Another season has come and gone, and, with twenty-four episodes of drama, heartbreak, and product placement to choose from, I present my "WHO CARES?" awards for the SECOND SEASON of "The O.C." Read them at your own risk, for they contain many spoilers.
Best Character: Summer Roberts. Summer's really come into her own this season: she has had to juggle two boys, Zack and Seth, who proved consistently to be higher-maintenance than she is; has had to pose for and play the role of a diminutive comic-book heroine named Little Miss Vixen; has had to alternately comfort and advise Marissa, her terribly self-absorbed best friend; and has had to face her own foibles in the company of Orange County's wealthy and powerful--i.e., on-again, off-again boyfriend Zack's family. Not bad for one season.
Worst Character: DJ. There was fierce competition for this year's title. But DJ, the gardener-for-hire who functioned--nominally--as Marissa's rebound boyfriend in some early second-season episodes, nearly caused me to stop watching the show. Luckily for me, and for all of humanity, he quickly became a footnote.
Best Couple: Sandy and Kirsten. To watch a couple so thoughtfully and, at times, shamefully go through the highs and lows of their twentieth year of marriage may sound to some as painfully boring television, especially for what is ostensibly a teen drama; but all of the other characters in the O.C. orbit around the Cohens in one way or another, and when Sandy and Kirsten start to unravel, bad things happen in Orange County.
Worst Couple: Alex and Marissa. After facing another failed relationship in DJ, Marissa decides that, in searching for her next romantic partner, her own gender shouldn't be off limits. Thus her turn to Alex, who, after a relationship with Seth proved to be a non-starter, succumbs to Marissa's charms during an exciting hand-holding session at the Bait Shop. Unfortunately for Alex, Marissa's just playing a game of "Just Kidding!" and quickly dumps Alex when she turns into the same sort of domineering jerk Marissa's previous love interests were--sans Ryan, of course. This angle of same-gender relationships could've been more seriously explored, but, alas, Marissa is most definitely not the character to do it with.
Dumbest Plot Twist: Marissa falls for Alex (from the episode "The Second Chance"). Since Marissa's supposed romantic infatuation with Alex was a purported stunt by the writers to breathe new life into the show in order to combat lackluster mid-season ratings, the entire plot line lacked credibility from the start. The coupling is not developed and is quickly dropped. A far riskier move would have been to put Marissa and Alex together--and keep them together.
Cleverest Plot Twist: Trey completes his jail sentence and arrives at Newport (from the episode "The Brothers Grim"). Besides symbolically functioning as a constant reminder of Ryan's past, Trey is a veritable gold mine of delicious O.C. plots. The writers must have had smiles on their faces as they answered these questions: How do we get Ryan to stop being such a restrained milquetoast and return to his beat-'em-up ways? Shove Trey in the pool house! How do we get an old-fashioned, girl's-floating-unconscious-in-the-pool O.C. party going? Throw a birthday bash for Trey! How do we throw some much-needed tension into Marissa's relationship with Ryan? Have Marissa shoot Trey right in front of him, spawning dozens of new plot threads for next season!
Best Kiss: Summer and Seth (from the episode "The Rainy Day Women"). Admittedly, it was corny--Seth, attempting to fix his home's satellite reception during a rare rainstorm, sliding headfirst down the side of his McMansion, his fall broken by a tangle of ropes, encounters Summer who, after ditching Zack and his family at the airport to be with Cohen, kisses him, upside-down, Tobey Maguire-Kirsten Dunst-style, after partially pulling off his (oh, no) Spider-Man mask worn to ward off those deadly droplets of rain--but, nonetheless, it was the most memorable, albeit derivative, kiss in a season of rather unmemorable, derivative kisses.
Best Looking: Mischa Barton (plays Marissa Cooper). Due to the unrelenting thrashing her acting and character takes, not just by me but by many, many others around the world (she is called a "Bot" in some quarters because of her wooden performances), I figured it was time to relay something positive about Ms. Barton; therefore, I hereby anoint her the best looking of the bunch.
Worst Promotional Tie-In: The Ford Mustang. After receiving a new red Ford Mustang coupe at the beginning of the season, Coop (Marissa) mysteriously gets a second red Mustang, this time a convertible, to conveniently park in the background of shots. Oddly, the coupe and the convertible are never seen on-screen at the same time, but alternate.
Best Actor: Peter Gallagher (plays Sandy Cohen). Sandy is the moral center of the show, and Gallagher deftly handles the nuances and the broad strokes of the character.
Best Actress: Kelly Rowan (plays Kirsten Cohen). Ms. Rowan, whose character Kirsten lurked in the background through so much of last season, has this season been thrust into a central role in the story. Kirsten's descent into alcoholism is, entirely to Rowan's credit, heartbreaking.
Worst Episode: "The Distance." The first episode of the season was undeniably the season's most insipid. The seemingly insurmountable obstacles set up at the conclusion of season one are quickly and easily resolved here. And, considering their history, Seth and Luke hamming it up together struck me as a tad disingenuous. Just a tad.
Best Episode: "The Dearly Beloved." In this season-ender, Caleb gets a funeral (to complement his season one-ending wedding to Julie) and Kirsten gets a new, detoxicated home. Everyone doesn't live happily ever after, especially Marissa, who must come to grips with her murderous ways in a reconstituted household complete with the ever-annoying Jimmy "Hey Kiddo" Cooper. Bring on Season Three!