Monday, January 30, 2006

The Pot Stirrer

“The Pot Stirrer”

Leave it to this show.

After my spiel in the last review about how I wasn’t interested in the show anymore, how the characters were flat and very much uninteresting as people, and how I had no real interest in writing about the show at the moment, Josh and co. somehow manage to completely reinvigorate the show with “The Pot Stirrer.”

Yes, I thought this was a great episode. It started off as just good, but as the days have passed, I have realized that it was more than that. This was truly a wonderful episode. Maybe it doesn’t quite compare when next to some of season one’s best episodes, but it doesn’t matter because I thought this was a great episode. It’s not like this year’s Chrismukkah episode where I enjoyed it because I was in the holiday spirit. This was actually good in every sense of the word. And what did it take? Nothing difficult. It just took what fans of the show have known since the first season: well-balanced storylines that focus on more than one character, storylines that show actual growth. It didn’t take fans long to figure out that’s what we wanted, and it didn’t take us long to voice our opinion about it, but it seemed to confuse the hell out of the writers. I’m not saying that Josh and co. have everything figured out because next week – what looks as if it’ll be the best episode ever – could go right back to the doldrums of teen soap hell, but I’m so extremely happy with this episode that I won’t look that far ahead. I’ll just focus on the now.

This episode was mostly Seth-centered as opposed to self-centered (guess which “self” I mean) the last few weeks, and despite the fact that we haven’t seen much Seth since, well, last season, this entire storyline played out beautifully due to the fact that Seth’s feelings are completely real and relatable. The Seth we’ve always known has been the one who wanted to run away from Newport, who wanted to go to boarding school, who wanted to wear winter clothes, and who wanted to be someone other than who he is. This is completely logical to me because the majority of his life, he was a complete outsider. Why he was one, I don’t know. He’s a good looking guy, he’s funny, he’s got a rich and powerful family, and he’s smart, but I suppose that sometimes, people can be threatening with how much they have going for them. I think that most of the audience sees what I see: his life isn’t that bad. But consider the fact that Seth is 17. He has only had two-three good years in his life. That’s means that a huge chunk of his life was spent being miserable. And while most of us go through our teen angst period where life seems miserable, it generally isn’t as bad as we make it out to be. For Seth, I really think it was. The evidence was definitely in the Chrismukkah video. Even when Seth suddenly had friends and girls fighting over him, it was easy for him to believe that things still sucked because he didn’t face the prospect of change. Now with the ultimate change looming over head, he realizes that what he has pretty good. Before now, he hasn’t been forced to really look at his life. He just assumed that nothing has changed. It’s an easy mistake to make. But things have changed. He’s not necessarily accepted by everyone – something that made his shopping for a girlfriend in the yearbook so cringe inducing – but he’s got a small, devoted group of friends. Even Marissa, in her own way, supports him, kind of. And considering their parents were best friends and apparently, the two of them weren’t close, the fact that they hang out now is very evident of how far Seth has come. I think that having that small group of friends, in many ways, is far superior to having the Luke-type popularity. This small support system is far less likely to crumble.

As for Seth actually smoking pot, I don’t think it could have been handled any more perfectly. Not only was there a distinct lack of “after school” feel to it (although as I type this an commercial, the one with the guy who smoked pot putting his fist in his mouth, is on and that’s definitely preachy), but Adam Brody didn’t overdo the performance. He absolutely nailed it. He was completely quirky and funny but not annoying. He was exactly what you’d expect from Seth Cohen on drugs. It reminded me a lot of the way he acted when he was drunk in the pilot. He was just completely and wonderfully weird. The most refreshing aspect of the entire plot was the fact that it gave us a lot of Seth and Ryan interaction, something really lacking from the show in recent episodes. Even more refreshing than the fact that they interacted was the fact that they interacted the way that teenage guys do. Ryan didn’t come into the room and lecture Seth on the horrors of drugs (although Ryan cracking an egg in a sizzling pan and telling Seth, “This is your brain on drugs” would have been so funny that I can’t even think about how many sides would have split), but he simply asked, “Are you high?” and said that he was bothered that Seth would do it alone. He didn’t see the pot smoking as a big deal or a cry for help, but he saw the fact that Seth is alone as a cry for help. That’s the wonderful distinction the writers made here. Ben McKenzie also played a terrific straight man to Brody’s high character. The way he delivered his lines, the small looks on his face, and the pure exasperation that he exuded were completely believe. How difficult it must be to live with Seth. And I checked my bookshelf, and sadly, I don’t have the Encyclopedia Brown book that Seth mentioned. Was it a real one?

