It talks! The O.C. proved in its first year that it was one self-aware soap — it even mocked its popularity with a meta-soap, The Valley. So in the second episode of its sophomore season, when Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) jokes, ”I’m going to brood… silently…over here,” the line is both a winking acknowledgment that the writers haven’t given the guy much to say — and a sign Ryan’s going to lighten up and offer more verbiage. So far, he’s definitely less squinty.
The series made other wise changes over summer break — one of them being the Summer break. Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) returns from his Portland sojourn to find his love, Summer (Rachel Bilson), with new beau Zach (Michael Cassidy). The O.C.’s latest bright stroke of counter-programming: Seth’s rival isn’t a bratty Newport jock but an affable fellow comics lover. That means Seth, a kid desperate for like-minded friends, will be forced to hate a guy he likes, or vice versa. The conundrum is likely to yield plenty of endearing streams-of-Cohen rambling, which are right in the wheelhouse of Brody, an incredibly natural actor of (dare I say it?) Hanksian likability. He also has a dash of Woody Allen, a trait underscored by an Annie Hall-esque scene in which Seth clambers onto a hotdog cart in order to re-create the magic moment when he won Summer’s lovin’. Alvy Singer and his lobsters couldn’t have been more hilariously misguided. Misguided would be a kind word for the plotline that disentangled Ryan from his old girlfriend Theresa (Navi Rawat), who may be pregnant with his child back in Chino. The O.C. works because no matter how wild the scenario, its characters react in believable ways. For Theresa to lie to Ryan about losing the baby is ridiculous. For Ryan — who’d been nothing but dogged about his family-man role — to just shrug and move on is simply ludicrous.
As for his other lady friend: We can only hope that the 42,314th Ryan-Marissa breakup sticks. It’ll give Ryan a chance to de-martyrize, and let Marissa (Mischa Barton) finally have that full-on meltdown. It’s about time the girl snipped off her Rapunzel braids and made some noise — her poolside, furniture-trashing scream-out was a good surprise — but it’s unfortunate to have all this potential for arm-flinging drama invested in Barton, an actress who can be as flat as a paper doll.
The same can’t be said for Melinda Clarke, who, as villainess Julie Cooper-Nichol, can turn any line coppery. Witness her reception of her stumbling-drunk older husband, Caleb (Alan Dale): ”Did he have a strooooke?” she snarls, as if such a medical disaster might be comparable to passing gas. But despite all The O.C.’s nastiness, high drama, and clever wordplay, some of the best moments come from Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) and his wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), the two sanest people in Orange County. Gallagher exudes affection and common sense (and really outstanding eyebrows), and as the Cohens hang out with their boys, banter, argue, and just enjoy each other, The O.C. indulges in its deepest irony: This soap may boast the most genuine couple on TV.