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November 1, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | November 1, 2006 |

Previously, on “The O.C.,” things sucked. However, Season 3 did leave on the highest of high notes, with the unintentionally hilarious death of Marissa Cooper (and again I’ll link to this fantastic clip by the folks over at TVgasm). Mischa Barton was absolute dead weight on the show — skinny, untalented dead weight — and her loss is clearly a step in the right direction for the upcoming Season 4.

Now, I’ve only seen the first episode (which you, too, can catch online right here, or tomorrow night at 8 on Fox), so I don’t have any big season spoilers for you. And I’ll try to avoid telling you too much about even tomorrow night’s premiere, which picks up five months after the aforementioned death. But I do have to share these four wonderful little words with you:

Ryan Atwood, Cage Fighter!

ryan-cage.jpgMuch of at least the early part of this season is clearly going to be focused on how some of the Orange County gang deals with the passing of dear Ms. Cooper. And Ryan, for his part, is dealing with it by tending bar at the Thunderdome. Momma Cooper, meanwhile, is back to her friends the pills, and also doing all sorts of house and yard work (and if that’s a side effect of the pills she’s popping, someone please tell me how I can get a prescription for my girlfriend). Summer is off at Brown and apparently dealing with things by diving head-first into the pro-environment circuit. And Marissa’s sister, Kaitlin, appears to be dealing with things by taking advantage of an opportunity to blackmail step-daddy Dr. Roberts.

Now, towards the end of the show, there’s an intervention for Ryan, trying to pull him out of his Mad-Maxian ways. I won’t tell you the precise setup of the intervention, but suffice it to say that it’s really fucking cheesy, and it’s utterly inexplicable that it appears to have more-or-less actually worked. That’s the first warning sign that this season won’t be any better than the last. On the plus side, however, while Ryan appears to be leaving the Thunderdome behind, his new storyline has the potential to keep him in a rather dark and dirty place, at least for a little while. And that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because his character simply works better when he’s dark and moody and punching people. But more importantly, it’s a good thing because Benjamin McKenzie was by-and-far the standout in this episode, and I can only hope for more of the same in the future. In particular, he has a great little scene where he emotes with nothing more than an eye-twitch, and his last line in the episode (and the accompanying delivery), while not death-scene hilarious, is pretty damn funny. So as far as I’m concerned, Ryan is walking a fine line between dark and brooding character, and unintentional comedic genius, and I’m all for keeping him toeing that line. They need to milk McKenzie’s “acting” ability for all its worth.

Meanwhile, Seth appears to have been moved back on the nerd scale, at least temporarily, as he is currently working in a comic book shop and trying to deal with the fact that Summer is moving on in college without him (you’ll recall that he’s not scheduled to join her out in Rhode Island until January). Like the Ryan development, this is a positive change. But this time, I’m not at all being facetious when I say that it’s this type of Seth that lets Adam Brody shine the most. Brody’s got a lot of comedic potential (of the intentional variety), and he was one of the things that made the first season so damn enjoyable. But as the show and seasons progressed, Seth started to move away from the nerdy, trying to be all trendy and hip and overly ironic (and Adam Brody was no doubt becoming somewhat self-enamored). And somewhere along the line, the character simply stopped being any fun. So if they are planning to get back to what really works with his character with the lack of self-confidence, self-deprecation, etc., that would be another step in the right direction for this season.

Of course, not everything in this episode skews towards the positive. For one, there’s this new guy who’s befriended Summer up there at Brown. He’s one of these cliched “thoughtful” hipster types who is trying to save the world (his name is Che, which should tell you all you need). You know these guys — they’re annoying as hell. Well, he’s just as annoying. To be fair, there are certainly plenty of guys like this at college. So maybe I’m just showing my age here, but I’ve already done my time with annoying fucks of his ilk, and don’t really feel the need to do so again. Particularly where the actor doesn’t appear to be adding anything to the mix to make the character appear interesting in the least bit (I know this guy was on “Everwood” and I’m sure someone will claim he’s a fabulous actor, but I’m just going off what I saw here). But, this dude’s apparently signed on for nine episodes, so he’s here to stay. One assumes that he’ll at least be used to further schism the already rocky Summer/Seth relationship and, I suppose if that’s handled properly, it could be another good development for the season.

Another bad sign is the full-time addition of Willa Holland as the mini-Cooper. Again, I applaud the show trying to get back to its roots, and a spoiled and bratty rich-bitch is certainly part of that equation. I just find Holland and her mush-mouth annoying as hell. But again, I guess if they use her well and go the right direction, things could be good. And at least they’ve countered this annoying cast addition by making Autumn Reeser’s Taylor a full-time character. She’s been the highlight of the show for me recently; not just ‘cause she’s cute as hell, which she is, but because her character was the only source of amusement for much of last season. Again, if they continue to use her in the right way, no complaints here.

Ultimately, these past few paragraphs really highlight the problem here, which is that it boils down to a lot of ifs. And based on the direction of the show the last few seasons, it’s hard to put too much faith into the hope that they’ll get these ifs right. Fox apparently had some doubts too, as it backed away from the usual mid-twenties episode order — this season, there will be just 16 episodes. Now, it is worth noting that I’ve seen two different places where reviewers screened the first four episodes and both were very positive. “EW” even claims that it’s close to season-one-form by the end of those four episodes (but I long ago learned to take every “EW” review with several enormous grains of salt). So, ultimately, it’s all a big If. My take on it is this: If you’ve actually stuck with the show this far, it’s probably worth sticking around a little more, since there is potential that this season could be at least kinda’ back on track. But if you’ve already bailed on the show, I don’t know that there’s enough to justify a reinvestment.

And one final complaint. During the episode we got to see Marissa’s tombstone, which reads “Beloved daughter, sister, friend.” Yet another misstep on their part — how could they leave out “bitch, slut, druggie, drunk, bore and whore?” Ah, Marissa Cooper, you are dearly missed.


Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. Inspired by Ryan Atwood, he’s currently in training to make his own cage fighting debut this winter - stay tuned!

Welcome to the Fourth Season, Bitch!

"The O.C." / The TV Whore
November 11, 2006

TV | November 1, 2006 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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