From a future druggie to a drug dealer, I have to say that I really like Kaitlin Cooper in spite of the misleading promos. There is still time, I suppose, for Kaitlin to turn into a Valerie Malone bitch, but I highly doubt she will in such a short time, and I think that’s for the best. The previews made her look completely one-dimensional, but she’s far from it. In fact, she’s a very complex character. Just like with Seth, you can easily relate to her. She’s been completely scorned by her family. Julie, someone who incorrectly claims to be such a terrific family woman, just forgets her birthday. I suppose that’s better than forgetting to invite Kaitlin to Chrismukkah the last several years, but still, it’s not good. So Kaitlin’s decision to play devil’s advocate, as opposed to the devil, is perfectly in character. She has every right to be angry. She has every right to be upset. She mentioned that it was difficult to be Marissa’s sister. I’d imagine it is too since Marissa gets everything given to her while Kaitlin can’t get any attention. And the fact that she’s back to get a bit of revenge on Marissa allows her to be the voice of reason in a group of characters that has otherwise lacked reason lately. I think it’s pretty obvious that Ryan knows there’s something up between Johnny and Marissa, but it’s even more obvious that he’s not willing to face it. And since no one was willing to bring it up, he could safely place it behind him. Now, he can’t. The previews show that he’s mad at Marissa, and hopefully this will signal the end of their relationship. I know I clamored for the relationships to stay steady, but when this is the storyline we get, I don’t want it. I won’t discuss Johnny any further this week because everyone knows how I feel about him, though I have to say that when he called Kaitlin instead of Marissa and Marissa looked like she was passing a kidney stone in response, I really laughed. It’s about time she realized people don’t all love her.

And while Marissa’s realization that people don’t always love her is funny and welcomed, it’s far less welcomed to see the same thing happen to Julie. Of course, it’s not bad in the storyline because it’s clear that neither she nor Neil would actually be capable of keeping a relationship right now. It doesn’t undermine what came before it, and I don’t believe that it’ll undermine what, if anything, comes later. It’s just a natural progression. It’s clear that Julie has never been able to get her feet under her after her first divorce. She’s always relied on others to help her, and she really hasn’t faced any of the problems that she needs to face. She’s not a complete person, honestly. Terrific, yes, but complete, no. That too is very reasonable. And Kaitlin’s return really puts that in perspective. Julie seemed fascinated with prospect of starting a new life and a new family with Neil, but she hasn’t even fixed the problems in her current family. You can’t move forward on a shaky foundation. It just doesn’t work at all. It’ll collapse. So again, Kaitlin plays the voice of reason, a perfect role for her character. I felt the key was a wonderful symbol in this episode. It stood for opportunity, for hope, and for a new beginning. When Neil told Julie to leave it in the house, she looked absolutely crushed, and I was too. It wasn’t an overt breakup, but it was obvious what he was saying. I believe that their relationship still has unbelievable potential and that the writers see this, so I’m hoping to God that they continue to pursue and continue to pursue it slowly with both characters attempting to figure themselves out before they figure each other out. If this works, then I’ll forgive everyone for Jimmy’s departure and the poor way it was handled twice. The show definitely needs another consistent adult figure, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be Neil Roberts. He is absolutely terrific in this role.

Speaking of adults, wasn’t it just unbelievably wonderful to see Sandy have a storyline that was all his own? For once, he wasn’t sitting around and solving the kids’ problems, throwing around a few clichés disguised as fatherly advice. There was no ridiculous moral spiel like at Marissa’s hearing. This was Sandy acting as a human. Sandy flirting with moral corruption was the storyline that was screaming at the writers when they decided to put Sandy in charge of the Newport Group. Why it has taken so long for them to pull the trigger is beyond me, but I’m glad they finally did it. I believe that we all had some sort of idealized vision of Sandy coming out the first season. Truthfully, was there a more perfect dad on television or even in reality? I love my dad and all, and many of you love your dads, but Sandy seemed to even eclipse them at times. He knew what to say, he was never overbearing, he was goofy, and most importantly, he was fatherly. It all added up perfectly. His scene with Seth about sex still ranks as one of the most perfect scenes ever on the show, mixing love, awkwardness, and realism. But no one’s perfect. The writers attempted to show us this with the Rebecca storyline last season, but that failed ultimately because it made the mistake of messing with family and doing so irrationally by having Sandy completely disregard his wife’s feelings. It was just too much for fans to handle because we knew Sandy was such a loving and aware husband. And the storyline played for too long. It often made Sandy look like a bumbling idiot instead of a caring ex-boyfriend. That was certainly not the writers’ intention, but it’s what happened because the writers were careless. This storyline, about the business, is somewhat reminiscent in the fact that what we know about Sandy is being tested. He has always done the right thing, or, at least, most of the time. And now, in a way, he’s doing the right thing. He wants to build a hospital to help people. That’s pretty cool, huh? But he’s doing it the wrong way. His ethics are skewed, but his intentions are good. This raises a very interesting question: if the other bidder was going to build a hospital, should Sandy have just let it go? After all, the same thing would have happened, right? Now, it’s not quite that simple since the Newport Group needs the business to make money. But if that’s what Sandy’s intention is, then is he after creating a hospital or is he after money? And if he’s after money, does that mean that greed is getting the better of him? He’s obviously aware of the fact that he’s doing something wrong, and he’s obviously not okay with it, but he doesn’t necessarily have the strength, at the moment, to turn it down. I have no doubt that somehow Sandy’s chivalrous side will prevail because that’s what happens for Sandy, but for now, it’s extremely interesting. And the line that absolutely sold this story, the one that was such a huge slap in the face: “Caleb would be proud.” Ouch, Sanford. Ouch. It’s also nice to see business enter back into the story because it helps us remember that these adults are adults, and there problems extend far beyond Marissa Cooper’s latest trial and tribulation.

Random Thoughts…

If it’s true that Kelly Rowan is filming a movie, she needs to end quickly. I’m sick of seeing her relegated to little more than useless. Since when can she cook, by the way? I thought she was trying, but I didn’t know that she was so good that Julie would use her for that purpose.

