Tuesday, February 01, 2005

No Guilt Here! Watching The OC and Point Pleasant

I was psyched a couple of weeks ago for the premiere of the new show, Point Pleasant, from one of the Buffy producers, Marti Noxon. Other than Joss Whedon, I'd say Marti Noxon had the biggest influence on the show, and she was executive producer during my favorite season of the show, the really dark season six. I feel like Marti was responsible for a lot of the darker tone in season six, the bad relationships, the emotional violence, the emphasis on character relations rather than a big plot. This was all stuff I liked in the season, and even though a lot of people knock Buffy/Spike, I love the way it went, it made for some great story, and was more true to the characters than a happy relationship.

So, she headed out on her own with a show that she compared to Twin Peaks, and was generally being described as Buffy meets The OC. These were all shows I liked, we should have some goodness coming our way. However, the show, at least based on the two episodes I've seen, isn't quite working. Why is this? First, because the characters aren't well defined. The parents are very cheesy soap opera, and aren't particularly developed. Christina and Judy are decent, but then Paula and Jesse seem to be from another show, and that show is called The OC (minus all that is good about it). Paula and Jesse are exactly the dynamic that Marissa and Luke were at the beginning of The OC, and with Jesse falling for Christina, the very same dynamic is once again being played. Not to mention the fact that the premise is the same as The OC, drifter kid without parents comes to rich community and moves in with the family, befriending the socially awkward, wise cracking child. Also, this New Jersey where it's constantly warm and people always hang out on the beach seems a lot more like Orange County to me.

I know it's only two episodes, but after one of Buffy I already had a really good handle on the four main characters. After one of The OC, I knew all the people. More importantly, they didn't have this incongruity between the storylines. The very typical soap stuff doesn't mesh so well with very typical horror stuff, and we're not really given a reason to care about what's going on. There's some definite potential in the premise, but it seriously feels like they just took The OC and turned Ryan into the duaghter of Satan.

However, the show doesn't have the self awareness of The OC. The OC is first of all very funny, and is also aware of its status as a soap opera, much like Buffy was. As a result, you can have the very serious emotional confrontations, but also get to joke about them. Seth in particular is constantlly joking about the show's conventions, right from the first episode, and this keeps you entertained. It's a really clever show, but one that doesn't let the cleverness overwhelm the character development.

Point Pleasant has no humor about itself, and that's odd considering Marti came from Buffy, who even in the darkest times of season six was always also funny. I'm hoping the show will get better, but right now, it's not quite making it.

However, in it second season, The OC is even better than it was last year. I love the character of Zach, the WASPy doppleganger of Seth, and not just for the comic book references, though last episode, when they get together to make a comic book provided many laughs and also some great character insight and emotional drama.

At its best, as in the storylines with Ryan and Seth this year, the show is soapy, but not in an overly cheesy, emotionally excessive way. Having Summer discover the drawings of her, and react intrigued was a nice underplaying of what could either have been an instant revulsion or an instant falling in love. Summer has become by far the best character on the show, someone who is shallow on the outside, but very deep internally. She's in control of her life, and satisfied with herself more than anyone else on the show, and she keeps displaying new layers. Compare that to Marissa who always seems to have a really overwrought trauma. I think the thing I like so much about the Seth/Summer/Zach storyline is that they're not playing it like this is an earth shaking problem they're in, it's small in the large sense, but emotionally meaningful to them, and because we know the characters, we can relate and appreciate the meaning of little events. There's no need for the excesses of the Oliver storyline, because we're aware of how important minute events are to the characters.

Similar stuff is done in the Ryan/Lindsay storyline. I really like how they've made Ryan more intellectual this year, and less prone to violent outbursts. He's a more realistic character, and is sort of the calm center of the show, which makes it more meaningful when he does get violent, as in the episode with Lindsay getting drunk from a couple of weeks ago.

Also, I really like the way the parent stories are integrated with the kids'. Having Caleb simultaneously alienate Kirsten, Lindsay and Marissa ties the characters together and makes you believe that these people really are family and live together. The Point Pleasant parents seem completely removed from the happening, but Sandy and Kirsten are always well integrated into the story, such that the show doesn't feel like a teen show with the parent stories stuck in, it's an integrated piece, in which all the characters play off each other, and events in one storyline make their way around to affect the others. This year, Caleb has become basically the shameful center of the show, as his mistakes affect everyone else. The tension between him and Ryan in last week's episode was great, and had you seeing him as a bastard, but then watching him struggle to gain any control over Marissa, you start to feel sorry for the guy. Each character is seen in a different light depending on who's looking at them. That's why sometimes the relationships feel so tightly knit as to be almost incestuous (practically literally with Ryan and Lindsay), but at their best it works because every event on the show has reprocussions that echo onto the other characters.

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