The O.C.: The Complete First Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // $69.98 // October 26, 2004
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted November 3, 2004
M O V I E
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
In 10 Words or Less
Welcome to the O.C., bitch.

The Show
My good friend Matthew McCue has been a promoter for "The O.C." for some time now, often prodding me to check it out, though warning me that I'd only like one part of it, that being Adam Brody's character, Seth Cohen. After checking out the DVD set of Season One, I'd have to say he was pretty much on the money. Watching the show wasn't a struggle in any way, but Brody is absolutely head-and-shoulders above the rest of the show in terms of enjoyment...at least for me.

When I first saw the commercials for "The O.C.", I thought we were seeing the birth of yet another vapid California based soap from Fox. Unlike my life, most of the prime-time serials tend to focus on the lives of the rich and richer, their superficial problems and afterschool-special social issues. "The O.C." is no different, but it's centered on Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie), a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, and it uses his outsider status as a prism through which to view this alternate universe. At heart, Ryan's a good guy, he's just been handed a raw deal, with an alcoholic mother and a father who's in jail.

After being busted as an accomplice to his felon of an older brother, he moves to Newport Beach to live with his lawyer, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher, American Beauty), and his family. This serves as his introduction to a whole new world that's populated by, you guessed it, the very rich and the very beautiful. His new environs are summed up nicely when he says to his new neighbor Marissa (Mischa Barton), "I think I could get in less trouble where I'm from." Her reply, "You have no idea," gets to the heart of the series. Ryan will be faced with temptation after temptation as the show's first season unreels.

The general plot of the first season follows Ryan's attempts to do good by the Cohens, and make time with Marissa, Seth's attempts to fit in and win over the girl of his dreams, Summer, and the adults' attempts to cope with their own issues, including brushes with the law, marital difficulties and the burdens of wealth. And don't forget the sex, drugs and rock n' roll. It's rare to see a show like this give equal time to two different generations, and treat both of them as the members of the generations they belong to, instead of as larger and smaller versions of the same people. The realism even extends to the wardrobe. It's not unusual to see the same shirt on Seth multiple times. It's a fantasy world with a solid basis in reality.

Though Ryan is an outsider, he is not without friends, counting among his allies mainly Marissa and Seth. Seth is just as isolated in Orange County as Ryan, but for different reasons. A low-key comic-book geek with a love for sailing and the somewhat unattainable Summer (Rachel Bilson), he's the perfect little brother for Ryan. Their chemistry is a big part of why this works, and his reactions are so real that when he's on the screen he simply controls it with his effortless ability to make a line evoke a laugh or cringe. While Ryan is undoubtedly the star of the show, and a good actor to boot, without Seth, the heart would be extremely lacking.

As far as the rest of the cast goes, Gallagher is excellent as the best "dad" a kid in Ryan's situation could have, and Kelly Rowan plays the Cohen clan's matriarch well, as a woman in way over her head. The kids are all pretty much dead on, rarely relying on the melodramatic tripe that passed for dialogue and delivery on shows like "90210." Having a pair of high-level creative talents on-board like executive producer McG (Charlie's Angels) and executive producer/director Doug Liman (Go) certainly hasn't hurt the show's quality.

The story might sound like more of a chick thing than a draw for your average guy, but with the amount of bikinis and bras and raging fist fights, this is the kind of show a couple can enjoy, almost as if they are watching two different shows on the same TV. While the romantics are watching the love story develop between Marissa and Ryan, the action-obsessed can check out Summer's fantastic chest. Something for everyone.

The DVDs
Warner Brothers managed to put the 27 first-season episodes of "The O.C." into one of the worst DVD packages I've seen. The seven discs are packaged in four thick dual-sided plastic trays, which are glued into a cardboard "book." The whole thing comes in a holographic-foil and cardboard slipcase. As soon as I got the plastic wrapping off the set, the bottom of the slipcase came unglued and separated completely. Then I found the fifth disc floating, covered in scratches. The spine of the set, which is scored to ease in opening, is ripping along the folds on the inside and the last two trays are broken in the upper inside corner. This is all on the first time I'd ever opened the set. It all seems pretty flimsy. A pocket on the inside cover holds a $5 coupon for TheOCInsider.com, a four-issue subscription to Teen People and a well-designed 18-page guide to the set, with episode descriptions, credits, a cast list, airdates, and bonus feature information.