Kaitlin in a swimsuit is seriously jailbait.

How cute was Summer’s angry face? She had a small role in the episode but a nice one. I like her spiel about ending up with the wrong life. Not that she couldn’t just transfer to her life, but it’s a nice moral lesson in an episode that was mostly about amoral actions.

People say that Mischa’s acting ability seems to have improved. I say that her, “NO!” in the kitchen was proof enough that it hasn’t.

Next week’s previews look absolutely unbelievable. If Johnny falls, and I do believe that he will since this storyline bombed from the beginning and the writers can’t be stupid enough not to realize it, then the world will be great. Remember that suicide is never good unless you’re a dipshit surfer with no emotional range and the brains to rob a gas station to pay for a surgery. How great will it be if he falls to his death? And how great will it be if Ryan pushes him? Oh man, that’d be fantastic. Not so fantastic was that I told a friend how much I wanted Johnny to kill himself before remembering she had a family member commit suicide not long ago. Watch what you say, people. Think before you speak.

John Stephens, someone who I don’t remember being that great of a writer, churned out a terrific script this week. I heard he was part of something huge on Gilmore Girls once, so at least he has credentials. He hasn’t impressed me until now. This was genuinely wonderful to listen to. And the actors were so much more inspired with a good script.

And so yeah, that’s going to do it. This actually was shorter in the past, but I believe that I said more than I have recently. Far less sarcasm and far more analysis, but really, you can think the writers for that, not me. Just a terrific effort from a team that looked as if they were burned out. Whether or not the show can keep this pace up is debatable, but as it stands, this was the best episode the season. They did everything write.

Question, comments, but no spoilers?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Sister Act

So yeah, it’s Tuesday afternoon, around 3:20, and I’m just now sitting down to write this review. I’ve had a lot going on trying to finish my course work for January term (I wrote a paper and presented a project on South Park’s “The Passion of the Jew” so it wasn’t too bad), but truthfully, I’ve really just been disinterested. I’ve been dreading writing this review because I knew that meant that I’d have to actually go back and think about it. And as much as I enjoy watching The O.C., I don’t enjoy rehashing it anymore because frankly, it’s bad right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked this past episode overall, but there’s just something inherently bad right now, and it’s going to remain that way until Johnny is gone and the show stops focusing so much on Marissa or one of the many guest stars that come and go. Ryan, Seth, Summer, Kirsten, and Sandy are tertiary characters now. They aren’t main characters, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just kidding themselves. They are playing second-fiddle to Marissa and the characters that infiltrate her lives. I’m going to excuse Julie here because she’s had a fairly large storyline lately, one that has developed her, and although she’s involved with Marissa and what could turn into a huge Kaitlin mess, she’s handled the role very well.

I started reading through my old reviews, the ones from last season namely, to see how I’d changed my writing style, to see what had worked, what hadn’t, etc. What I noticed was that in the primitive days of these rants/reviews/editorials, I looked at the characters as people, for the most part. Occasionally, I stepped out and commented on the actors, and I almost always mentioned the writers, but I felt that these characters were actual people, and I could actually get in their minds. Whether the storylines last season were any good – and I’m just speaking of the final episodes of the season because I didn’t write until “The Rainy Day Women” – was up for much debate, but I think that many were emotionally gripping and handled very well. Kirsten/Carter, for example, was a completely logical step from an otherwise atrocious Sandy/Rebecca fling, and the alcoholism that resulted was understandable after the year she’d had. But now, the show isn’t about the characters’ and their flaws, but it’s about the writers and their flaws. Clearly, character flaws are interesting; writer flaws are not. When a character has an imperfection, we want to learn more about them, we want to see how they overcome it or succumb to it. When a writer has an imperfection, the characters become incredibly imperfect, and there’s a tremendous difference between having imperfections and being incredibly imperfect. Ryan, a generally good guy, has genuinely troubling rage issues that he can’t overcome. That’s an imperfection. Marissa makes the same mistakes over and over, doesn’t care who she hurts, and completely isolates herself for the sake of vanity. You may be thinking, “Oh, but Drew, we’re all imperfect,” and you’re right. We are. But we strive to fix those things, and that, for me, is a perfect desire. Marissa doesn’t attempt to change, or better yet, the writers don’t attempt to change her. They rehash the same gimmick every year and hope that we won’t notice despite the fact the show prided itself on attracting smarter fans with smarter writing. It’s not a complete 180 yet, but it’s around 110.

I say all this not to say that I’m retiring from writing about this show because I’m not. The reviews will continue to come though they may not appear passionate as they once did, and they may not be as long as they once were because there just isn’t as much to write about. Now, this could all change soon. There was a point last year where we all felt the same way, though then it was more of a frustration than a sense of disgust (and at least each character was focused on while the side characters were mostly on the side; you could argue that Lindsay went against that grain, but I wouldn’t because I think it’s very weak), and that changed. Maybe this will too. We can only hope so.

So, as I stated, I thought this was a good episode. It, of course, was drug down by the ridiculousness that is Johnny Harper, but what can we do?

