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A heated and important discussion between Mike Ingram and, uh, Mike Ingram
The Case for the OC: It's not just for shoe-gazing adolescents anymore

Any debate about The OC must begin with the show's most underrated actors: Peter Gallagher's eyebrows. One moment sullen, the next pensive, then suddenly exuberant, they strut and fret across the stage like twin Shakespearean players, stealing nearly every scene.

Sure everyone likes the geeky hipness of Seth Cohen, all arms and legs, stumbling and bumbling his way into the script of a certain Cameron Crowe film, circa-1989. And Ryan Atwood, all piercing eyes and perfectly tousled hair and excuses to take off his shirt. But the real center of The OC universe - the glue that holds it all together - is lovable dad Sandy Cohen.

Forget affable Midwesterner Jim Walsh, mostly a kitchen-and-family-room prop until it was time for the annual tax advice or a stern lecture on sports gambling. Sandy Cohen has a CV that reads like a contradictory comic-book superhero: a Brooklyn Jew who longboards in the mornings, a bleeding heart who drives an SUV, a lawyer who turns his McMansion's well-appointed pool house into a way station for troubled Chino teens.

In real life, Papa Cohen would wear obnoxious Hawaiian shirts on Saturdays and blast Foghat from the hi-fi while telling the kids they don't know how to rock. But in this fairy tale version of adolescence, Sandy is the dad everyone wants but no one actually gets - a perfectly imagined hipster version of Father Knows Best. Always there with a quick half-hug or back-slap when our daily foibles are too much to bear (Two dates at once! A rip in my ironic Members Only jacket!). Then stern and deliberate - but still loveably so - in the rare moments when our glossy TV lives approach the fever pitch of real drama (The girl next door has run away to Chino! Someone's got a handgun!).

And let's not forget Sandy's other half, the beautiful and sometimes boozy Kirsten Cohen. Homemaker Cindy Walsh was attractive enough for Beverly Hills, but she wouldn't make it past the front door at a Newport Beach Yogilates class. If you ever played that game as a teenager where you have to pick someone's mom to sleep with, you know the Kirsten Cohens of the world are few and far between. She'd win every time, hands down, though neighborhood skank Julie Cooper would score a few votes only because she really would fuck you. Maybe even you and your best friend, porn-style, while little Caitlin Cooper - the most conveniently invisible TV child since Party of Five's Owen Salinger - filmed it all from the closet with a handheld steadycam.

Yes, Mischa Barton is too skinny, her body all sharp angles that could impale you if you got too close. And so far she's been a mostly one-note actress. And yes, Season One has been muddled by a few clichéd storylines and a hokey cameo by Paris Hilton. But every show has its ridiculous plot points - think Kelly Taylor joining a cult - and its lame characters - Donna Martin, anyone?

Let's not dwell on it.

Instead let's celebrate Summer Roberts, played to ditzy teenaged perfection by Rachel Bilson, who thank God is 23 so those of us born pre-1980 don't have to feel too lecherous. Maybe a little lecherous, but not Lindsay Lohan lecherous.

Of course the real greatness of the show is the writing's self-awareness. How it manages to be campy and fun in a way that sappy and sentimental 90210 rarely was, ironic and self-effacing and regularly laugh-out-loud funny. 90210 was sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but it was rarely intentional. At least The OC is in on the joke.

And then there's the music. 90210 gave us Babyface, and the painful musical stylings of David "White Man's Funk" Silver. It also gave us perfect clippings for a future VH1 Where Are They Now? montage - Duncan Sheik and Collective Soul, The Cardigans and a group called Nu Flavor that I actually had to Google to make sure they weren't just a figment of my overactive imagination.

The OC gives us Phantom Planet and Death Cab for Cutie, Mazzy Star and Joseph Arthur, Jeff Buckley and Black Eyed Peas. Bands we never imagined would crop up on a television show, particularly in a genre that tends to favor the bland bubble-gum pop of cross-country mall tours.

So I believe we all know, in our heart of hearts, which California drama brings the heat. In the immortal words of the new millennium's answer to Steve Sanders: "Welcome to the OC, bitch!"

Not so fast: The OC is just 90210 for today's annoying hipster youth

The OC's cast of characters should get down on their beautiful teenaged knees and suck the humongous cock that is 90210. Because without that pioneering epic of a West Coast mini-drama for the high school set, there'd be no OC except for the real county, notable only as a breeding ground for bland white Republicans and sport utility vehicles.

Let's see out of water suddenly forced to live among the well-heeled elite? Quirky, empathizing parents with a sickeningly happy marriage? Spoiled kids popping pills and shoplifting? Why does this all sound so familiar?

Make sure and mind the stepchildren, kids.

Sure The OC has its hip cachet - it's like that smug wanker at the end of the bar with his Pabst Blue Ribbon and ironic tee shirt, the one who emits a little sneer at every song you've programmed into the jukebox. Well you know what? I happen to like Aerosmith, asshole, and if you give me that cross-eyed look one more time I might just sock your face. 90210 was a show that wasn't afraid to be genuine, straightforward. Heartfelt, even.

Sure 90210 out-stayed its welcome. The college years were a bit of a stretch and when the kids suddenly inhabited the "real world" of adulthood, we all knew it was way past time to pull the plug.

But don't let those last few seasons mar 90210's early ride. The show had every element needed for great drama - the moral compass (Brandon Walsh), the trying-too-hard-to-fit-in new girl (Brenda Walsh), the troubled youth (Dylan McKay), the beautiful girl next door (Kelly Taylor), the annoying brain (Andrea Zuckerman, who also doubled as "the Jew" and "the poor girl" when it became necessary to make some point about religious tolerance or social justice). They even threw in Steve Sanders as a comic foil and David Silver as the kid most likely to be on the receiving end of an atomic wedgie.

But let's not forget the real key to the show's success, the sun to the cast's orbiting universe: Nat. What show would be complete without a wise old diner-owner dispensing advice on everything from love to money problems to academic pressure? For that role alone, Joe E. Tata deserves a slot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In fact, the show's gradual decline can be linked directly to Nat's declining role in the lives of its characters. By Season Four, Nat was getting less face time, David Silver was one of the cool kids and Kelly Kapowski was smoking pot in the Walsh's spare bedroom. By the time they stuck a cheesy nightclub on the ass-end of Nat's diner, you knew 90210 was on its last leg.

And don't even get me started on the music. You can take your cooler-than-thou emo rock and blow it out your ass. Rooney? Death Cab? Ryan Adams sulking the life out of a previously serviceable Oasis tune? You can keep 'em. I'll take Jamie "How Do You Talk To An Angel" Walters any day of the week and twice on Sundays, floating his dulcimer tunes to the heavens. Even if you didn't like his music, you had to respect his Beverly Hills alter ego, the mildly abusive Ray, who managed to capture the zeitgeist of a generation when he channeled our collective rage and pushed pious uber-virgin Donna Martin down the stairs.

Anyway, this fight was rigged from the beginning. The OC still has its new car smell; let's see how great she looks after a few laps around the block. Call me back in Season 4, when Ryan starts to go bald and grows a paunch, when Luke comes back just in time to pledge the local KEG chapter, when Marissa develops a coke habit and opens a ridiculous nightclub. You think nutball Oliver Trask was annoying? Wait until Season 5 when someone's pesky little cousin moves to town.

Not so fast:
The OC is just
90210 for today's
annoying hipster

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