While the frosh dramedy “Desperate Housewives” is rightfully sucking up a big chunk of the media oxygen these days, the ladies of Wisteria Lane can’t take the credit for reviving (or even reinventing) the primetime sudser. Those bragging rights go to “The OC,” the Josh Schwartz-created hour that last year made a convincing case for the notion that juicy drama, smart dialogue and smartly repackaged versions of old SoCal teen stereotypes can co-exist peacefully in one primetime package. All of those qualities (plus a killer soundtrack) made “The OC” a fave of both critics and auds, and they also ensure the DVD release of the show’s first season feels like much more than just a time capsule for hardcore fans.
Fox’s marketing of the show might have led a casual channel surfer to dismiss “The OC” as yet another sex-obsessed trifle filled with brain-dead hardbodies. But while the show’s pilot certainly had its share of sex, drugs and (indie) rock, Schwartz was clearly not interested in remaking “Beverly Hills, 90210” for Generation Y.
And so whereas sudsers of yore (think “Melrose Place” or “Dallas”) relied heavily on jaw-dropping plot-twists and cleavage to woo auds, Schwartz’s stew features a number of ingredients that give the show a much longer shelf life. Schwartz’s Sorkin-esque rapid-fire dialogue, for example, feels fresh with repeated viewings, in the same way watching an episode of “The Simpsons” for the eighth time can still yield unexpected laughs.
Then there’s the first season’s overarching storylines, which also depart from standard sudser silliness. Series starts with Chino ruffian Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) brooding about his screwed-up family life and seemingly headed for a life of petty crime. Rescued by the rich-but-liberal Cohens of Orange County, he continues brooding for most of the next 27 episodes — but he also evolves from monosyllabic delinquent into a more complex teen character struggling to fit into a completely foreign world. Even more intriguing is the dynamic between Ryan and Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). What starts off as a near remake of “My Bodyguard,” with pugnacious Ryan protecting and tutoring uber-nerd Seth, turns into one of the most nuanced, honest depictions of male friendship since “MASH.”
Brody — along with Rachel Bilson, who plays the seemingly unattainable love of his life — end up stealing the show right out from under the feet of both McKenzie and Mischa Barton (who plays Marissa Cooper).
DVD adds a reasonable number of extras into the mix. A 15-minute featurette about how the show was cast is particularly well-produced and actually looks like some thought went into it.
Schwartz also introduces a handful of deleted scenes, including a very funny Seth-Summer coupling cut in the wake of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl breast incident.
Like many TV on DVD releases, however, season one of “The OC” is woefully slim on audio commentary tracks. It’s also a shame viewers don’t get the chance to hear from any of the cast members. Still, the handsomely packaged first season collection of “The OC” remains a solid record of one of TV’s best freshman seasons in a while — not to mention a great Chrismukkah gift (see episode 13).