Let’s start with the obvious most important thing in this episode: the reintroduction of Kaitlin Cooper. Willa Holland, despite a strange speech problem that comes from trying to cover her almost native accent (she wasn’t born in London, nor has she lived there all her life, but she did live there as a child, and to be fair, she’s no worse than Mischa), was fairly convincing in the role. She’s gorgeous jailbait, and I’d be shocked if she doesn’t get stalked by at least twenty old men now that she’s in the public eye. Regardless, though, I don’t particularly like how this storyline played out for several reasons and not just because it ended with her and Johnny on the beach. But first, if she knew that her mom was broke, then why did she assume that she’d find her at Caleb’s place? This, of course, could be a swerve, whereas she stole the money for herself, discovered that her mom was broke, and then made up the lie. If that’s the case, and it’s the writers’ idea for a swerve, then I’m not sure I like that. See, if she’s lying, then they resolved this story too quickly. And I honestly believe that this episode’s storyline is resolved because I don’t have much faith in the writers anymore to have this become an episodic arc. I think the money was stolen, and that’s that. They should return to the idea of Kaitlin having a stalker, but I’m just not sure. I hope I can eat my words, though, because I think there is definite potential there. It would give us a reason to care about Kaitlin, and it would be a great insight into what she’s gone through in boarding school. If it turns out that she’s telling the truth, then this whole bad girl angle is killed already. It’s fine if several episodes down the road, we see Kaitlin unfold and show a glimpse of her humanity, but if they really want to take this bad girl angle anywhere, there was no need for her to show any glimpse of remorse. Apparently, the casting call requested that she be more of a Lolita character, just a sexy fourteen year old, but if that’s the case, then the writers shouldn’t have allowed Fox to act is if she’s the next Valerie Malone. There’s an easy way to promote sex, and anyone with any sensibilities on the production team could have made that call to Fox.

As for Johnny and Marissa, I don’t remember much of what they did, other than completely spitting on the great storyline they had last week where Johnny freaking leaves the show. You know, the writers send someone beloved like Anna off, and we don’t hear from her again (not yet at least), but they send someone like Johnny off, have it look definitive, and then bring him right back despite the fact the story is completely limping to its death. Actually, it’s more like limping after death, and not in the way that Jesus rose from the grave and walked around, but in the way that zombies in bad b-movies do. We’re all going to die if we can’t avoid it. Putting Johnny and Kaitlin together builds absolutely no tensions since no one actually cares about Johnny and Marissa together, and thus, no one cares if this causes problems between Kaitlin and Marissa especially since Kaitlin has to go back to school soon anyway (probably, assuming she wasn’t thrown out of school; it’s a nice idea to have Kaitlin a thief just like her father, but having her thrown out of school to create some bond between her and Marissa would be absolutely stupid). There was a moment, at the beginning of this storyline, where it was completely possible for us to care about Marissa and Johnny – it was definitely a bad plot device from the beginning, but it really took off down the drain when they tried to run the “Johnny gets me” angle instead of just having it seem that Marissa’s inner turmoil over shooting her boyfriend’s brother was getting to her, and she needed a change – but that moment, so very brief, is gone. I’m sure that we’ll get plenty of wonderful Johnny/Kaitlin/Marissa angsty moments tomorrow night (yes, it is now Wednesday), so everyone who’s excited please jump up and down.

Of course, as those moments unfold, I’m sure we’ll see Ryan sit around like a douche and do nothing because that’s what he does now. He does nothing. Sure, he fought Kaitlin’s battle for her, but that was because he had nothing better to do. Do he and Marissa have sex anymore? Plus, Ryan’s got this bizarre superhero complex that they’ve injected into his character rather than furthering his development from the great “The Anger Management” earlier this season. I’ve been learning a lot about Christ figures in film lately, and I’m starting to think that Ryan is one. In film, most Christ figures are somewhat awkward and don’t handle social situations well. Despite the fact that he was very outgoing last year, he’s regressed to this point again. Further, whenever someone is down, Ryan zooms in to redeem them, act mature, and then go back to brooding. Perhaps the writers have intentionally done this. They’re trying to make a religious statement. Wow, I suppose there is method in madness. Never mind the fact that Ryan really shouldn’t care about Kaitlin’s problems, nor should he put up with Marissa’s crap anymore, but he continues to because he’s useless now. It’s funny how when the show focused on Ryan, it was consistently good, and the farther it’s gotten away from him, the more it sucks. Wait, that’s not funny, that’s sad. It took bringing in Trey last year and shifting the focus back to Ryan in order to redeem season two after love triangles and lesbians ruined it. It’s not a coincidence. Ryan is a fabulous character when handled correctly. But having him solve the Cooper problems, while not dealing with his own, isn’t working. The beginning of the season had the best scene ever on the show, Ryan putting his head on Sandy’s shoulder in sadness. That should have been the beginning of emotional exploration and a stronger bond with Sandy and Kirsten through familial drama. But it hasn’t come anywhere near that. Kudos to Ryan for addressing Chili as “Bizarro Seth,” and a middle finger to Marissa for not realizing it was Ryan saying, “Get the hell away from that stupid school,” by the way.

