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?

Hardly.

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.

-Drew

Questions, comments?
dukedevils9192@gmail.com

4 Comments:

At 4:38 AM, Blogger Rodrigo said...

I loved Seth/Summer/Taylor in the last episode. Taylor NEEDS to be a regular caracther.

Marissa is SO stupid. Im glad she finally realized all of the things her friends were doing for her but still.

And the end of the episode was very nice. The senior year photo and the 5 of them (yes, i include Taylor) just being goofy was great, it really got to me

i loved your review, Drew, like always... Is there a way that we could sing a petition to make Taylor a regular?... I dont want her off my screen!

 
At 6:43 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6:45 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

Drew, once again you hit the nail on the head. I was so excited for the new episode only to find myself screaming at my television "Just kill yourself now" at the pathetic Johnny.

I can only say that I have never seen Marissa more selfish, more bitchy, and more ungrateful than this episode. Not only were her boyfriend and two best friends trying to help her, but so was Kirsten Sandy Julie and Neil. Not to mention Taylor and Dr. Kim! And she is going to not go for JOHNNY???? You are right these writers don't get it!

If they wanted Johnney to remain a character so bad they should of have him and chili HELPING her get back into Harbor because THATS what friends do. Then they could all hang out at the bait shop and the pier and be merry! My best friend in the world moved when I was in third grade. She moved about 10 minutes away and it just so happened to be in a different school district (99% of us attend public school up here in Pittsburgh) - now I was completely devestated. But guess what? 15 years later and she is still my best friend...JOhnny didn't need her at NU to be her friend.

All that being said Taylor was brilliant - I love her she should be a regular - Johnny RUINS this show. And for once FOR FREAKING ONCE could Marissa admit to being wrong and apologize to her boyfriend. God I am so sick of her "don't be mad" and then him "uh im sorry" Stick a fork in these two already. Can't wait till next week!!!

O and GO STEELERS!!!!

 
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