Photo by Jorge SalasPerpetually mopey teen Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) is up on charges after getting caught in a stolen car jacked by his big brother, but idealistic public defender Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher and his eyebrows, a million miles from Sex, Lies and Videotapeand American Beauty) manages to spring the troubled teen and return him to his Chino dump. But Ryan's alcoholic mom has skipped with her abusive boyfriend, so Sandy brings Ryan home to his Newport Beach manse—and the greatest Fox network teen soaper set in Orange County is on, baby! Sandy's nerdy son, Seth (Adam Brody), a master of the one-liner, latches onto good-with-his-mitts Ryan, and next-door-neighbor-who-appears-to-have-been-jerked-off-a-high-fashion-runway Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) has the hots for the new kid, despite his lack of actual dialogue. But just about everyone else gives "Chino" the stink eye or, in the case of teenage-testosterone receptacle Luke (Chris Carmack), an actual pummeling, preceded by the tres poetic, "Welcome to the O.C., bitch. This is how it's done in Orange County." LOOK! QUICK!! IT'S A RARE REPRESENTATION OF OUR COUNTY'S LARGE AND GROWING HISPANIC POPULATION, EMBODIED BY ROSIE THE LATINA MAID!!! Sandy's hot-when-the-camera-hits-her-right wife Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) doesn't snuggle up to the idea of harboring a troubled Inland Empirian, so Ryno is foster-home bound until Seth and Luke's supposed girlfriend Marissa sneak him into an unfinished model home owned by Orange County's largest development company, which just so happens to be run by Kirsten and owned by Kirsten's dad, Caleb Nichol (Alan Dale, channeling real-life Newport Beach megadeveloper Don Bren). Luke shows up at the model home to smash Ryan's face but a fire breaks out, Ryan pulls Luke to safety, the cops arrive and Ryan's got even more troubles until Seth, Marissa and Luke fess up to being involved, too. With Newport kids involved, charges must be dropped (see Gregory Haidl pot-bust stories by R. Scott Moxley in this newspaper). Ryan's mom, Dawn Atwood (Daphne Ashbrook), suddenly appears to retrieve her son and take him back home to the 909, swearing that things will be better now that her smack daddy has split, but when Ma Atwood descends into a drunken stupor at a high-society gala chaired by Kirsten, Kirsten agrees with Sandy that they should take Ryan in for good. It's also at that chi-chi event that the investment-scamming ways of Marissa's dad, Jimmy Cooper (Tate Donovan), are made public. That drives away his wife (and Marissa's mom), Julie (Melinda Clarke), who's so accustomed to wealth that she denies her own Riverside roots. Jimmy seeks comfort from his childhood sweetheart, Kirsten, but she rejects his romantic advances. Caleb later pops into the Cohen home with a 24-year-old bombshell dangling from his arm. He's pissed over the torched model home and angrier that his daughter has a live-in tenant from the 909. So Kirsten kinda quits the family business, Caleb gives his daughter the don't-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-ass treatment—and then they make up. In the Cohen pool house, Caleb's honey makes out with Ryan. Marissa walks in on them, bolts in disgust and goes off to lose her virginity to stud muffin Luke. Seth, meanwhile, is finally poised to score with the girl of his boyhood dreams—and Marissa's best gal pal—Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson, seen recently riding a bike with Brody on the cover of OC Weekly). But Summer can't put aside Seth's nerd rep. With Ryan, Marissa, Seth and Summer all at odds, they do what comes naturally: head for Tijuana, a last-weekend-before-school-starts "tradition" in the 949. It's there that Marissa learns her parents are divorcing and that boyfriend Luke is cheating on her, so she goes off on a drunken, pill-poppin' bender and OD's in a TJ alley. After five weeks of baseball playoffs on Fox, we finally learn she pulled through, although she fails to acknowledge she's one screwed-up chica. Sandy leaves the public defender's office for a high-powered law firm, and one of his first cases pits him against Kirsten and Caleb, whose company plans to build on the mesa overlooking the ecologically sensitive Balboa Wetlands (think Don Bren builder-pal Don Koll and the Bolsa Chica Wetlands). Caleb, who apparently dumped the bombshell, hooks up with Julie. Marissa exchanges fluids with Ryan. Sandy fights off the advances of his smokin'-hot law partner Rachel (Bonnie Somerville). And virginal Seth is suddenly fighting off two tightly wrapped little numbers, Summer and Anna Stern (Samaire Armstrong). LOOK! IT'S ROSIE AGAIN!!! Sadly, Rosie's off screen before she can hook up with anyone. Ryan and Marissa pay a Thanksgiving visit to his brother Trey Atwood (Bradley Stryker) at the Chino men's prison. Bro has a problem: in order to stop the beatings inmates are giving him for welching on $6,000 in gambling losses outside, Ryan must deliver a stolen car to a chop shop. Over at the Cohen manse, Rachel comes over for Thanksgiving, but Sandy and Kirsten are really trying to set her up with fellow invitee Jimmy. Things get complicated when Caleb arrives unannounced with Julie. Bouncing around the house like a pinball amid all this is Seth, who has Anna in his bedroom and Summer in the pool house, both waiting to dry hump him into real manhood. Ryan delivers the car, but Marissa has to save him from chop-shop thugs. After their return to OC, Ryan is partnered in a history-class project with former mortal enemy Luke. They get all palsy-walsy and head to a car dealership owned by Luke's father, whom the boys unwittingly catch in the gayest gay kiss in prime time since Uncle Bill slipped Mr. French the tongue in that lost Family Affair episode. When word gets out that Luke's dad has a secret life, meatheads from the crosstown rival high school beat the crap out of him and Ryan—because, you know, the next worst thing to being a fag is being a fag's son or the fag's son's new best friend. They're fully healed by Chrismukkah, "the greatest superholiday known to man," according to its inventor, Seth, who is, after all, the child of an OC WASP princess and Bronx Jewboy. His holiday mood, though, is spoiled when he's forced to choose once and for all between Anna and Summer—and he winds up with bubkes, which is how much Caleb, who was in line to make $250 million off Balboa Heights, ends up selling the ecologically sensitive land for after legal eagle Sandy sets his eyes on damaging insider information supplied by Kirsten. Marissa, who can't deal with the holidays amid her parental unit's split, does what any privileged, model-quality teen around here would do: turn to the bottle, something that nearly drives Ryan away as he has his own holiday-season issues involving an alcoholic mother. She saves her relationship—and perhaps her life—by finally agreeing to seek therapy, and it is in her shrink's waiting room that she encounters the googly eyes and inane small talk of fellow patient Oliver (Taylor Handley). Just in time for New Year's Eve, Kirsten's hell-raising, much younger—and previously unmentioned—sister Haley Nichols (Amanda Righetti) shows up and convinces the Cohens to get out of their marital rut by attending a swinging party—only it's really a swingers party. Haley then locks Seth and Ryan in the pool house and throws a rager in the Cohen manse, but among her guests are tough chicks who want to kick her ass. She turns to the boys in the pool house for help, and they cut power to the manse, forcing everyone to leave—except for a threesome Sandy later walks in on in his bedroom after he and Kirsten had left a whole bunch of threesomes behind at the parental-swap orgy. Ryan then darts off to plant a midnight kiss on Marissa, who'd gone strapless to a party in the Four Seasons penthouse thrown by mega-loaded Oliver, who was angling to pinch hit with his own lips. It sucks to be you, Richie Rich: Chino wins!
Oh, forgot: put on the crappiest KROQ music and go back and read this over again.