But not all hope is lost on the show, though it’s certainly relegated to only a handful of screen minutes. Julie and Neil is the best written love story on this show so far. I don’t mean that they are as good of a couple as Seth and Summer, but the writing has been excellent because the writers took time to develop emotional complications for the two of them. Thus, everything made sense when they were together because it seemed like a case of neediness that led to chemistry. It was a completely logical, unforced storyline. Perhaps it was a bit contrived given that it is Summer’s dad and Marissa’s mom, but I’ll accept it because these two absolutely ooze chemistry. As someone recently said about Ted and Robin on the awesome How I Met Your Mother, these two have something so potent that you could bottle it and sell it. They’re just fun to watch on the screen. I am shocked that such a heavily medicated step-monster could have already left the house, though. Regardless, I thought the insertion of Veronica into the storyline was nice because she clearly has an agenda, and this was definitely a good way to get through it, plus it allows her to gold dig just a bit. Sports agent or not, you can always use the money of a plastic surgeon. It is a little creepy that she wants to date him after he’s change her boobs, but I guess it means that there’ll be no awkwardness. If he doesn’t like him, he could only blame himself. Anyway, a lot of people were angry that Julie compared Veronica dating Neil to the Gulf Coast. I’m not sure if people were angry at Julie or at the writers, but clearly, this is a problem with Julie. This line was perfectly in character, so the writing was not flawed at all. Julie, despite glimpses of humanity in the past and a huge chunk of humanity emerging this year, is very self-involved and always will be. It’s not something that she can overcome because it’s clearly deeply rooted in who she is. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be disrespectful coming from Julie, but to her, she can reasonably equate the two things. And here’s to hoping that Julie and Veronica have a catfight or two or three or fifteen. There is a lot to explore with Veronica versus Julie. Trust me.

And it’s not just Veronica bringing the hot awesomeness to the show, but it’s her daughter, too. Taylor, who is just so incredibly excited to have friends, is part pathetic, part hilarious, and overall incredibly endearing. A lot of people are upset with the way that Seth and Summer are treating Taylor, especially since it’s clear the person they consider their real friend, Marissa, is a self-righteous bitch. And that’s true. She is a horrible, horrible person. But I don’t think that Seth and Summer are treating Taylor too badly. I think they tolerate her as best they can, but she’s so incredibly clingy, clearly starving for attention, that it’d be damned near impossible not to feel somewhat detached. They aren’t bad people, they’re just human. Granted, they’d probably be able to handle more if they would cut ties with Marissa, but that’s not going to happen. This story was a bit thin, though it was extremely funny. Seth’s obsession with genital warts is a bit disturbing, but it’s definitely a good plan. Go Google Image that and see what comes up. And I loved the idea that voting for Kerry would be enough of a turnoff; that’s a deliciously O.C. idea as it’s a complete satire on the community. I voted for Kerry, actually, so maybe that’s why I can’t get a date. Sadly, it looks like Neil/Veronica is off, and while that’s good for me as a Julie/Neil fan, it sucks for everyone who loved Taylor running around trying to choose a bedroom. Ah, teenagers are so full of life.

As for Sandy and Kirsten, well, they had one big scene together where they discussed Marissa. Then Sandy was funny when he agreed that Veronica was a “ho bag.” And then Kirsten told everyone to drink. Yeah, what a useless pair these two have become. From the moral core of Newport, the hilarious and loving couple, to the strained family who worked to come back together, they have always been enjoyable. They aren’t now.

And that’s going to do it this week, finally. It took a while, and now I’m tired. You’ll notice that the end of the review really slacked off, but that’s okay because if Schwartz can do it, then so can I.

I’ll be back next time and I’ll reintroduce the random thoughts section and hopefully I’ll something very good to say.


Questions, comments?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Quick Notes

For this of you coming by Sunday or Monday to check this, sorry. The full review won't be up until Monday night at the latest. I'd bet more on early Wednesday afternoon, actually. Finishing up January term with a project this weekend and so I'm strapped for time.

Quick thoughts, though:

- Good episode with a solid script that I laughed at.
- Still a terrible lack of Kirsten/Sandy moments, and a complete lack of Kirsten/Sandy moments where they talk about themselves.
- Willa Holland looks like Mischa Barton, is about ten times the actress she is, but needs to work some on the voice as she struggles to hide her accent.
- The fact that Johnny's still going strong in the episodes is a terrible, terrible thing. He was in the last scene of the episode which shows exactly where this show's priorities lie.
- I loved all the Seth/Summer/Taylor moments, particularly the moments where Taylor was incredibly over the top. The moment she crashes, it'll be scary and great television.
- Julie/Neil is easily the best love story the writers have crafted. They aren't necessarily the best couple, but it's the best told story, slow to unfold and beautifully written. These two have excellent chemistry, so I'm hoping he sticks around.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Safe Harbor

Welcome back, folks. I hope that everyone had a lovely winter break and that you’ve already dropped a pound or two of the New Year’s Resolution fifteen that you’ve vowed to lose. It’s been a while since we’ve had an episode of The O.C., and despite what I thought was a solid Chrismukkah effort, many fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths in the aftermath, so Josh and company needed to deliver something big coming out of winter break.

So after weeks of being bombarded by Kaitlin Cooper previews, the show came back on – without Kaitlin, a terrible promotional move – with what the producers called an homage to the classic “Donna Martin Graduates!” episode of Beverly Hills, 90210.

Would this episode succeed in wiping that bitter taste from fans’ mouths? Was this going to be the episode that we could liken to “The Rainy Day Women,” the episode where everything suddenly turns around?


