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The O.C.: Season One

Fox's formulaic — but witty — teen drama The O.C. was the breakout hit of the 2003-04 television season, quickly conquering the much coveted 18-30 demographic and even outscoring Emmy favorite "The West Wing" in some head-to-head ratings matchups. Certainly, the show's success was partly attributable to the network's smothering marketing campaign (although a similar, simultaneous campaign did zilch for the prospects of the network's vapid porn-and-politics, Romeo-and-Juliet soap "Skin"), plus The O.C.'s seven-episode summer launch before the start of the fall season enjoyed an "American Idol" lead-in and filled the void left behind by the demise of popular teen series like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek." In many respects, The O.C. does little to distinguish itself beyond the hype: Its storylines are familiar-to-stale, and it falls easily into repetitive traps. When hard-luck juvenile delinquent Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) moves from his broken home in poor-and-rough L.A. enclave Chino to live with the family of his married-rich public defender, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), in swanky Newport, Orange County, the scene is set for the usual clash between stuffy and decadent socialites and earnest working class brawn. The Cohen's geekish (and very funny) teen son Seth (Adam Brody) revels in Ryan's turbulent influence, and while most of the season focuses on Ryan's on-and-off romance with troubled debutante Marissa (Mischa Barton), Seth's ascendant love life steals the series as he juggles the affections of his reluctant boyhood crush object Summer (the surprisingly good Rachel Bilson) and his female doppelganger Anna (the not-always-believable, but appealingly Jane Wiedlin-like Samaire Armstrong). As uninspired as it sounds — and some of the lesser plot threads are much, much more tawdry and clichéd — with edgy Hollywood directors like Doug Liman (Swingers, Go) and McG (Charlie's Angels) producing for creator Josh Schwartz, The O.C. is not only solid in style, but also self-aware enough to playfully twist its conventions. While many of the characters are initially cardboard and cartoonish, The O.C.'s writers (including former "Buffy" scribes Jane Espenson and Drew Z. Greenberg) make little fuss about skewering and demolishing stereotypes as quickly as they can. They've also created one of the most affectionate, least cynical depictions of marriage in current TV drama with Sandy and Kirsten Cohen (the excellent Kelly Rowan). Although the Ryan-Marissa fol-de-rol gets tiresome as it devolves into relentless bad timing (and what is it with that super-gay leather wristband Ryan refuses to discard?), Brody is a real star and keeps the show bright and grounded in its poorest moments, and he even adds unexpected emotional weight during the ballsy downer of a season finale. Most fans of teen dramas should be able to stomach The O.C.'s common failings while eagerly indulging in its abundant sense of humor and lack of easy sentimentality. The ensemble is excellent, with good supporting performances by Chris Carmack, Melinda Clarke, Tate Donovan, and Alan Dale. Warner's The O.C.: The Complete First Season features 27 episodes across seven discs, all in 1.33:1 transfers with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Supplements include an obligatory but unexceptional commentary for the obligatory but unexceptional pilot episode by Schwartz and producer Stephane Savage. Six episodes feature an "on-screen music track guide" on a subtitle track for identifying soundtrack cues. Also included are 10 minutes of unaired scenes (including some good Brody quips) and featurettes on casting the show, "the real O.C.," the series' music, and a Season Two sneak peek. Fold-out digipak with paperboard slip cover.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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