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The OC

Plotlines and character development sidle up to melodrama, but fortunately never quite go over the top in Fox's latest teen soap "The OC." Superficial as it may be, the series pilot does a solid job introducing its characters and their predicaments, and provides a rare example of a series in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Plotlines and character development sidle up to melodrama, but fortunately never quite go over the top in Fox’s latest teen soap “The OC.” Superficial as it all may be, the series pilot does a solid job introducing its characters and their predicaments, and provides a rare example of a series in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While there’s not much original or unique here, “The OC” is catchy and potentially addictive.

“The OC” looks like some landlocked Midwesterner’s dream vision of Southern California — enormous beachfront houses, beautiful high schoolers who look old enough to be college grads and moms who appear to be recent college graduates. Everybody’s wealthy, driving SUVs, riding horses or going surfing. It’s a dreamland untethered to reality.

Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) is a troubled high schooler who gets an escort to the proper side of the tracks from Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), a public defender assigned to Ryan after he gets busted for stealing a car and then kicked out of the house by his drunken mom.

Sandy has what appears to be a relatively close relationship with his own son, Seth (Adam Brody), one of those born-at-the-wrong-time kids who cherishes relics of earlier eras — ’70s punk rock, Jack Kerouac novels. His parents, of course, don’t recognize how isolated he is from his peers. Yet once Ryan is in the house, the parents are pleased to see Seth become more gregarious.

As the “adopted” bad boy — quiet, humorless and a bit testy — Ryan attracts the attention of the gorgeous girl next door, Marissa (Mischa Barton). She, naturally, is friends with muscle-bound jocks who don’t like anybody new. It should come as no surprise that, like “Valley Girl” or “10 Things I Hate About You” or any other teen pic that pivots on the cost of popularity, Marissa isn’t all that happy in the nonstop party atmosphere of “The OC” A-listers.

On top of the confrontations and the new kid’s legal and family troubles, there’s a sense that family life in this paradise isn’t as serene as it seems.

Mom’s angle is money. Sandy Cohen’s wife Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) comes from wealth and keeps it coming in via real estate megadeals. She’s the cold one in the household; not only does she want Ryan out, she seems to have tighter bond with neighbor Jimmy Cooper (Tate Donovan) than with Sandy or Seth.

Director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) has McKenzie convey his character’s inner turmoil with a lot of sullen looks; however, his actions (particularly in the second episode) show that he’s big-hearted underneath all that brooding.

Gallagher and Brody provide the show’s glue. Their characters are the closest “OC” is going to come to reality: the fact that they’re so grounded allows the other characters to behave as ornamentation to bemuse viewers. Liman’s direction is at its best capturing their give-and-take betwen these two; he clearly has an affinity for this material.

The fantasy landscape is nothing new — we’ve seen these sunsets, parties and highways in countless rock videos — and the producers play off that. Each of the first three episodes has an extended musical interlude, though the music is hardly the ska pop or aggressive punk that’s been long associated with Orange County: It’s that easygoing California rock ‘n’ roll that represents a carefree lifestyle that only adds fuel to the fantasy. It’s certainly in tune with the visuals.

The OC

Fox, Tue. Aug. 5, 9 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Southern California by Hypnotic, Wonderland Sound and Vision in association with Warner Bros. Television Prods. Executive producers, Josh Schwartz, Doug Liman, McG, Bob DeLaurentis, Dave Bartis; co-executive producers, Allan Heinberg, Melissa Rosenberg; director, Liman; writer, Schwartz;
  • Crew: Camera, Jamie Barber; production design, Tom Fichter; music, Christopher Tyng; casting, Patrick Rush, Alyson Silverberg. 60 MIN.
  • Cast: Sandy Cohen - Peter Gallagher Ryan Atwood - Benjamin McKenzie Kirsten Cohen - Kelly Rowan Seth Cohen - Adam Brody Marissa Cooper - Mischa Barton Jimmy Cooper - Tate Donovan Julie Cooper - Melinda Clarke Summer - Rachel Bilson Luke - Chris Carmack