Back on the air after those boring baseball playoffs finally limped to an end, The O.C. returns with not so much a bang as a whimper. Look, we're as much fans of necessary soap-opera exposition as the next long-haul truck driver, but for an all-important season premiere, this installment drags things out way too much. Telegraphing its punches like Jerry Quarry, the show spends most of its hour setting up adultery, school fights, custody battles, career misgivings and the ascension of a new primetime soap Queen of Mean (Melinda Clarke's Julie Cooper) that won't be fully realized until future weeks. Unfortunately, this saps Fox's No. 1 teen soaper of its trademark humor--intended and otherwise.