’s high time… - David Gray, “This Year’s Love”

I don’t know if any song lyrics accurately capture what the show needs to do this season better than that David Gray tune. After all, one of the biggest flaws with the show was their reliance on the love triangle. They were all fine in the first season but they all ended so definitely. Seth declared his love on a shopping cart, Marissa chose Ryan over Luke and Oliver, Julie chose Caleb over Jimmy (not so much a triangle but it was there), Kirsten chose Sandy over Jimmy, Sandy chose Kirsten over Rachel, etc. You can see where I’m going with this. And that was fine and fun.

But then suddenly DJ, Zach, Alex, Lindsay, Rebecca, and Carter made their way to Newport and the triangles were brought back up and the core relationships of the show—Seth/Summer, Ryan/Marissa, and Sandy/Kirsten—were torn apart but with no real intrigue. Josh says he didn’t want to “WB it” and have the core group just change partners, but he may want to rethink that philosophy. After all, the reason the Pacey and Joey love story revitalized Dawson’s Creek was because they had long-term potential. Neither of the characters were going to be written off so it wasn’t as if we were just waiting for the ball to drop. Same can be said for 90210 and the Brenda/Dylan/Kelly triangle. They were main characters and they weren’t around just for triangular purposes.

Now I know that keeping the couples together provides for a lot less romantic drama, so, to that end, I have to ask why we always need romantic drama. The introduction of the new Taylor character, set to go head-to-head with Summer, should allow for conflict without a romance (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Seth fall for her or Summer think Seth is falling for her and thus they break up despite Josh saying they will be together for most of the season). I don’t see why we can’t see Summer and Marissa catfight like normal girls or even have tensions rise between Seth and Ryan. A lot can come from it if the writers would get their heads out of their 9th grade geometry class.

But love triangles aren’t the only problems that might plague the show because after two years of being juniors, this is senior year and barring these four suddenly smartening up and realizing they can live off their parents’ money forever, they need to go to college.

And college is tricky. Very few shows can handle it. Sitcoms can because stretching believability is much easier on sitcoms. But dramas, no matter how melodramatic, need to take a semblance of reality. It’s fun to keep the core group together in college but it’s a huge logic leap and it doesn’t allow your characters to grow because they have to stay in such a familiar environment.

So how do they handle it? Address it early. Don’t make it an afterthought in episode twenty-four, but begin explaining viable college options early on. Tell what colleges are nearby, who can get in where, etc. And explain why the kids want to go there. Even if it’s just convenience for the writers, make sure it’s more than that for the characters.

The prospect of college does allow for something good in the fact that they can introduce a plethora of new characters to mingle with the foursome and when they disappear next season, it won’t be something ridiculous like shipping them off to random cities as they’ve done in the past. That luxury isn’t there for the adults, but it’s one problem out the door.

And so that’s all I’ve got for now. If I were a spoiler kind of guy, I might have more to add, but since I’m not I’d rather just wait it out. In summation, I say that we should focus on the couples as couples and build from that. That’s my wish for the season. Is it too hard to do? Maybe, but maybe Josh will give it a shot.

Oh, before I forget, I read a story the other day about a guy on a newsgroup getting a job on The X-Files after a producer read his critique of an episode. If Josh Schwartz is reading this, I WANT A JOB. Hey, it’s worth a shot.

These reviews will probably come out on Saturdays this year as opposed to Fridays last year. Every effort will be made to get them done as early as possible but I’m covering high school sports for the local paper this year and that’ll cause some timing problems and will often lead to a postponement. But they’ll come. Don’t worry. I’ll never let you down.

As usual, you can contact me at or, this year, if you wish, you can head over to my blog at and post under the comments section. I ask that you always refrain from posting future spoilers but feel free to discuss the episode, the review, or both.

I’ll see you next week in the aftermath of premiere (pun very much intended).