California ... CALIFORNIA ....

From the moment the show hit our screens - with Ryan and his older brother jacking a car and being chased by the cops - to the first encounter with Sandy and the Cohens to the first sighting of Marissa to the punching out of Luke to all the rest, The O.C. has always been a show of excess. Trying to be and get away with more than the average show. It wants to be 90210, but it incorporates more adult storylines; it wants to be My So-Called Life, but it infuses more comedy; it wants to be Party of Five, but there's more of a flavor of autonomy among the characters - the characters in The O.C. are thrust together in a One Big Family role, but oftentimes are left alone to sort out problems.

Maybe the writing was on the wall from the very beginning, but here's what we know: for a show like this to thrive for an enduring period of time, there needs to be more characters involved. You want to know why the first season was a smash success? Everything else aside, they had tons of secondary characters that, in one way or another, they started getting rid of left and right. Big mistake. Sure, Oliver ... (just like in The Brady Bunch, never trust an introduced new character by the name of Oliver!) he sucked, but that doesn't mean you purge the show of Luke, Anna, Jimmy, Hailey, Caleb, and everyone else they frittered away in the name of "I Can't Think Of Any More Storylines For These People." Bottom line is, when you pare things down the way The O.C. did, you're GOING to run out of stories for the remaining characters because you'll have done everything plausible WITH them. Which results in crazy new characters and inane, contrived plot twists (Ryan's brother, Marissa's lesbian affair, Seth's Comic Book fiasco with Zach, Ryan's many Marissa-Fill-Ins).

Many people have many complaints about The O.C. For a Teen Drama, why do they devote half the show to issues of the adults? Personally, I don't have a problem with that one, because the adults for the most part are interesting. And besides, the show's called "The O.C." not "The O.C. Kids." But, it becomes a little problematic when the parents start dominating the stories (Kirsten's alcoholism, rehab, and subsequent ordeal with what's-her-name from Star Trek; Sandy's old fling blazing through town; The Saga That Is Julie Cooper-Nicholl). When they stuck to the parental storylines as they affected the children - Julie/Luke affair, Jimmy's money troubles, Sandy To The Rescue - it was much more effective.

Really, what sets The O.C. apart from these other Teen Dramas, though, is the fact that it's always had a sense of humor - especially about the Teen Drama genre itself. I never had an interest in 90210, nor Party of Five or Melrose Place or any of those other shows (My So-Called Life, however, was a masterpiece of televised drama for its time and any other; I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be emotionally affected by fictional characters), so when I was introduced to The O.C. I was skeptical. Sure, the music was pretty good, and the chicks were all hot (including the moms), but more than anything else, the writing was really clever. I guess it's too much to ask to keep that torrid quality over the course of multiple seasons, but for those first 27 episodes, The O.C. has no rival. With everything up in the air in the Season 1 finale, I almost have to wish that the show forever ended with Seth riding out into the Pacific Ocean alone on his little boat. Because, compared to that first season, everything after has been a huge disappointment.

That isn't to say there haven't been moments that I've enjoyed. There have. But, there was never any point in Season 1 where I questioned WHY I was still watching; during most of Season 2 and most of Season 3 (up until the last week or two), I repeatedly found myself disappointed with the direction of the show, with the actions of the characters, with the newfound slow, plodding pace of events; in general, with the lack of a pulse. You really can't pinpoint it to any one thing or one decision. Just a series of new characters that weren't meant to be on the show very long intruding on the lives of those stable ones we've grown accustomed to. What's the point of introducing a new Love Interest into the life of Ryan or Marissa when you can see the Three-Episode-Story-Arc coming a mile away?

Anyone who blames the cancellation of The O.C. on its being placed on Thursdays at 9pm, opposite CSI and Grey's Anatomy, are the same people who blame the referees for the Seahawks losing the Super Bowl last year. Yes, it's easy to say that was a bonehead move, but don't forget what got The O.C. to that point: it had been losing viewers exponentially ever since its first season. And, do you know why it was losing viewers? Aside from all the reasons I've listed above, The O.C. got its start by being placed as the show directly AFTER American Idol. When you've got 20+ million people watching one thing, you've got to figure about half will be too lazy to change the channel (which is about what The O.C. drew in its first year). The O.C. could've retained their viewers if they hadn't dropped the ball on the writing front (just like the Seahawks).

Marissa needed to die; that much is clear. She was a drain on the show, Mischa Barton's acting is the worst I've ever seen, and her storylines were growing more and more insane. It was only a matter of time before we would've seen her in the same unwashed robe, wandering around the mansion of whatever man Julie's shacking up with, muttering about how she can't get the dirt off her hands. And with her untimely-in-the-sense-that-she-should've-died-two-seasons-prior death, I'm happy to say The O.C. is fresh and better than ever. Granted, it's not better than Season 1, but it's returned - at least for me - to a show I'm looking forward to watching. Of course, what better time to cancel it?

Personally, if I were in charge, I'd have The O.C. go five seasons. I think there are enough stories to adequately fill up one more year. Of course, if I were in charge, Bullet would've been introduced in Season 2, Oliver would've shot himself in the head, Hailey never would've left The O.C. for that crappy other show, Jimmy would've had FAR more hijinks, Luke would be just as douchey as ever, they would've found a proper roll for Anna to play within that little world, and Kirsten would be sauced 24/7. But, alas, I have no creative control over the show. I'm just a fan. A fan who'll have to sit uncomfortably as the final seven episodes go cascading by and out of my life forever.

Last night, Liz and I finally bonded. Sure, we've always been friendly bedroom neighbors, exchanging pleasantries on a daily basis. But, last night, after it finished downloading, Liz and I sat down together and watched the latest episode of The O.C. She hadn't seen the show since it was good (Season 1), and together we had a grand ol' time mocking the state of things as I caught her up on all the pertinent O.C. gossip. See, she's from the Los Angeles area, so she enlightened me as to how these Newport people really are.

That's the power The O.C. has, my friends. Bringing two shut-ins together.

Right back where we started from ...