Nobody will ever confuse “One Tree Hill” with “Lost,” but credit the producers of this teen soap with their own bit of time-shifting derring-do — picking up the fifth season four years after the last one’s finale. Not only does this offer a chance to move the characters closer to their real ages (no “Grease”-like thirtysomethings playing high schoolers), but it almost instantly upgrades the ground rules from “90210” to “Melrose Place.” Granted, it’s hard to imagine new viewers being drawn in by the stunt, but “Hill’s” modest fan base should get a kick out of filling in the blanks.
“In four years, we’ll be right back here,” one of the classmates pledged in that aforementioned finale, but most things didn’t work out quite as planned.
The producers have asked that key plot twists not be revealed, but suffice to say the new structure is rife with dramatic possibilities — allowing them not only to deal with this altered reality but flash back when it suits them to events we’ve missed. And while most of the original adult castmembers are nowhere to be found, the sexual situations don’t risk feeling as icky now that the younger contingent is an election cycle older.
Unfortunately, those years also have resulted in an assortment of improbabilities given what’s transpired with several characters professionally. Some of the jobs — Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) has published a first novel, while Brooke (Sophia Bush) has made startling headway as a fashion designer — are a little too fabulous, though admittedly, watching 22-year-olds sit around smoking pot and mooch off their parents wouldn’t be as interesting.
In terms of its history, “One Tree Hill” is firmly rooted in the WB half of the CW experiment, birthed when that fledgling network exhibited a knack for finding attractive young casts of precocious-sounding teens. The show thus returns at a rather awkward time, not only because the writers strike has sidelined some of its natural companions but because CW remains a bit of a hodge-podge — a place where urban comedy, wrestling and cheeky competitions reside under the same roof, the programming equivalent of a VH1 reality show.
From that perspective, the “Hill” gang might be reunited — more mature and dysfunctional than ever — but the old neighborhood isn’t quite what it used to be.