O [2001]

The drama was poured on aplenty in the second season of The O.C., as the sun-dappled denizens of Orange County found their lives massively upended and then some. At the end of the first season, the Cohen household had been reduced to two--parents Sandy and Kirsten (Peter Gallagher and Kelly Rowan)--as the boys had flown the coop, moody Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) back to Chino and goofy Seth (Adam Brody) for the wide expanse of the Pacific (somehow ending up in Portland, Oregon). Once the prodigal sons returned home, thanks to a lot of persuading, both tried to mend relationships with their former girlfriends, Marissa (Mischa Barton) and Summer (Rachel Bilson). While friendships were solidified, everyone was dating someone else: Seth was with sultry club manager Alex (Olivia Wilde), Summer with sensitive polo jock Zach (Michael Cassidy), Ryan with smart girl Lindsay (Shannon Lucio), and Marissa with her family's pool guy and a bottle of vodka. That's just the first half of this year of The O.C., and we haven't even gotten to the adults yet. Both Sandy and Kirsten found themselves tempted away by more-than-willing suitors, and wicked Julie (Melinda Clarke), Marissa's mom, cheated on new husband Caleb (Alan Dale) with ex-husband Jimmy (Tate Donovan). An extremely tangled web was woven, one from which the show almost didn't recover: the Lindsay storyline started out strong but went nowhere, Sandy's ex-girlfriend (Kim Delaney) was a bit of a bore, and the same-sex relationship between Marissa and Alex never really gelled. All seemed like sure-fire character additions, but it was the later peripheral characters, including Billy Campbell as a magazine editor smitten with Kirsten and the menacing yet sexy Logan Marshall-Green as Ryan's ex-con brother, who injected The O.C. with energy, and helped steer the show back on course. Brody, who became the show's de facto poster boy, got to show off his comedic talents with the wonderful Bilson (who rode the Zach-Seth-Summer romantic triangle most smoothly), and the heretofore sullen McKenzie got to lighten up quite a bit, until the show's violent yet effective season finale. Forsaking a good amount of its comedy for drama, The O.C. got a little too seriously soapy, but its characters were so compelling you couldn't stop watching--even waiflike Marissa grew some edges. Clarke's scheming Julie was a constant pleasure to watch, and Rowan turned Kirsten's late-season downturn into a steely yet heartfelt portrayal. Despite the bumps, The O.C. remained one of the most exciting shows to look forward to week after week, a soap with smarts thanks to its fresh dialogue, gifted cast, and careening plot arcs. --Mark Englehart

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