That’s not to say that this was a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, there was a lot of good in the script. Autumn Reeser returned as Taylor, a terrific move on the writers’ part as fans have absolutely fallen in love with her, Seth had some nice lines, Summer was perfectly fine, a welcomed relationship between Neil and Julie seems in the works, and Ryan finally told Johnny off.

Of course, Johnny leads to everything that was wrong with this episode. This episode was Johnny-centric. Many people are disagreeing, saying it was Marissa-centric, and that’s fine, but consider the fact that every decision Marissa made hinged on Johnny, and you’ve got an episode that completely ignores most of the cast in lieu of allowing Ryan Donowho to pout. The fact that the writers chose to ignore most of the cast, almost completely excising Kelly Rowan from the cast, shows that the writers have absolutely no grasp on what the fans want. I understand these episodes were planned and written long before we all decided we hated Johnny, but didn’t the writers hear any of the fans complaints last year? We hated the fact that so many guest characters came and gone, we hated the fact that the characters weren’t growing, and we hated the fact that everything was predictable. So instead of taking that into consideration, the writers just threw the same stuff back at us, wrapped the package a little differently, and hoped we’d play with it this year. Not quite.

It’s going to be a little difficult to break the characters down this week because the episode was primarily about Marissa, so I’m going to go in straight essay form, hitting the highs and lows of the week. I’ll begin discussing everything else, then we’ll get to the meat—the salmonella infested meat—of the episode.

Starting with the miniscule in this episode, I have to say that I enjoyed the small scenes between Kirsten and Sandy, even though “small” is an understatement. Then again, any time these two are on camera together is an improvement over what we’ve gotten in the last few episodes, even the last year. Rarely, if ever, do these two get a chance to shine, and it’s a crying shame because they have incredibly chemistry, and their banter feels effortless, as if they’re really talking. So when their conversation turned to mustard, it felt so much like a season one episode. The loving couple sitting and just having a moment of innocent time before something big came down.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite big, per se. At least, not big in the sense that all of Caleb’s trials were big in season one. This was more just convenient. It just so happens that the man who can make the decision about Marissa actually hates Sandy because he argued against him. Can a judge really try to have you disbarred and throw you in jail after only one appearance in front of him? I don’t know much about law, so this is a genuine question. It seems like a lot. And this of course led to a scene that I’m not quite sure about. On the one hand, it was wonderful to see Sandy keep his moral compass pointed due north. On the other hand, Sandy spoke such a contrived speech that these writers have proven they really aren’t good at writing. It tried to be social commentary about teenagers in society, but it ultimately failed. Sandy continued to be the good guy when he revealed he knew where the judge’s son was, but as great as it was to see that he was indeed the moral superior, it was a bit saccharine, and it clearly didn’t justify the bombshell that Matt—who seemed worthwhile in this episode—seemed to want to drop. I also think the writers failed by having this “case” so cut and dry. This was a perfect opportunity for Sandy to have the courtroom scene that he never had in seasons one or two. I understand the logic, kind of, behind Ryan informing the judge of how wrong he was, but I think it would have been far more interesting to see Sandy do it. He’s sly, he’s witty, and apparently, he’s pretty good. Huge drop there, for sure. Still, though, I mostly enjoyed everything Sandy did in this episode even if it wasn’t perfectly executed from a writing standpoint.

And it certainly was better than the nothing that Kirsten got. I recognize that she had a huge storyline last season, one of the biggest and probably the best written storylines ever on the show, but that doesn’t mean they should completely drop her. Heck, sweeps was written with Marissa in mind last year, and the writers are still planning everything around her. And I’m not talking about sticking Kirsten in with some strange con woman, and I’m definitely not talking about the dating service, an idea that the writers don’t seem to care much about. I believe it’s set to take off in the near future, but it’s being treated as something so insignificant now that it’ll be difficult to care about it when it really comes to the forefront. Kelly Rowan is such a magnificent actress in this role, so I would love to see her find something. How about bring Amanda Righetti back and play some angle with Caleb? There’s got to be something the writers can do.

But it looks like Julie Cooper-Nichol may soon add another hyphen to her name, and I’m all for it. She and Neil have terrific chemistry together, and it’s a refreshing change from the doldrums of wooden Johnny and wooden Marissa. Some people might wonder why it’s okay to bring in Neil, out of nowhere practically, and thrust him into the storyline while it’s not okay to bring in someone like Johnny, and the answer is very simple: Neil fits. I’m not just talking about his acting ability, but I’m talking about the fact that he has a connection to the group. He’s not just someone who was put in the storyline for the sake of drama. True, maybe that’s the only reason Josh put him there, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels as if he’s there to advance Summer’s character and to give Julie someone she can honestly relate to. It’s pretty amazing seeing a slow-burn romance on the show since we rarely get that. I suppose that it’s not actually slow-burn, and I suppose that it’s not technically a romance, but it doesn’t feel as if they’ve been rushed together. And it’s wonderful to see Julie enter into this relationship, or this period of “crushing,” so to speak, without the obvious gold digging overtones. And yeah, if I don’t say it enough, I have to remind you just how awesome the chemistry between these two is. If nothing else, we’ll get Julie Cooper-Nichol-Roberts and that freaking rules! Oh yeah, who else loves the comments to an off-screen Gus? They’re cliché for sure, but they’re still funny. I guess it’s this show’s answer to its newest competitor: My Name is Earl, the funniest damn sitcom I’ve seen in years.

