Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Too Beautiful for Me: One Tree Hill

This week's fifth-season finale of One Tree Hill found morose basketball coach/young novelist Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) at a crisis point. In the previous episode, Lucas had (after learning that ex-fiancee Lindsey was seeing another man) assaulted a rival player during a critical Tree Hill basketball game. Tree Hill won the game, but no matter. Depressed over the end of his relationship with Lindsey, Lucas goes on a bender and is eventually suspended for ten games. The cliffhanger ending finds Lucas at the airport, armed with two tickets to Vegas and proposing to either Brooke (Sophia Bush), a besotted Peyton (Hilarie Burton), or a newly interested Lindsay over the phone.

At a time when cultural offerings for teens are as rich and broad as ever before, One Tree Hill operates in some bizarre alternate teen universe where joy, silliness, and irony in general have been banished for being too conventional. Of course, the residents of Tree Hill aren’t teens anymore. This season found the story jumped ahead four years and the characters college graduates. The leap brought the ages of the characters into line with the actors, but a boost in maturity was not forthcoming. No one, even the now-wealthy fashion designer Brooke (Sophia Bush, who’s the show’s most enjoyable actor) Brooke, finds the slightest pleasure in adulthood or even has the ability to function removed from Tree Hill. Emotionally, Brooke and her friends might just as well still be teens.

The overriding storyline this season revolved around whether Lucas would wind up with Lindsey, who leaves him at the altar, or longtime love Peyton. Flashbacks fill in the gaps; Lucas had published a successful novel, proposed to Peyton, and she had declined. For her part, Peyton is working a nothing job at a record label in L.A. when she moves back to Tree Hill to win Lucas back and make music she believes in. Like most teen shows One Tree Hill is loaded with music, but the music Peyton prefers could just as easily have come from the soundtrack of Grey’s Anatomy – safe, emo/singer-songwriter stuff, with an extended guest role from Kate Voegele and an unfortunate appearance by Kevin Federline. Having just read a lengthy New York Times magazine article about one-man bands like St. Vincent it takes a special kind of mediocrity to settle on a bland talent like Voegele, who provided one of the show’s frequent musical montages in the penultimate episode with the umpteenth cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Moody introspection is the order of the day on “One Tree Hill,” Lucas’s half-brother Nate (James Lafferty) wrestles with self-doubt after an injury derails his chances at the NBA. Nate’s wife Haley (Bethany Joy Galeotti) tries to balance motherhood with her own budding musical career. Peyton can’t seem to get happy about anything, while Lucas goes from writer’s block to alcoholic stupor. This despair feels entirely unearned for such an attractive and intelligent bunch, and I suppose the show’s success (it returns this fall for a sixth season) is due at least in part to creator Mark Schwahn’s desire to give his teen audience a version of reality that’s so emotionally fraught it feels exactly like their own despite being completely unrealistic. Indeed, one character’s difficulty earlier this season buying a Wii for Nate and Haley’s young son marked a moment of documentary-style realism for the show.

But for someone like me, who should have left teen soaps behind long ago, the appeal of One Tree Hill (I swear, I’m only an occasional viewer) is more cosmetic. There’s something irresistible about seeing impossibly good looking people go through emotional turmoil. I only feel a little bit bad about watching a show just for the looks of the cast (especially Murray and Burton, but the whole cast looks fantastic) because it provides a nice change from trying to unspool the conspiracy theories on Lost, for example. We all need guilty pleasures. My only request for the show’s writers is just a little bit of humor and fun as we find out just whom Lucas is going to marry.


Carrie said...

Great thoughts, Simon. The show does frequently feature humor (mostly unintentionally, but still - Dan accidentally setting Keith's grave on fire last season was one of the funniest things I've ever seen on TV.) The last few episodes have been really overly dramatic and bleak. Not their strong suit because most of the actors (Sophia Bush and Bethany Joy Galeotti excluded) just can't handle the material.

This show is my ultimate guilty pleasure. I'm normally not embarrassed to mention anything I watch, but this is the one thing that gives me pause. I still admit it, because I have very little shame - but I feel just a twinge of weirdness when I do. Is that what it feels like to have a conscience?

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