Benjamin McKenzie: Art Streiber/FOX
Annie Barrett
November 04, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

”The O.C.”: You can go home again

Where do I start? There was so much to love in the second-season premiere of The O.C.: The gratuitous zoom-ins on the abs of the shirtless workers renovating the Cohen home. Seth’s Krameresque narrow escape from being slammed by the pool-house door. And most of all, Ryan’s transformation from a mute into a three-dimensional character.

The whole episode, in fact, was about characters’ transformations — continuity from last season be damned. First of all, since when is Julie hilarious? Her manipulative banter was always somewhat entertaining, but three LOL moments in one show is unprecedented. It must be the Yogalates. Before deadpanning to Jimmy that their deranged stick-figure daughter Marissa is ”the spawn of Chucky and Keith Moon,” she suggests to new husband Caleb that he is ”either hopped up on blow or something is seriously wrong.” (Who knew the two are mutually exclusive?) Then, offering the kind of insight you can only get from years of being a parent, Julie tells Caleb, ”It’s just not right for a little girl to love a hairless pony.” Apparently Chyna, the first equine accessory of Marissa’s rarely seen little sister, Caitlin, has alopecia. But guess who doesn’t: Jimmy! The previously balding superdad has a new lease on lice with that mangy beard and floppy ‘do. It must be all that ”limber” loving from girlfriend Hailey.

Meanwhile, Portland (”real people, real weather,” as Seth puts it) has apparently brought out the artist in Seth. Suddenly, he’s at work drawing Summer as a giant-headed cartoon superheroine. By the way, good move, Seth, not giving that co-worker, who looked about 13, the time of day — despite Luke’s advice to ”close on” her by the end of summer. Speaking of Luke, it’s hard to keep a straight face while looking at him after Sandy so accurately likened him to ”a big golden retriever.” Or after seeing him say to Ryan while they’re playing a videogame, ”Try and hurt me! Make me feel pain! Wound me.”

Did anyone notice Marissa, Newport Beach’s new town drunk, completely freak out, fake-scream, and hurl lawn furniture into the pool? Just checking. After completely ignoring her mother when she suggests going to an exercise class (?) called Cardio Bar (oh, come on, Mariss: She said ”bar”!), Marissa snaps back to life when Julie snatches away her precious iPod and threatens to ground her. But instead of saying something like, ”Those songs are all so on my computer anyway; plus, I’m tanked, so I don’t care, and by the way, I hate you,” she just starts screeching. It was painful. Poor Marissa. How are we supposed to know something’s wrong unless you enunciate? (Maybe she just felt like sticking around the pool in case her stepfather’s sexy young gardener returned.)

But Ryan’s the one who’s really undergone a lifestyle change. His pregnant girlfriend, Theresa, peels his sack-lunch oranges for him, which sooo embarrasses him at his construction job. Then Theresa’s mother persuades her to tell Ryan that the pregnancy was terminated. ”It’s the best, for you and the baby,” the mother says. What? To not have Ryan there? Because it’s so easy to find good husband material when you’re 17 and preggers?

At least this gives Ryan the chance to be a semi-normal teenager back in Newport Beach. Suddenly, he’s countering our season 1 suspicion that he was toothless by flashing the biggest grin of his life after hugging Kirsten hello. He even speaks to Seth in complete sentences laced with a few casual mans. Welcome back to the O.C., Ryan. Toss back a Newport Beach iced tea and join in the melodrama. But please lose the mullet.

What do you think? Will we see any more of Luke? Who is this Zach guy that Summer keeps mentioning? And considering the success of Desperate Housewives, is Fox too late with the hot-teenage-gardener angle?

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