And what’s a mention of Neil without mention of Summer? Well, it’s nothing really because Summer wasn’t that interesting this week. That’s not to say I didn’t love her because I did. She was wonderful, and she was a terrific friend to the ever ungrateful Marissa. But who overshadowed her? Was it the terrific Seth? No, not quite, although he was actually fantastic tonight with classic lines about preppy genitals, a punch line straight from Seth vs. the water polo team in the first season. But even he was outshined by a guest star, a special kind of guest star that the writers seem to appreciate far less than they should. This guest star, of course, was Autumn Reeser as Taylor Townsend. So what makes her such a great character aside from the terrific chemistry she has with both Seth and Summer? Well, let’s run down some of the things that she did in this episode: she mentioned her Boxing Day party; she told Seth she’d have sex with him with tube socks, wax, and the new Fiona Apple CD; she protested ferociously; she curled up like a dog in the face of her mother; she responded strongly to her mother; she looked redeemed through standing up to her mother; and she showed immense vulnerability even in something as simple as asking for a ride home. Look at the range of emotion shown there. That’s a lot for one character to go through in one show, and if someone else had done it, we probably would have all cringed. But did anyone even bat an eye at the fact that this character did all this in one episode? Nope. Instead, the praise for Taylor has been nearly unanimous. We’ve watched her emotions unfold one episode at a time before they all came together here, and the introduction of her mother was a perfect way to offer an explanation of why she is the way she is. And she and her mom are just incredibly hot. So there’s a plus. Josh, here’s your new character. Here’s someone you can add to the cast without any kind of backlash. The fans want more of her. Listen to the pleas. And whatever you do, don’t suddenly make her an angel. Make her a regular. I hate that I just wrote all that without too much of a mention of Seth and Summer, but that’s just how incredible Taylor is. And c’mon, who wasn’t hoping for just a little bit of Seth and Taylor sex?

And from Taylor, the world’s greatest guest star, to Johnny, the bane of my existence, and the single most vile television character to ever grace a television screen. Yes, he’s that bad. He has absolutely destroyed this show’s momentum. Not only is Ryan Donowho a terrible actor who couldn’t portray himself accurately in a documentary, he’s paired with the weakest actor on the show, Mischa Barton. Together, they fail miserably, giving off no sparks, no tension, no chemistry, and no validity to any type of possible triangle. I could probably survive if this only took up maybe fifteen minutes of the entire show. It’d still be terrible, but at least it wouldn’t be pervasive. Unfortunately, this relationship took up the entire show. Notice how everything centered around Marissa—Sandy’s case, Taylor and her mom’s arguments, Seth and Summer’s protests, and Ryan’s everything. But it wasn’t just that Marissa was in the middle of everything, it was that every decision she made hinged on Johnny. So yeah, this was Johnny-centric. This episode’s plot depended on Johnny. The relationship between Johnny and Marissa continues to be a puzzling one. Marissa tells Johnny that she doesn’t like him, so he invites her to a party to celebrate how great he is at surfing (and isn’t amazing that he had major knee surgery and he’s walking fine?), and she stupidly says yes even though his intentions are crystal clear. Then, after Marissa’s friends rally around her and sacrifice their time and effort, she decides that maybe she doesn’t want to come back because Johnny might be lonely. Yes, because Johnny, who has gone to that school for four years, has no friends aside from Chili and Marissa, Marissa will stay in public school. What an ungrateful, selfish bitch this character is. Even when everything worked out for her, she didn’t seem that excited. When she told Ryan that she only left because Johnny was “going back on tour,” she said it sarcastically, and Ryan responded accordingly, but I don’t understand that line of thinking because it was clear that she was telling the truth. She came back to be with her boyfriend because her idiotic friend Johnny was going to surf. Remember how I pimped Taylor’s plethora of emotions? Well, I’ll do the exact opposite her. What a disgraceful acting and writing job. Johnny has one emotion: woeful. He mopes and whines and complains. And that’s all.

But you know, that’s not even the worst part of this storyline. The worst part of this storyline is the way it is absolutely decimating Ryan. There was a time when Ryan helped Marissa just as much as she helped him. Ryan was actually a complex character and, at times this season he has been one as we ll. But now he’s a lapdog. He does what Marissa wants. He fights a lame battle for her knowing that she doesn’t respect him. She continuously puts their relationship in jeopardy, but she doesn’t care. And the writers have Ryan just stand there and take it. There was an incredible scene in this episode, the scene where Ryan comes and verbally slaps the whiney Johnny who sits on his bed nearly crying. That’s what Ryan needed to do. But after Johnny lies—which wasn’t exactly a noble gesture since it’s what he should have done all along (nice try trying to get the fans to feel sympathy for the dick, but it’s not going to happen)—Ryan goes and has a nice makeup session with him. Aw. Or not. What a terrible scene. It reminds me of my least favorite scene ever in an episode, one that I’ve mentioned many times: Marissa gets Lindsay drunk, Ryan yells at her, and then apologizes even though he made very good points. There was no justifiable reason in either scenario for Ryan to be whipped like that. It’s a shame to because as this show continues to castrate Ryan, it continues to get farther and farther from its roots and continues to diminish in quality. Ryan has a big storyline coming up, or at least a bigger one, from what I gather, so maybe that’ll be something. But right now, it’s going to take him punching Marissa—yes, I just typed that—to redeem himself completely.

