05 January 2007

We'll always have Newport

Well, it's official: The OC, which finally got good again this season, is getting cancelled. While there is some wild speculation that the show will get picked up by the CW, I don't see it happening. Not only would way too many pieces need to fall into place, but it would probably not be nearly as good; considering his busy schedule1 these days, it's doubtful that creator Josh Schwartz would stay on with the show, at least in his current capacity.

What I find most amazing about the immediate reaction to the news is the general assumption that the show simply couldn't survive the loss of star Mischa Barton, whose character was killed off following a rumoured financial dispute with the producers. This theory conveniently ignores the fact that the show's ratings had been in a slow and steady decline almost since the first episode, and that this season it had been moved to the single most brutal slot in prime time, competing with the ratings onslaught of Grey's Anatomy, CSI and NBC's lineup of "smart"2 comedies.

The video linked above posits Marissa's death as the obvious jump-the-shark moment that doomed the show, an assumption which betrays both a misreading of the show's appeal and a broader misunderstanding of the term itself. "Jumping the shark" does not refer to the event that made people stop watching, it represents a tipping point of creative decline, when the writers began repeating themselves or turned to hackneyed gimmicks for plot twists. It's not where the show ran out of viewers, it's where it ran out of ideas.

If anything, the death of Marissa is the opposite: a creative renaissance that seems to have brought the show out of its melodramatic doldrums and turned it back into the frivolous teen soap a few million of us fell in love with three years ago. In fact, you'll notice that at the bottom of the page linked above, one true believer even voted that the show had "jumped back" in the current season. If there was a jump-the-shark moment, it was the introduction3 of one of two characters. You can debate which one was the real nadir, the true Cousin Oliver of Newport, but I won't hear any arguments for moments or characters aside from these two. In reverse order:

  • Johnny
    The moody surfer from season three was introduced when Marissa was expelled from Harbor and exiled to the soul-sucking horrors of public school. He becomes a sort of alternate love interest for Marissa, who strings him along obliviously, creating a dismal pair of love trianges4, one between the two of them and Ryan, the other including Johnny's girlfriend. It's possible to mark the exact moment of shark-jumping to the second that Johnny's limp and inebriated body hit the rocks below after he fell off a cliff, but Johnny brought so much more awful baggage with him that his ripple effect must be considered to fully appreciate his overall lameness. Remember, it was through Johnny that the excreble Volchuk, simultaneously the lamest character and the worst actor in the show's already-ignominious history, was introduced. And, lest we forget: Chili.
  • Oliver
    It could also be argued that the show was finished following the introduction of the ironically-named Oliver in the middle of the first(!) season. Following essentially the same character arc as Johnny, he develops an unrequited crush on Marissa, she strings him along with the same like-you-as-a-friend bullshit, Ryan gets moody and justifiably jealous. His singular moment, like Johnny's, comes at the end, when he declares his undying love for Marissa while brandishing a firearm and a mouthful of sleeping pills.
They're both abysmal moments in the show's brief history, but was either really the end? On one hand, the Oliver story was the first time the show resorted to a ludicrous plotline, and established a dismal precedent in the process. On the other, Oliver was gone without a trace the moment the carted his sorry ass off to the magical land of padded walls; Johnny's story had repurcussions that stretched well into the following season.5 Vigilante payback roadtrip to Mexico, anyone? For this reason I'll take Johnny as the show's true nadir.

Which makes its recovery all the more miraculous, and its cancellation all the more tragic. Notice a common element in the events listed above? That's right: Marissa. Would getting rid of her solve all of the shows problems? Hell no. Would it solve most of the biggest problems? Absolutely. The question, then becomes this: would the show still be worth watching without her? I say even more so. One need look no further than this season.

The show flirted with (further) disaster with the introduction of Ryan's father, who appeared at first to have sinister and mysterious motives6, but he was quickly revealed to be interested in little more than a family reunion and acceptance for his surprisingly sincere I'm-a-changed-man routine. Now he's either vanishing again or taking on a new role as Julie Cooper's latest unlikely love interest. Either way, I'm fine with it. Other than that, the only plotlines going are the suddenly cold-footed Seth and Summer's ongoing attempts to make one another blink before the wedding and Caitlin's new romantic interest7 Perfect. Just the sort of fluff one wants from a show about rich teenagers. Pity it has too end so soon, but perhaps better it happen now than before the writers kill the momentum with yet another grievously ill-advised suicide/insanity/felony/hard drugs/space aliens/covert assassins what-have-you plot twist. Word is that the final episodes have yet to be shot, so the show will have a chance to present a finale with real closure, rather than just ending abruptly, and I suppose I'm looking forward to that. It was, for the most part, fun while it lasted.

    Tangents & Clarifications
  1. And by the way, if you've clicked that link, let me just say that I for one am completely psyched for this Gossip Girl show. I've never even heard of the books, but the premise sounds terrific. [Return]
  2. (i.e., the ones without laugh tracks) [Return]
  3. (or, more accurately, dismissal) [Return]
  4. A "love rhombus"? [Return]
  5. Interestingly, after all the traces of his many plot/character derivatives had finally been completely expunged from the show, Johnny managed to make one last appearance as one of my favourite inconspicuous details of the recent Christmukkah coma episode. Johnny had been surfing prodigy who, just before his death, had an opportunity to turn pro and embark on a tour, sponsorships and all. In one of the first scenes to take place in the "alternate universe", there is a brief glimpse of a poster advertising a pro surfing tour featuring Johnny as its star. Since Marissa died even younger, she never went to Newport High, never stole the young surfer's heart, etc, so he never died. Cool. Probably my second-favourite detail of the whole episode. The first? Tate motherfucking Donovan. [Return]
  6. Seriously, am I the only one who thought this was going to turn into a six-episode-long snoozer in which the guy slowly gains everyone's trust, then is revealed to be jst some con artist with a stolen identity looking to swindle the Cohens out of their money? And Sandy's the only one who smells a rat, while everybody else is like, "No, really, he's changed, just give him a chance," until he finally finds the evidence he needs to thwart his dastardly scheme just before it's too late? I mean, it was almost too obvious. Just take that Jerri Ryan character from a couple seasons back (speaking of wretched plotlines) and turn her into a guy. Bingo. [Return]
  7. Potrayed by some up-and-coming pop star I'd never heard of. He's cute enough, but my inital reaction to his acting talents is that he may want to stick with music. Oh and by the way, how funny is it that the writers seem to be going out of their way to make the show's only black character anything but some ghetto jock on scholarship? He aces English class! He's a band geek! He wears sweaters! Really, he's so much more than just a rehash of that CU basketball player Donna Martin used to tutor. In fact, he's the one tutoring Caitlin. [Return]

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