After a long, hot summer of sad Thursday nights, Fox’s popular television series The OC has returned. It’s about time.
For those who still haven’t tuned in, the show revolves around a group of teenagers and their families in sparkly, sunny Orange County, California. The action centers on the Cohen family–Sandy (Peter Gallagher), Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) and their son Seth (Adam Brody), who is described on the show’s official site as “an existential hero in the spirit of Holden Caulfield.” In episode one, they took misfit Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) into their gorgeous mansion and set him up in their gargantuan pool house. Shootings, overdoses, book deals, fisticuffs–and, of course, plenty of teen romance–provide the drama for these rebels-with-many-causes; savvy, self-conscious dialogue and a finely tuned soundtrack make it into something more than just another nighttime soap opera. But the season premiere showed, once again, that all things are not equal in TV land.
When The OC debuted in 2003, creator Josh Schwartz crowed that this would be a show that focused on the relationships of adults as much as on the relationships of teenagers. For its first year, Kirsten and Sandy’s marriage functioned as a model relationship. Last season, when they began to have problems, super-bitch Julie Cooper Nichol (brilliantly played by Melinda Clarke) told Kirsten that she wouldn’t know what to do if the two of them split. “You and Sandy are, like, the moral center of the universe,” she declared, and many viewers–this one included–nodded in assent. Who wouldn’t want to be one-half of Sandy and Kirsten?
It’s really a question of which half. Sandy is a big-hearted former public defender and a model dad. Virginia Heffernan, in a 2003 article for Slate, hailed him as “what’s best about The OC.”) Bushy-browed, bagel-buying Sandy is the glue that holds the Cohens together. He cracks the jokes. He sees through the hypocrisy. When he goes in for a hug, the music swells.
Not much happens when Kirsten goes in for a hug. Come to think of it, it doesn’t seem like Kirsten does that much hugging. When she isn’t fighting with her dad (he died at the end of season two) or working late at the office, she’s… well, it’s not really clear what she’s doing.
We know plenty about Sandy: He likes to surf, he loves Steve McQueen, he has a knack for performing corny love songs. We know about his serious college sweetheart and their radical politics. Yet all we know about Kirsten is that she’s a mom, and that she’s not so good at it: She can’t cook (they order takeout on Thanksgiving); she doesn’t clean; and when she’s not not-cooking or not-cleaning, she’s drinking. She chugged margaritas at Thanksgiving, took a wine tour with a co-worker and downed vodka at her dad’s funeral.