TELEVISION Drama returns in second season of Fox's 'The O.C.'

Fox hopes lots of viewers will get this soap in their eyes.
Buoyed by boffo baseball ratings but otherwise in a big mess, Fox seeks a stable beachhead with the second season premiere of "The O.C."
The teen-powered soaper caught fire in late summer 2003 before its growth slowed in the more competitive regular season. Still, a raft of magazine covers and Internet worship bridged its May 5 cliffhanger episode and Thursday's return engagement in a challenging 8 p.m. slot opposite CBS' "Survivor: Vanuatu" and NBC's "Joey" and "Will & amp; Grace."
"O.C.'s" young lords of its affluent Orange County realm, Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) and Seth Cohen (Adam Brody), were both in trauma-induced transit when the first season ended six months ago.
Soulful Ryan had split back to his crummy old Chino neighborhood to shield pregnant ex-girlfriend, Theresa (Navi Rawat), from her violent ex-boyfriend. "Adorkable" Seth, bereft of his best friend and protector, then sailed away on his Summer Breeze mini-yacht to a destination unknown.
That left Ryan's on-and-off-again squeeze, lush Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), to do what she had to do -- take up with chesty "yard boy" D.J. (Nicholas Gonzalez). Saucy Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson) is in therapy to get over Seth, whom she initially dismissed as impossibly uncool before upgrading him to hot before he left her cold.
Seth's parents, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen (Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan), want him back home before school starts, although Dad thinks the kid should be allowed "some space" to sort out his psyche.
Their posh Newport Beach home otherwise looks like something out of "Trading Spaces," with a side order of impeccably built, shirtless workmen apparently on loan from Chippendale's.
All right, you're all caught up, save for the fact that Kirsten's super-wealthy dad, Caleb Nichol (Alan Dale), is under a heavy legal cloud after marrying spoiled-rotten Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke), who sacked hubby Jimmy (Tate Donovan), who has taken up with Kirsten's babe of a sister, Hailey (Amanda Righetti).
Can't compete
Pant-pant, "O.C." is both thick as a brick and breezily entertaining, but no match quality-wise for ABC's two new hit serials, "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." Thursday's season premiere has a few affecting scenes and some laughably feckless ones, too. Reviewers aren't supposed to tell just how Ryan and Seth get back, get back, get back to where they once belonged. But they do so just before the closing credits, with Seth telling Mom and Dad, "There's a two-for-one special on brooding young men."
That's a good line, and "O.C." still has some of them. In the following week's episode, it also has howlers such as D.J. grousing, "Don't talk to me about fair!" before upbraiding Marissa for jilting him only "because I'm the yard guy!" Oh, go trim some hedges.
The show's creator, Josh Schwartz, says he wants to "slow down the storytelling a little bit, dig in with our characters and not drive everything through a black-tie affair that you knew was going to climax in a brawl."
That means Ryan might not be throwing quite so many punches this season but will continue to spot Marissa in compromising situations.
It's looking as though his latest fall-back position could be into the arms of a comely high school guidance counselor, although that's only a semi-educated guess at this point.
Keep watching
A post-World Series Fox desperately hopes that you'll keep coming back for more and more of this. Through October, its most-popular series, "America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back," is drawing a scant 6.6 million viewers a week to rank a pathetic 60th in the overall prime-time ratings.
"The O.C." drew 9.7 million viewers last season, more than half of them advertiser-craved 18- to 49-year-olds. Fox gladly will settle for the same haul this season.
Otherwise it may have to run "American Idol" eight days a week when the fourth edition arrives in January.

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