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The OC: Season Three

The third campaign of Fox's hit teen soap The OC confirmed both the strengths and weaknesses of the show's previous seasons, and cemented them into a comfortingly predictable foundation of insipid sensationalist melodrama with jutting flourishes of wry Generation 00 self-deprecation and an ostentatiously hip indie song score. If fans of the first season's brooding, introspective season finale felt jaded by Season Two's hyper-tragic climactic convolutions — involving estranged brothers, a girlfriend, attempted rape, a shooting, alcoholism, a funeral, and rehab — round three pursued more of the same, and with a little more success even if the show's overall edge has worn off. With his brother Trey (Logan Marshall-Green) in a summer-long coma, Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) and girlfriend Marisa (Mischa Barton) approach their senior year sweating their legal options and the threat of possible prison time, until the practical complications of the previous season's dramas are too easily swept away and a new round of tawdry hijinks is set in motion. However, the emotional aftershocks of Season Two wear heavily on all characters throughout the year, and Harbor School's hard-ass new Dean of Discipline (Eric Mabius) adds insult to trauma, forcing Marisa to leave the posh private academy and enroll in public school. Separated from her support group of on-and-off beau Ryan, best friend Summer (Rachel Bilson), and geek-chic wiseass Seth (Adam Brody), the already fragile beauty despondently falls in with a crew of beach bums. Attracted to her new friends' low-pressure lifestyle, and the attentiveness of smitten surf-champ Johnny (Ryan Donowho), Marisa inevitably pulls away from Ryan, and embarks on a whole new path of disaster involving her 15-year-old sister (Willa Holland) and Johnny's former friend/surfing nemesis, slimy badboy Volchok (Cam Gigandet). Meanwhile, Seth's cowardly instincts toward self-sabotage kick into high gear as he and Summer apply for college, with his exasperating tendency to lie and an emergent pot habit burning a hole in his future plans, and Ryan bounces all over the place, habitually miscommunicating with Marisa, hooking up with Johnny's tough cousin (Nikki Reed), applying to UC Berkeley, and even hatching a bizarre plan to spend several months at sea on a fishing barge.

While Season Three of The OC features some woeful misfires — the incessant derailing of the Cohen's (Peter Gallagher and Kelly Rowan) marriage continues to erode the show's appeal, and the early fizzling menace proposed by Kirsten's con-artist rehab-buddy (Jeri Ryan) is an embarrassment to anyone who has ever watched TV — it actually succeeds at a higher rate than its predecessors, despite leaning a little too frequently on the narrative crutch of lamely motivated lies to launch multi-ep story arcs. Amazingly, nearly every new non-core character (Jeri Ryan's excepted) is either well-cast or moderately interesting, reversing the show's dismal record of painful guest antagonists. Melinda Cooper remarkably accomplishes a wild swing from villain to hero as topsy-turvy Newport bitch Julie Cooper, maintaining her reputation as one of the series' most entertaining figures, even while twisting the premises on which her character was first introduced. Dramatically, Season Three keeps things light between its opening and its mid-season plummet into darkness, when Marisa unravels and Ryan struggles to deal his impotent savior instincts, offering both Barton and McKenzie opportunity to present their best acting yet. The show displays no sign of neutering its sharp humor, continuing to deliver sparky, if no longer fresh, material for Brody and Bilson to display their obvious strengths as TV's wittiest dysfunctional young couple. Although it delivers another overwrought finale, Season Three's conclusion is, at the least this time, sensationally substantial, irreversibly altering the series' future — a smart move to shake up a show prone to lapses of short-term memory loss and stale plotting. While far from the kind of revolutionary teen show one senses it could have become with the talent involved, The OC remains, for those caught in its groove, an addicting go-to soap for disposable teen-oriented titillation. Also with regular or guest appearances by Tate Donovan, Rosalind Chao, Autumn Reeser, Jeff Hephner, Michael Nouri, Nikki Griffin, Navi Rawat, and Samaire Armstrong, plus bands The Subways and Cobra Verde.

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Warner Home Video's The OC: The Complete Third Season packs all 25 episodes onto seven discs with 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Also on board are the featurettes "The Making of the Subways Video;" a featurette on the writing and production of the senior prom episode; a featurette on the naming of characters; 20 minutes of commentary by creator Josh Schwarz, along with writers John Stephens and J.J. Philbin, on selected scenes of the episodes "The Pot Stirrer" and "The Undertow;" plus 11-minutes of gags and goofs. Multi-disc digipak with sleeve.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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