Today, class, we shall be discussing the dialectical development of teenage television; the complex nexus of thesis and antithesis which has... Oh well, maybe we wont. But somewhere in a former polytechnic, you can be sure that a bespectacled academic is offering such a course, and the lecture notes
will read something like this: if angst-rippled early Dawsons Creek was a response to the cheesily enjoyable Beverly Hills 90210, then The OC is half riposte to Dawson and friends, and half-bastard son of Dynasty. Dawsons had, people thought, done for teen drama what Scream had done for horror: ironised it to the point of no return. In fact, by the middle of Season 3, all pretence to hip irony had evaporated and the show looked like nothing other than the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue brought to life albeit with less nudity. It was all preppy autumnal styles, twinkly lights in the distance and crooning soft rock. Thus, when Josh Schwartz was commissioned to deliver a teen soap, he looked not to Dawson but to the titans of trash telly Darren Star and Aaron Spelling (Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place) for inspiration.
There is much daftness to enjoy in The OC, starting with the fact that 16 year-old Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) is clearly in his mid-20s, and the comforting identikit pattern of the episodes (Ryan gets all kitted out for swish do; Ryan moons over the girl next door a bit; Ryan smacks Luke Plank Ward on the nose and someone falls over into the salmon soufflé) is revealed in all its glory in this 27-episode box set.
But what Schwartz and his team of writers couldnt have predicted is that its not the teenage flesh thats the big draw, but in fact the adults, mainly because they all seem to think theyre in different shows. Theres Peter Gallagher, the liberal-minded lawyer and paterfamilias who believes hes in a Lou Grant drama. Bitch mother from hell Julie Cooper appears to be drawing her character mojo from The Colbys, and Jim from Neighbours still seems to think hes in a version of the Australian soap, albeit one with a lower level of dramatic verisimilitude.
Its trash, of course, but quality trash, and its insanely aspirational appeal is best summed up by Channel 4s marketing campaign for this first season: Visit The OC. (Offer not available to the poor or ugly.)