The long, long months of suffering and waiting are over. With the presidential campaign finally over, we can get back to the issues and questions that have been languishing on the back burner. Will Ryan Atwood brood? Will Marissa Cooper whine and cry? Will Seth Cohen be the cutest, funniest, most articulate indie-rock fan ever? And most important, what's Sandy Cohen doing with his hair? If these names don't ring a bell, you must not have watched Fox's "The O.C." during its first blockbuster year. No matter. After a six-month wait, the show is back for a second season in all its sudsy glory (7 p.m. Thursday, WFLD-Ch. 32). And catching up with the "O.C." crew will not, trust me, be a daunting intellectual challenge.
Here's what you missed in season one, in 25 words or less: Rich Orange County family, the Cohens, take in poor kid (Ryan), who falls for the girl next door (Marissa); Seth gets and loses longtime crush Summer.OK, that was 26 words, but forgive me (and by the way, it's all first names in the O.C., because, as Summer might say, "Stuffy newspaper style, ew!"). Way more stuff actually happened last season, but the important plot points are easily recapped. As season two begins, Ryan, he of the hunky brooding, is living with his knocked-up girlfriend in his old 'hood, even though he's not sure he's the one who knocked her up. Seth is chilling with a surprising out-of-town friend and also working on his brooding skills.
Marissa's having a sleazoid affair with the family gardener and drinking too much because, I don't know, she's too rich and too thin and somehow these things are causing her grief. Summer's just being Summer, and that, in and of itself, makes "The O.C." worth watching.
"Just explain it to [Ryan] -- he left, and suddenly, there was a hot, hot yard guy -- in the yard -- and he was hot, and so you really didn't do anything wrong!" Summer says to Marissa as the two lounge around looking fashionable. Rachel Bilson, who plays Summer, makes that line not only understandable but downright entertaining. Love her!
Adam Brody, who plays Seth, and Mischa Barton, who plays Marissa, have gotten much of the adulatory "O.C." press, and in Barton's case, many of the gossip-column mentions. Benjamin McKenzie (Ryan) has also emerged as the ruling hunk of all teen hunks, and his acting on the show has also showed impressive improvement -- he even makes a few funny wisecracks in the first two episodes of season two.
But as these new "O.C." installments make clear, the two pillars of show are Bilson and Gallagher. Both Summer and Sandy have a mischievous playfulness about them, and both actors, especially Gallagher, are able to impart a passionate depth to their soapy characters, all of which makes "The O.C." a guilty pleasure that doesn't actually make you feel so guilty.
Sure, the show seems to go 'round and 'round in circles at times, but producers are addressing the endless Marissa-and-Ryan and Summer-and-Seth merry-go-rounds by adding four new characters this season. In the first two episodes, only one of them is glimpsed, long enough to make it clear that lawn boy D.J. has missed his professional calling -- his well-cut washboard abs should be put to work in a kitchen as some kind of grating implement.
Then again, that's the beauty of "The O.C." You can appreciate the man-flesh on display, dissect the good and bad fashion choices, revel in the use of excellent pop and rock music on the show's soundtrack, and still enjoy some darned good acting.
When Ryan and Seth meet up after their summer-long separation, for example, their reconciliation is almost more romantic than anything that happened in season one. In a totally manly, brooding way, of course.
But back to the biggest question of the new season: What's up with Sandy's hair?
Last season the elder Cohen worked a messy, brushed-forward mop-top look.
This year, in a surprise move, the crusading attorney's locks are still longish, but sleek and brushed back from his forehead, which allows viewing of the much-too-severe manscaping that is happening between Gallagher's eyebrows.
Sure, the brows can be a little out of control, but that's one of the great things about Sandy Cohen -- he's not as controlled and perfect as the man-bots and matrons of Newport Beach. He's a little messy, he cares about important causes and he doesn't really brood -- he tells people exactly what he thinks of them, even his big-wheel father-in-law, a real estate developer who (shades of "Arrested Development"?) is about to be hit with fraud charges.
Love how you work that Sandy Cohen magic, Mr. Gallagher. Just back off the brow-scaping, mmm-'kay?