Monday, August 4, 2003

'The O.C.' verges on must-see

New Fox series peeks at rich and famous

If Fox wanted to re-invent Beverly Hills 90210 for a new generation of viewers, it couldn't do much better than The O.C.

A great show with a lousy title, The O.C. (9 p.m. Tuesday, Channels 19, 45) arrives six weeks before the fall TV season as the sly Fox tries to build an audience for a special show against repeats.

By the way, The O.C. stands for Southern California's Orange County, the affluent communities down the road from Beverly Hills.

Unknown Brian McKenzie stars as Ryan Atwood, a troubled teen from the poor side of town taken in by Sandy Cohen, an idealistic public defender (Peter Gallagher, American Beauty).

Cohen sees himself in the young loner: "I grew up no money, bad part of the Bronx. My father was gone, and my mother worked all the time. I was stupid. A smart kid like you, you've got to have some sort of a plan."

But Sandy's wife, the perfect socialite, doesn't like his plan of having a total stranger living in their pool house.

"You brought him home? He's not a puppy," Kristen (Kelly Rowan, Hook) tells Sandy. "You're endangering our home. What if he's using you to case the house?"

Ryan provides the perfect vehicle for viewers to observe the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and their spoiled teenagers.

Since he's living with the Cohens in Newport Beach, everyone assumes he's part of the family. Isn't he the wealthy Boston cousin? He doesn't bother to correct them.

Outside observer

Through him, we get to go sailing in the Pacific Ocean with Sandy's shy, bookish son (Adam Brody, Gilmore Girls), and party poolside with all the cool kids.

The coolest of them all is Marissa (Mischa Barton), the girl next door. We also learn that Marissa's dad is ducking investigators from the Securities and Exchange Commission, obviously laying the groundwork for future episodes.

What makes The O.C. most appealing is McKenzie. Consider him a young James Dean or Russell Crowe, take your pick.

He's flattered by the comparison, and a bit intimidated.

"It's very complementary if I'm being compared to great actors like Mr. Dean and Mr. Crowe. I'm just a kid who's on a TV show at this point," McKenzie, 24, told TV critics recently in Los Angeles.

"At some point, maybe I'll deserve that comparison ... I've been very fortunate. These guys have really put a lot of faith in me, because you can look down at my bio and ... realize I haven't done anything."

When a critic complained that his Ryan looked too clean cut to have come from a broken, drug-infested home, McKenzie replied:

"Listen, we're not doing Chekov or Ibsen. This is a drama on Fox," he says. "What's interesting to me is the conflict between his past life and his future ... in addition to the fact that I believed it would pay my rent, which I hadn't been able to do."

Risky proposition

Fox is taking a risk launching its best fall drama in August, when many viewers are too busy to watch TV. But the strategy has worked before, when it debuted Melrose Place in the summer of 1992, and built an audience for 90210 with original summer episodes.

The O.C. is way more than just OK. It makes my Top 10 list of the best new fall shows.

And it could provide McKenzie with enough cash not only to pay his back rent, but to buy a place of his own in Orange County.


Vote in our 'Marry My Dad' poll
KIESEWETTER: 'The O.C.' verges on must-see
Get to It: A Guide to Help Make Your Day

Blazing finale tops successful Blues Fest
Bon Jovi doesn't quite deliver as promised
Singers aside, rock songs the same
Warwick's fans revel in parade of hits
Lips warm up slowly, then generate heat

Vary exercise routine to prevent boredom
Fit Bits: Ways to stay active and healthy

'Wedding' takes cake at box office

Musical infusion stokes Tall Stacks
Tall Stacks, great acts
Riverboat fest adds more local musicians
America thinks lists are tops
At major magazines, lists are No. 1

Bright Sheng's 'Madame Mao' powerful, courageous and bold
NKU cast turns 'Dracula' into laughs

Sheng hopes 'Madame' can play in China
Demaline: The Arts
Weekend 'game' will have Tristate abuzz with filmmakers
Tell us about fall festivals
Ballet director seeks fearless, humble dancers

Cartoonists go eye-to-eye
Matches were childhood flame for Kentucky man
3 families secure adopted daughters
Kendrick: Alive and well

He's peach of the 'burbs
Get your peaches fresh
Go over top with this year's tomato crop
Serve it this week: Hummus