Sunday, June 26, 2005

TV Review OC: The arm pit of body wash operettas

The OC covers a region of California often overlooked but desperate not to be ignored. If the character Alex in Fatal Attraction were a county, she would be Orange County. Home to right-wing politics, Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm, it's an alternate escape valve in the land of ultimate escape. While "California Dreamin'" conjures images of milk & honey overflowing, Orange County has largely existed to fuel and feed an anti-liberty, anti-freedom movement. Think of it as the fixer-upper within California, a fixer-upper that's been falling apart for years. While there is drearier, Bakersfield for example, it's hard to think of an area that's more clearly staked out the ground in opposition to all that California conjures up.

So The OC wants to rebrand the area (truly, prior to the show, we never heard an actual person use the term "OC," though "arm pit of California" was quite popular) and turn it into a land of sun and surf and sex. No big surprise this comes by way of Murdoch and one of his many (too many -- can we get some deregulation?) subsidiaries. So right away you know, it's all hogwash.

We'll call it body wash but note that it's severely diluted. The OC makes the One Tree Hill gang look like swingers. Two young women (Marissa and Alex) held hands and touched fingers and that passed for the height of sexy. It was all very Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable and far from the pie humping hijinks of American Pie. As we noted before, these teen dramas exist not for teens, but for the tiny preadolescent (apparently still present in some adults). Which is why sex is but a plot device that comes knocking once a season. Ask not for whom the teen pregnancy scare tolls, it tolls for thee.

The cast? What can we tell you, it's another high school populated with adults. There's Benjamin McKenzie who'll be 27 in September posing as a high school student with a bad jones for Velma from Scooby Doo. He plays Ryan whose half brother Seth is played by Adam Brody who'll be 26 in December. Seth has the hots for Summer (though he'll never do anything about it). Summer is played by Rachel Bilson and will be 24 in August. Ryan likes holding hands with Lindsay -- played by Shannon Lucio who'll be 25 in August. At 20, Mischa Barton may be the baby in the cast, but she doesn't really pass for a high school student. None of them do.

Possibly to hide from the audience the fact that, although playing "high schooler" Ryan, he's basically three years from thirty, McKenzie cultivates an interesting look. We're seeing it as a hommage to Velma from Scooby Doo. Though we've heard the endless Mary Ann and Ginger debates, we kind of thought the verdict of who the hottie was on Scooby Doo had been long ago settled? Always ready to fight a losing battle, which is so in keeping with the lead character of this show, McKenzie builds the case for Velma as "stylish" with his hommage to her haircut. (We're hoping a future "dramatic twist" involves Ryan getting glasses so he can really nail the look!)

But even something like stealing a simple haicut gets overdone on this show: it's so fussed over that it negates the simplicity of the hair cut. All the Bed Head products in the world will not allow the bangs to retain their careful curl (we're guessing a steam curling wand) in the California heat and still look so beauty parlor fresh. It's kind of like the tousled, pixie haircut we saw on TV this week. The one that caused us to note, "Patty Duke looks really good these days! And the hair, it's like she's saluting Twiggy or early Golide Hawn." Then as Patty moved down a street singing, words came up on the screen and we discovered we were watching not Patty, but a kid named Jesse McCartney. For a Patty Duke, he looks really good.

He is so The OC. An underdeveloped boy lusting after women. The Cookies told us "Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys Do" and goodness if this show didn't take the message to heart. Which explains Adam Brody who looks like a regular kid. We could note, of course, that TV offers many regular kids who are male. Females who go above size three are the ones rendered invisible.

In a variation on a Dawson's Creek (when Joey sketched Jack nude), Brody sketches Rachel Bilson (Summer) who's all dressed up as a cartoon superhero in bondage gear that resembles Halle Berry's Catwoman costume plus dog collar. He drops to his knees in front of her, he moves her legs around, his face is in her crotch and . . . This is bodywash, people, nothing's happening here but the eternal tease out.

Summer: Don't give me any junk in the trunk.
Seth: Just the gifts God gave you.

God's gift to Adam Brody, apparently, was photo copying a young Tom Hanks. We aren't sure the world's spent many collective nights awake drooling over that prospect.

But these are the sort of philosophical questions you find yourself debating while watching a "drama" that makes Waiting for Godot look like the summer action blockbuster. Nothing ever happens. In fact, in the scene in question, worse than nothing happens. How bad is the prolonged and continuous tease? At one point Bilson moves moves towards the bed (and ends up half over it, doggie-style), and Brody's response is to whine, from behind her, "You just moved out of the light."

Not concerned with sexual passion (apparently with a Republican in the White House, sexuality has become bad form), the show wants to ooze angst. (Not drip, mind you, no one sweats on a body wash operetta.)

As you watch and wait for something to happen, anything, you're treated to variations on a single theme: "Parents Just Don't Understand." D.J. Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith should have patented that because they could be raking in big bling-bling from each episode of The OC alone.

In this episode, a closing in on forty older sister doesn't understand why her teenage sister can't enjoy spending time with their diffident father. The father in question didn't think Ryan was good enough to be with his daughter. Proving that the generation gap spans the . . . well, generations. Meanwhile a grown woman in her forties boasts of how proud her father will be (while asking questions like, "Happen to have a bong handy?").

Peter Gallagher would be the one being asked about the bong. Gallagher who originally came to fame while weeping and wringing the hands over the fact that he had have to his chest waxed for a film. As if to punish the world, Gallagher long ago decided that no one would ever again take wax or even scissors to the hairs sprouting from his body -- which explains the freakish eye brows. As brave stands go, it's hardly on par with Barbra Streisand's refusal to get a nose job but such are the times.

