Welcome to the melodramatic world of the ultra-rich where Botox makes 40-year-old moms look like their teenage daughters and $100,000 is a neighborly loan. Fox’s teen drama The O.C. takes viewers on a scenic tour of Orange County’s mansion-dotted shores, oohing and aahing over the indigenous wildlife along the way.
Seventeen-year-old Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) isn’t from Orange County. He’s from Chino, made out to be a haven for druggies, pimps and thieves. Arrested for stealing a car with his older brother, he’s thrust into the care of public defender Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher). Sandy sees images of his own haphazard past in the troubled teen’s eyes and, instead of turning him over to social services, takes him home to Newport Beach and becomes his legal guardian. So the kid from the wrong side of the tracks finds himself ensconced in the lap of luxury ... and the seat of iniquity. When Ryan mutters, “I could get into more trouble here than back home,” he has no clue how right he is.
Sandy’s wife, Kirsten, is slow to accept Ryan into her home. The opposite is true for their son, Seth. And next door, 16-year-old hottie Marissa quickly finds herself torn between her longtime boyfriend and this hunky James Dean just across the hedgerow.
Ephesians 4:32 grace notwithstanding, The O.C. hands out second chances like clowns hand out balloons. Sandy and Kirsten occasionally put on stern faces, but they routinely tolerate disrespect, disobedience and lawlessness. It’s admirable to extend forgiveness, but when it’s not coupled with discipline and morality, the results are messy. Ryan sticks up for himself and others with his fists, not wit and wisdom. That “forces” him into frequent physical confrontations (one ends in a house burning down).
The series also exults in teenage sensuality and alcohol abuse. Every episode I reviewed included footage of underage beer bashes. And every gathering—from a late-night beach party to a formal debutante cotillion—ended in a brawl. Most parties are populated with barely clothed girls, one of whom is shown dressing and undressing as the camera fixes on her bra. Low-cut blouses, bare midriffs and elevated hemlines are mode normale.
There’s no question that shows like The O.C. can effectively tug young heartstrings (remember Party of Five?). But this drama’s negative content will tug teens in the wrong direction.