Rachelbilson_theoc_s4_240_1 When FOX sent episodes of The O.C. to critics last month, four episodes were included. The first three came with the intention of showing how Josh Schwartz and company planned to dig out from under the pathos (bathos?) of Marissa Cooper’s death. The fourth was supposed to indicate the tone and direction the show will take in the episodes to come.

Fittingly titled "The Metamorphosis" (and not because any of the characters wake up to discover that they’ve become giant cockroaches), the season’s fourth episode concentrates on character interactions and relationships. That means that nobody throws a single punch, nobody contemplates having an affair, nobody starts drinking or doing drugs and nobody falls off a cliff. People just move forward and they do it with sharp dialogue (courtesy of Leila Gerstein), killer musical cues and ample sex appeal from all and sundry.

In the episode: Ryan takes a job at a Mexican restaurant (El Pavo Guapo, The Handsome Turkey), but has to help Taylor with her attempt to exit her quickie French marriage. Seth flies to Brown and discovers that Summer’s transition from New Summer back to Old Summer may not be complete. Sandy realizes that all of his male friends have either been killed off or quit the show and sets up a Man Date. Julie and Caitlin make a bet that Julie can swear off men and Caitlin can stay out of trouble. And Che plays the guitar naked.

FOX is saying that the network hopes The O.C. gets an audience boost come December when everything else moves into repeats (as opposed to fiddling with alternative lead-ins and possible time slots that don’t include TV’s most popular show in the core O.C. demo) but the idea of viewers missing this episode is disappointing. Please watch? Oh well…

Some hightlights:

  • It’s a great episode for Rachel Bilson and choosing Summer’s best moment would be difficult. As much as I loved her rapid journey through the five stages of grief, I like her apologizing to Seth for going Green by declaring "I turned into a liberal zealot just to distract myself from my own grief." Summer/Bilson’s troubles pronouncing "zealot" sells the line.
  • Autumnreeser_theoc_s4_240_1Ryan smiles. Several times. Yes, there’s a very familiar conversation between Sandy and Ryan in which they mope about how life may never be the same, but Taylor’s marital difficulties bring out the endearing side of Ryan’s ongoing Hero Complex. There have been several attempts to accentuate Ben McKenzie’s lighter side, but Taylor may have the perfect recipe.
  • Caitlin’s look of discovery after sneaking into her first adult nightclub was very sweet, both how Willa Holland played it and how it resonnated with Brenda Walsh’s own fake ID experience in the pilot for Beverly Hills, 90210.
  • Earlier this week, I wrote a post on valuable guest stars and saluted Jose Zuniga. Far from any sign of the illegal drug trade, Zuniga gets to be funny and normal, which may mean that he won’t be seen again until he plays a pimp on CSI: Miami (that’s just a hunch).
  • The return of doppelganger drama The Valley, including an overheard subplot about an aspiring kickboxer whose dreams are shattered by a torn ACL, mocking last season’s faux tragic Johnny drama (not to be confused with Kevin Dillon’s true Johnny Drama).
  • Chris Pratt’s Che is a wonderful force of good until the writers give in to the inexorable temptation to wedge him into a love triangle with Seth and Summer.

    It’s a great episode, but some less successful aspects:

  • Two of the episode’s better suplots — Sandy’s Man-Date and Julie Cooper Urban Cougar — have the disadvantage to come weeks after similar plots on episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I had my O.C. screeners before either HIMYM episode aired, but still…
  • Luke’s younger brothers feel like filler comic relief holding a place until it’s time for Caitlin to get a real solo plot of her own. Hopefully that time will be soon.
  • Another Grey’s Anatomy joke regarding the absent Doctor Roberts ("Is that short sassy lady still bossing Dr. Roberts around the hospital?"), which almost plays as a sad lament for all of the viewers stolen by ABC’s medical juggernaut.

    What’d you think about this week’s O.C.?

  • Posted by:Daniel Fienberg