Oh, and can I say that no one signing the petition to let Marissa back in was absolutely hilarious? Ha, even the people on screen hate this moron. They probably see what a self-centered bitch she can be.

Now, as you all know, I’m a 90210 fan from way back. I started watching the show when I was around six years old, something that I’m equally proud of and embarrassed about. So when I heard this episode was an homage to a classic 90210 episode, I was thrilled. I rummaged through my tapes and found out that I had taped this particular 90210 episode from its first airing in 1993. Only half of the episode remained, but still, I was thrilled to know I had it. Then, I found the entire episode I had taped in syndication. After “The Safe Harbor,” I popped in my tape to get a feel for how The O.C. did in paying tribute to its early 90s counterpart.

I have to tell you that Josh and company failed in comparison. Why do I say that? Is it because I’m a television snob? Well, that could be some of it, but it’s because 90210 just did it better. For those of you unfamiliar with the episode, I believe it’s called “Something in the Air,” and it took place one week before the third season finale, high school graduation. The previous episode was the senior prom, and in it, the school board passed a zero tolerance policy on drinking. Anyone caught drunk at prom would be subject to expulsion. Tori Spelling’s Donna gets caught, of course, after having a lot of champagne, and is promptly disciplined. When Donna faces the school board in “Something in the Air,” she loses her case and is expelled and told she won’t graduate with the rest of the class of 1993. So Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestly), after some heckling from juniors on the school newspaper staff, decides to organize a protest so that the class will be remembered for something. He, along with the rest of the gang, plan a walk-out during finals. When the bell rings for finals to begin, the entire junior and senior classes get up, walk out, and chant, “Donna Martin graduates!” all the way to the school board where Donna and her family are appealing the ruling. Of course, she’s let back in and all is well.

So why is that a better episode, you ask? It sounds campy after all. Well, it was. This was television at its corniest. But look at what it did better, things that Josh could learn from. This 90210 episode took place at the end of the season, a tumultuous one to be sure. There was a distinct possibility that Donna could lose her appeal and not have enough time to fight it before graduation. With Marissa, you knew she was getting back in, and even if she didn’t, she had plenty of time to fight it. On 90210, the gang rallied around her friend who embraced the support. This episode was about Donna and about how much the gang cared about her. This wasn’t like Marissa acting too good for help, allowing someone else to call the shots. The gang of West Beverly didn’t rely on guest stars (aside from the juniors on staff who agreed to get the junior class to help if the seniors would help get the impending dress code dropped, a decision that was probably producer political opinion), they relied on themselves. Everything centered on this group of friends. The episode also wasn’t just about getting Donna to graduate, but it was also a statement about how students should exercise their abilities, how they should fight for what they believe in, and how people can join together and make a difference. It sounds preachy, and maybe it kind of was, but the episode has lingered in pop culture. Further, there was a reason that Donna should graduate. It had been well established that she had overcome a learning disability to become an academic success story, she’d overcome her parents’ problems, and she’d remained true to her morals. This was a girl who deserved to succeed. The idea that Marissa was some kind of model student before the shooting is laughable. What about the pills, the alcoholism, the psychos? Do those things actually constitute a model citizen? Not quite. Not even close. The Board of Trustees would be smart to dismiss her based on those things alone. But they didn’t. I admit that Marissa’s expulsion was unfair, but I don’t think that anyone should have actually felt sorry for her. She brings way too much on herself.

Don’t get me wrong, there were good things about this episode. I enjoyed the script when Johnny wasn’t there. I enjoyed the dialogue, the banter, and I loved a lot of the acting. I loved that this show had one major focus and wasn’t just filler until the next episode. I loved that Taylor and her mother were brought back, I loved that Seth and Summer had a few moments together, and I loved that Kirsten and Sandy were together. But a majority of the episode was dedicated to the wrong duo. I have yet to meet anyone who is even remotely interested in this storyline with Johnny and Marissa. There was a glimmer of hope at the end as it seemed like Johnny could be gone forever. But he’s back next week in all his glory. And I hear that in a few episodes, Marissa admits how she feels about Johnny. Whether she hates him or not I don’t know and I don’t want to know (I HATE SPOILERS), but I don’t expect to be hanging off of my seat in anticipation. What a waste.

Next week, Kaitlin returns. Can she do something good? Maybe so, but I think we’re getting another Cooper/Harper rehash. Fun, fun, fun. Oh well, maybe she brought some money home to help pay for Marissa’s tuition (Julie said she’s saving money for a house, but what exactly has she done to earn the money?). And what about her own tuition? Do boarding schools have scholarships?

That’ll do it for this week. Hope you didn’t mind the experimental form. I certainly enjoyed writing in it, so maybe it’ll pop back up sometime again.

Quick note to readers at OC Trailers, I really appreciate the comments you left. Very insightful, and I tried to respond, but apparently, I can’t respond because none of my comments posted. But know that I did read and appreciate it.

I’ll see you in seven.


Questions, comments?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Mid-Season Three Report

Whether you're reading it before or after the second half of the season starts, um, well, read it! Let me know what you agree with, disagree with, etc.