The first six discs hold four 44-minute episodes each, with three episodes on the seventh DVD. Special features are spread throughout the collection, though Disc Seven has a wider selection than the rest. The main menus are animated, with a "Play All" option, episode selections, language options and special features, while the submenus are static. The episode selections have six chapter stops each, while the language options include English and subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

The Quality
Presented in their original 1.33:1 format, the discs are bright and colorful, with very light grain from the film stock. There is some dirt at times, but it's pretty rare that it's evident. Skintones can come off a bit red, but considering how the rest of the colors look, it seems to be more of a lighting issue than a transfer problem. The detail and focus on these episodes is very strong as well. Having seven discs allowed WB to put just four episodes on each disc, allowing for a higher bit rate to be used.

For the first season, the audio was presented in stereo, and that's the only option available on these DVDs. There's some light surround activity in the music soundtrack, but the dialogue is entirely in the center channel.

The Extras
This box set features a pretty good amount of bonus content, with three features that appear on several episodes, and a pile of extras on the final platter. Kicking things off is the pilot episode, which features a screen-specific commentary by the show's creator, Josh Schwartz, and supervising producer, Stephanie Savage. The track covers how the show was put together, the themes in the show and the actors. It's not dry, but it's very focused, so the entertainment factor isn't very high. On the plus side, Schwartz mentions wanting "The O.C." to be his "Freaks & Geeks." His cool quotient is on the rise.

Music is a big part of this series, so on each of the first six discs, a selected episode has an On-Screen Music-Track Guide, which is a subtitle track that displays an MTV-style credit for each song as it plays in the show, along with some bio info on the band. It's interesting, but won't hold up to multiple viewings. Considering how much unknown music is used on the show, this feature should have been included on on every episode, not just a few.

The casting of the soundtrack is covered in further depth in another feature titled, simply enough, "The Music of 'The O.C.'" Schwartz, the cast and Music Supervisor Alexandra Patsavas discuss the thought process behind the selection of certain songs and the appearance if the band Rooney on the show. No shocking revelations, but Brody has some fun in his segments.

There are also eight deleted scenes, called "The Unseen O.C.", that are available to check out. None of them really stood out to me as anything special, expect maybe the two sex-related moments with Seth and Summer, for those jonesing for more O.C. will want to give them a look. Each clip, and the entire section as well, is preceded by a short introduction by Schwartz.

Several featurettes are included on Disc Seven, which combined, give an in-depth look behind the scenes of "The O.C." "Casting 'The O.C.'" combines interviews with Schwartz and Casting Director Patrick Rush with sit-downs with the cast to explain how the actors and actresses were selected for the show. There are some very interesting stories, especially one about Brody's nearly disastrous audition. The piece is edited well to prevent it from being all talking heads.

One of the more awkward extras I've seen recently is "Inside the Real O.C." In it, producer McG interviews a group of kids from the real O.C. to get their take on the series. He comes off trying to be cool to a bunch of too-cool high schoolers, who in turn look the same way, trying to act like they live the show. This disc space could have been used for better purposes, by presenting the "O.C.: Obsessed Completely" special shown on Fox earlier this year. Oh well.

The final two DVD extras are a promo for the show's fan-club website, and a look ahead to the show's second season, as the actors are asked what they hope for for their characters in Season Two. This is actually fun, as Schwartz plays The Grinch with their wish lists. A DVD-Rom extra, a weblink to an "O.C." music sampler, is mentioned on the box and in the booklet, but all I could find was a link to a weak WB website with a cast list and show description. Feel free to E-mail me if you can find this link.

The Bottom Line
While "The O.C.'s" pedigree is pure prime-time soap, the execution is of a much higher quality. The storylines are better than those found on similar shows, and the presence of Adam Brody makes this series consistently entertaining. Though I came in expecting a "90210," my view of the series has changed dramatically. The box set is a hefty investment, but considering there's over 20 hours of well-made content, it's money well-spent.



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