Gallagher's character can't seem to decide what or who he wants. (Possibly those bushy brows obstuct his view?) On the one hand, he's married to a "conservative" (his term) woman who comes from a wealthy family. On the other hand, he's engaged in flirtatious moments (words only, remember this is a body wash operetta) with a woman from his past who's a radical which, on Fox, means she sprinkles pot into her conversations and emerges from the alleged underground looking like Curly Sue.

This episode's centerpiece, it's showcase showdown if you will, is the overly long, overly slow, overly dull dinner scene which we like to think of as, "Good eats, could you please pass the angst?"

The line up includes Ryan (McKenzie) who's dating teenage Lindsay (Lucio) who happens to be the daughter of Caleb who also fathered Kirsten, who's married to Sandy (Gallagher) and is middle-aged. The scene takes place in a supposedly, well off, well to do dining room. (Remember that.) Kirsten plays with her wine glass and takes the occassional swig for dramatic effect. Caleb pokes around at the food and swallows some. Ryan and Lindsey exchange uncomfortable glances. But best in show for this dog clearly goes to the dialogue.

Here's a sample:

The scene begins in silence. Kirsten waves around her wine glass. Caleb eats a little.

No words.

Caleb: This is the best meal you ever cooked Kiki.

Kirsten: It's fondu dad, cheesepot. Not so difficult.

Long pause. (It's not fondu. Read on.)

Kirsten: Did you know that Lindsay plays the oboe?

All eyes go to Lindsay who sighs weakly.

Lindsay: Not well.

Caleb: Do you now? Do you play any Brahms?

More weak sighs from Lindsay.

Lindsay: Try.

Another lengthy pause.

Kirsten: Did you know that dad has boxed seats at the Hollywood bowl? Have you ever been?

Lindsay: Uh no, I hear it's amazing.

Caleb: The tickets are yours.

Lindsay: Great. Ryan what do you think?

The writers no doubt felt they were layering on the angst. Somewhere around the fourth layer, we lost interest in the meandering scene. We did, however, wake up for the slow-mo heart attack Caleb has after he and Ryan exchange what are supposed to be strong words. (It's very hard to take anyone seriously with that Velma haircut.)

It's all so phoney. From the long pauses, the exchanged glances, right down to the "fondu." You know, the "cheese pot?" There's no fondu on the table. There's a variety of vegetables. There's a ceramic bowl that holds cheese cubes (which are eaten as cubes, not melted). And don't get us started on the fact that this wants-so-hard-to-be-high-class-tasteful room features a couch by the dining table in the dining room.

What's really the point of this show? Apparently, not content to just push Velma as a trendsetter, the show also wants to hawk merchandise. We're not referring to the lame music played throughout. Granted anything's an improvement over the show's theme song, sung in adenoidal tones, consisting of the following lyrics: "California/ Here we come/ Right back where we started from/ California . . ." Apparently someone wanted to combine The Monkees theme ("Here we come, walking/ Down your street . . .") with Maxine Nightengale's disco classic "Right Back Where We Started From." And that "merger" works about as well as anything else in the Bully Boy economy. (Translation, not at all.)

No, we're referring to things like "The O.C. Insider Club" which, for just $24,95, allows you access to such features as "exclusive fashion tips." Or maybe you'd prefer to skip the club and go straight to the product's products? In which case, we're sure that at $32.95 they're a bargain, you can purchase "I 'Heart' The O.C." "boyshorts." And, in the interest of doing our part to inform and educate the public, we'll note the disclosure that comes with all OC undergarments:

Please note: boxers may not be returned for exchange or refund due to state regulations.

The show as an overly long commercial for other products is hardly suprising when one realizes that the show's creator has -- not one, but two -- parents who did time in the land of Hasbro Toys. Think we're being too harsh? The OC finished its second season last month. The DVD set of the second season comes out August 23rd. Whether or not it's the cash cow some are hoping, it's obvious that what's on screen is far less important than the "accessories" and ancillary rights.

How bad is the show? Curly Sue, refugee from the radical underground, is totally unconvincing despite the fact that's played by the usually watchable Kim Delaney. Did CSI Miami sap the life out of her performances? (Rhetorical question but we'd understand if it did.) Delaney's character isn't called Curly Sue (except by us), she's called Rebecca. And she's spent decades (two decades and two years, in fact) in the underdground. Which is apparently not unlike a nunnery since she tells Gallagher she hasn't had sex with anyone since him.

As two who regularly wonder if someday the Bully Boy will go completely to war on the American public and we'll be forced to go underground ourselves, the lack of sex life in the underground struck us as really sad. Then we remembered, this is The OC and no one has sex on this show.

Not old lovers Rebecca and Sandy, not Sandy and Kirsten (who is his wife), not the teen brigade. When, at the hospital and wanting to see Caleb, Lindsay dismisses the staff's "family only" orders with a cry of "I am his daughter!" We're not sure if they were surprised that such an old man would have such a young daughter, or if it was just the shock that anyone had sex in Orange County in the last twenty years.

What's the point of this show? We think is was provided in an early opening scene:

Seth: So, then, you're saying that I'm complaining that I have nothing to complain about?
Ryan: This is what I'm saying.

We'd agree and note that compared to this episode, One Tree Hill is postively crawling with drama. Possibly The OC is attempting to capture a "California laid back vibe." There's laid back and there's comatose. If you're confused as to which we think the show is, we'll note that Peter Gallagher really, really deserves this show and that one of his biggest money maker to date was While You Were Sleeping which found him on the sidelines for the bulk of the movie in a coma.
(He was never more convincing onscreen.)

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