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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Peter Schorn of The Digital Bits

The O.C.: The Complete Second Season

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The O.C.
The Complete Second Season - 2004-2005 (2005) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/C

Reviewing the 2nd season of a hit TV show like the teen soap opera The O.C. is as close to a fool's errand as a reviewer can get. People who watched the first season most likely already watched the second and know what they're getting story wise, so my task is to inform these folks whether the DVD set is worth adding to their archives next to the family Bible.

If the reader is like yours truly and has never seen an episode of a show that could've been titled Lifestyles of the Sad & Pointless and thought that shows about the exploits of self-absorbed, unrealistically pretty teens went out with Tori Spelling's original nose - they're not likely to slog through a dissertation of whether this set is any good or not. They'll think, "Boo-hoo, the poor babies are forced to endure the torment of living in shore-side mansions large enough to house indoor skeet ranges in the dining rooms."

Thus the gauntlet was thrown when this 7-disc set sailed over my transom, followed by the muffled sounds of scurrying feet, quiet giggling and what I thought sounded like "new guy." But with the assistance of an industrial-sized bottle of cough syrup (Costco rules!) and a DVD player that plays back at 1.5X speed and thus condenses an episode into a tidy 30-minute tripe bong, I charged into the breach and survived to tell the tale. (You're welcome.)

The touchstone for The O.C. isn't Beverly Hills 90210 as one might expect, but the movie Empire Records, for both are set in this weird fantasy universe populated by people who look, sound and dress like wittier and more stylish human beings, but bear no actual traits common to anyone most people would recognize on this planet. While it's amusing to watch these aliens attempt to pass for us, the nagging feeling that something isn't quite right lingers - it's Invasion of the Hottie Snatchers.

Over the last two years, while actresses Rachel Bilson and Mischa Barton (who portray Summer Roberts and Marissa Cooper, respectively, on TV) invaded magazine covers, displacing real spoiled rich girls like Paris Hilton, I remained blissfully (and willfully) ignorant. I knew none of the ins-and-outs of the story of Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), a troubled youth from Chino rescued by attorney Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) from his bleak life of petty crime and welcomed as an ersatz adopted son - complete with room and board at their deluxe Newport Beach mansion.

With the puppy-dog looks of a young Russell Crowe and a penchant for wife-beater fashion, he apparently fell in with Marissa, daughter of trophy wife Julie Cooper-Nichol (Melinda Clark), married to Caleb (Alan Dale) who is father to Sandy's wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan). Julie is secretly cheating on Caleb with her ex-husband Jimmy (Tate Donovan) and this is really turning into a country song, isn't it?

Filling the audience surrogate/Everyman role is Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) who is a composite of every gawky, awkward but oh-so-snarky character from teen movies and television shows since Ferris Bueller, leavened with a hefty shot of Colin Hanks' role in the ironically convenient 2002 film Orange County. He's the geeky outsider who becomes cooler in the presence of Ryan and in return he bonds as a brother to this newcomer. This helps Ryan because his real brother, Trey (Logan Marshall-Green) - looking much different after undergoing Actor Replacement Therapy while in the slam - doesn't seem to be really on the straight and narrow after his release.

Without the benefit of experiencing the previous 27 episodes of mythical teen angst amongst the villas and surf, I was frequently lost in minor details like how the Cohens have such a giant house when Sandy is rarely shown at work as a legal beagle? Did they win the lottery? Did Caleb spring for Kiki? Who cleans the place - we never see maids? Do the kids just wander the manicured grounds and halls of their high school or are classes just not shown? (Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer had actual classroom scenes and she was slaying real demons, not just personal ones!)

Without spoiling it for anyone still interested in watching, over the season there was self-defeating behavior, excessive drinking, brooding, shallowness, crazy parties that only happen in movies, death, near-infidelity, lying, comic books, George Lucas (conveniently appearing the week before Revenge of the Sith opened), imaginary Italian girlfriends, mall hockey, advice from a toy horse named Capt. Oats, illegitimate children revealed, cynical ratings stunt/lukewarm girl-girl action with a chick who looks like a young Heather Locklear (Olivia Wilde), shootings, pining for Summer, car crashes and a wacky interfaith holiday called "Christmukkah", all set to hip music from bands like The Futureheads that makes it all look like a slick recruiting video for a Marxist Revolution. (Ironically, I didn't notice a single Che Guevara shirt anywhere.)

While the show is most assuredly ridiculous garbage, it's slickly made ridiculous garbage that goes down with only the slightest emotional scarring, but that may've been the cough syrup helping. As one preposterous plot point after another unspooled, I never engaged with the characters in their plush grief, but it was hard to get too angry over any of it precisely because it was all so meaningless. No lessons or insights into life and the human condition are to found here - remember, these are aliens we're watching - but I've endured worse episodic television box sets in my critical career, so it counts for something that I'm actually writing this review this instead of dropping a toaster into my bathtub. (Look for that quote to be on The O.C.: Season Three box! "Better than dropping a toaster into your bath!" - Peter Schorn - The Digital Bits)

Beautiful vapid people deserve a nice slick transfer, but this 1.77:1 anamorphic transfer comes with a designer tote bag's worth of light grain and somewhat soft detail, probably due to Super 16mm format the show is shot on. Light areas and whites show it the worst, bordering on mosquito noise, but not so bad that it's distracting. Colors are generally good and free of smearing, but shadow detail, black levels and contrast could be stronger. Some minor edge-enhancement pops up here and there.

The audio fares better with the trite dialogue and pop music score properly balanced with mild back-of-the-room ambience, Material like this with very few gunshots is poor home theater demo material, but suffice to say that if you want to hear what these twits, who desperately need a stint in the Peace Corp experiencing real predation, have to say, the Dolby 2.0 Surround audio track (with subtitles in English, Spanish and French) does a perfectly adequate job. Voices are clear and whiny as intended. Lucky us.

Extras are as slender as the anorexic starlets with a measly pair of commentary tracks on the The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn't and The Rainy Day Women episodes with several of the show's producers and no cast members invited. They're lightweight and self-congratulatory gabfests that contain no secret messages to the alien homeworld that I could detect. A single 30-second-long deleted scene on The Return of Nana episode concludes the non-Disc Seven extras and while the box touts the "Original Creator's Version" of The Rainy Day Women, the commentary leads me to believe it's only a single shot of girls kissing (no tongue, sorry) that got cut. (I hope they didn't hurt themselves shoveling all these goodies onto the discs.)

On that final disc are Beachy Couture (approx. 20 mins.) which looks into the costume design of the show and The O.C. - Obsess Completely, a half-hour Fox retrospective that's pure fawning and self-promotion that I'm guessing was a prelude to the second season for it has a segment called The First Season in Three Minutes. (They should've taken 5 minutes.) Finally, two separate 10-minute-long Gag and Goof Reels From Seasons 1 and 2 which weren't that amusing wrap things up.

The O.C.: The Complete Second Season isn't one of those "so bad it's good" shows or a self-knowing campfest, but in its own shallow way, it provides a small dose of escapist entertainment that will appeals to kids of all ages between 13 and 17 and lecherous men who have been looking for a younger Cameron Diaz type - this would be Mischa Barton - who bathes and is actually teenaged, as opposed to her mid-twenties castmates. Shows like this are harmless fluff and if you're a fan, the DVDs are a decent value. If you're thinking of checking out this set and starting in the middle of the story, stock on the cough syrup. (Hey! Another quote! Watch out Jeffrey Lyons!")

Peter Schorn
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