The O.C. Season Three
Starring: Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan, Benjamin McKenzie, Mischa Barton, Adam Brody, Melinda Clarke, Rachel Bilson
Series Creator: Josh Schwartz
This series comes out tomorrow on DVD, and no, I didn’t somehow get a pre-release copy of it and devour it in time to write this review. Instead, I’m working off my memories of the most recent season, of which I saw every episode as it aired. I figured I might as well review it now, because A) I remember well how I felt as I watched it, and B) I’ll never be watching this season again.
Wow, did this season suck. Quite possibly the worst season of television that I’ve ever watched all the way through. By its third season, The O.C. went from being a surprisingly fun and even intelligent take on the teenage prime time drama to ridiculous dreck representing everything those who dismissed it without ever seeing it accused it of being.
There are people who will never believe me when I say that the first season of this show was really good, and the second was decent. That’s fine. I think I’ve proven a decent enough critical faculty to say that I’m comfortable with my initial assessment of this series. I’ll say this, the first couple seasons of this show had to have been good to kept me coming back for more of the crap they kept airing in season three.
It was a season of trite, tired storylines that they’d keep serving up, then quickly dropping as they realised how badly they were received. It started right away with Kirsten’s (Kelly Rowan) continued storyline from season two, in rehab dealing with her alcoholism. This introduced guest star Jeri Ryan to the series, in what would be the first of many terribly handled guest stars. This whole storyline, both Kirsten’s time in rehab, and Ryan’s attempts to trick her out of her money, were boring beyond belief, and abruptly ended with no payoff.
Speaking of payoffs, season two ended with a big cliffhanger, with Marissa (Mischa Barton) shooting Ryan’s (Benjamin McKenzie) brother Trey to save Ryan from possibly being beaten to death. After leaving this story dangling all summer long, setting the third season up nicely with a meaty storyline, the show decided to wrap it all up in one episode. The fuck? I guess they had to transition Ryan and Marissa into the red hot storyline of the evil Dean Hess (Eric Mabius), a moustache-twirling villain who made season one’s Oliver look three-dimensional in comparison. It was such a promising storyline that… they dropped it unceremoniously four episodes later. Next.
At least this got us to the fantastic Marissa-goes-to-public-school story! Oh god, did that suck. This introduced us to the Bizarro-world versions of The O.C., including the super-annoying surfer kid Johnny (Ryan Donowho), the new threat to Ryan and Marissa’s terrible, terrible relationship. Johnny may have been the worst new character of the season (quite the feat given that this season also brought us annoying Matt, useless Sadie, dumb-ass Volchek, and fucking Kaitlin), so of course he had to be the one that lasted the longest. Such an utter failure a character and storyline was Johnny, that nearly everyone celebrated upon his [SPOILER ALERT] “tragic” death (which was a portent of things to come). Hell, given how lightly his death was treated in the episode following it, you could tell that not even the writers cared for him.
As bad as any of the guest stars and new characters were (the show even managed to screw up a three episode appearance of Morena Baccarin, which is pretty much unforgivable), none were as bad as Mischa Barton as Marissa Cooper. Sure, Barton was never a talented performer and Marissa was always somewhat annoying, but this season everything got worse. The show made the regrettable decision to make Marissa the feature character, bouncing all the characters off of her and her endless problems. I don’t know what happened there. I’m guessing executives were wooed by the magazine covers Barton was on, and decided to hang their hat on her, instead of season one’s main character, Ryan, or the series’ breakout star Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). And Barton, she of the expressionless acting and pissy attitude, poisoned everything she touched.
Ryan no longer did anything but react to Marissa’s problems. Her friends dedicated their efforts to get her back to Harbour. All the men on the show not named Cohen were apparently in love with her. And it all sucked. It sucked so hard that the creators had little choice but take the character they decided to build around for the season, the supposedly most popular member of their cast, and [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT] had to fucking kill her just to try and convince people to watch their show again next year.
Not that Marissa was the only character they screwed up this season. Seth Cohen, once easily the highlight of the show, became so self-involved this season that you almost hoped he was in the backseat when Marissa died in Volchek’s car attack. Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) went from being the best dad on television, to an inconsiderate husband and father, trapped in a storyline that wasn’t interesting enough to justify the deterioration of his character and the relationship between he and Kirsten. Their relationship, and the Cohen family in general, was one of the true gems of the series, and by the end of the season, they barely even seemed like the liked each other, much less loved each other.
The positives of this season were few and far between, but there were a couple. First and foremost, Rachel Bilson surprisingly distinguished herself as the most reliable member of the cast, exhibiting surprisingly deft comedic timing as Summer, and bringing the goods dramatically with the horribly mismanaged relationship between she and Seth. The other highlight was the one new character that worked: Autumn Reeser as Taylor Townsend. She was a lot fun, managing to inject the series with some of the energy the rest of the cast (save Bilson) abandoned somewhere during the hiatus between seasons.
All of which leads to the obvious question, if I disliked it this much, why’d I keep tuning in? I have no answer. Blind hope, I guess. Hell, the show didn’t even play cool music anymore. I guess I needed to see it through. Which leads to the next question, will I be tuning in to season four? Sad to say, yes I will. But… only because it will be Marissa-free, and with the understanding that the show only has 2-3 episodes to drastically improve in quality before I come to my senses and drop this bad habit for what it is.