One Tree Hill lies somewhere near ''Dawson's Creek'' but in a zip code with exceedingly lower SAT scores. So you can imagine our chagrin when we found ourselves watching it. Religiously. Turns out, we haven't had a pleasure this guilty since ''Melrose Place.'' Pity, then, that ''OTH'' is based on a premise so silly that it makes Kimberly blowing up the apartment complex seem highbrow. Tree Hill is an isolated hamlet, and by ''isolated'' we mean that if one of its denizens got an STD, they'd all need penicillin. The main grist for the gossip mill is Dan Scott (Paul Johansson), the father to basketball stars Nathan (James Lafferty) -- the Bad Son, on whom he violently dotes -- and Lucas (Chad Michael Murray), the Good Son, whose mother, Karen (Moira Kelly), Dan dated in high school, got pregnant, and abandoned. For reasons known only to WB programming executives, Karen chose to raise her son in the same tiny town where the deadbeat dad who'll barely acknowledge him lives. There's also a dervish of supporting characters: slutty Brooke (Sophia Bush); Nathan's tutor/girlfriend, Haley (Bethany Joy Lenz); and cheerleader Peyton (MTV VJ Hilarie Burton). Their relationships change so quickly you'd need a spreadsheet to keep up (you've no doubt seen their ''tangled web'' ads). As Brooke put it to Peyton, ''I think Nathan likes Tutor Girl, but I think Tutor Girl likes Lucas. And I know I like Lucas, and I don't know who the hell you like anymore.''
There's nothing inherently bad about contrived plots and interchangeable kissing partners; we're prurient enough to enjoy watching teenagers change crushes four times in three months. We giggle when people go to parties hosted by their mortal enemies, then struggle to behave themselves. If they want to be masochists, we're happy to play the sadists. The problem is ''One Tree Hill'' doesn't always find the line between silly fun and total inanity. Take, for example, the two episodes in which Lucas suddenly took up with Slutty Girl, started drinking, got a tattoo, and cheated on her. It doesn't even look right on paper. Even worse is the show's freakish, Disney-level obsession with orphans. Any time order threatens to reign, the writers ship out the parents -- to Italy, a boating accident, whatever. We're still not certain Tutor Girl even has a mom and dad.
Look, we're not asking for much. Just a little balance. We know ''One Tree Hill'' has to stay slightly bubbleheaded to survive -- because if Dan's baby mama moved away or one of the boys opted for military school or, God forbid, people learned how to use birth control, the entire show would fall apart. Which goes a long way toward explaining why ''OTH'''s ads look like these kids are holding on for their lives. They are.