The show premiered the same year (2003) as the more buzzed about The O.C. and at times shared a network with the more critically acclaimed Everwood and Veronica Mars. All have since been canceled but One Tree Hill, the tale of two troubled half brothers from North Carolina, has survived.
Season 5 is proof of One Tree Hill’s infallibility. The minds behind the show risked jumping the shark by fast forwarding four years in order to skip past the messy prospect of transitioning teenage characters to college.
Turning One Tree Hill into a story about struggling 20-somethings actually improved a mostly mediocre show. And now that Desperate Housewives is attempting a similar jump in time,
One Tree Hill looks cutting edge – almost.
As teenagers, the characters on One Tree Hill were always saddled with plots better suited to someone twice their age – getting married, having kids, creating a clothing line and going on tour. Now that the kids are all grown up, it’s a little easier to accept that Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) is a best-selling author, Brooke (Sophia Bush) is a wildly successful fashion maven and Nathan (James Lafferty) and Haley (Bethany Joy Galeotti) are happily married parents of a four-year-old.
The scenarios are a little easier to accept, but the show’s basic weaknesses remain.
Most prominent among those issues is the never ending romantic entanglements of One Tree Hill’s main character, the saintly Lucas. He and Peyton (Hilarie Burton) have been pining for each other since the beginning and Lucas has also been in a relationship with Brooke. Season 5 adds book editor Lindsey (Michaela McManus) to the mix.
The geometric mess that is Lucas’ love life might be interesting if Murray played Lucas as something more than a pretentious, sanctimonious downer. He has no chemistry to speak of with McManus. Burton’s wooden performance has always made the characters’ love of Peyton seem completely unbelievable. Not much has changed now that “P. Sawyer” is 20-something – toothy smiles seem to be the upper limits of Burton’s range.
That leaves Brooke, who is probably the most layered character on the show. In addition to pulling the clothing line out of the icy grip of her mother, Brooke decides to start a family in Season 5. Considering how easily the addition of kids can ruin a show, her efforts to care for a foster child are surprisingly touching.
As the season begins, Lucas’ women drama takes a backseat to the angst-ridden life of older half-brother Nathan. Nathan’s injuries during a fight ruined his shot at professional basketball. He’s paralyzed, ignoring Haley and their son and sporting facial hair that makes him look like a Yeti.
Nathan comes off like a whiny loser so it’s hard to understand why the warm and caring Haley wants to make their marriage work. Throw in a convoluted “evil nanny” plot and you’ve got another chunk of One Tree Hill that’s worth fast forwarding – this time using the DVR. The scenes of Scott family drama are made somewhat more bearable by the completely adorable Jackson Brundage, who plays son Jamie.
One Tree Hill’s supporting characters do much of the heavy lifting in the charm and depth department. Skills (Antwon Tanner) affair with older woman Deb (Barbara Alyn Woods) is a hoot. In fact, the show becomes ten times more compelling and fun any time the action shifts to the apartment that Skills shares with Mouth (Lee Norris) and background lunkheads Junk and Fergie.
Those moments work best because these characters have believable 20-something lives and struggles that match with the show’s blue-collar, small town, folksy vibe. One Tree Hill isn’t the only show to put young men and women in unbelievably glamorous or gothic situations – Gossip Girl anyone? Unlike One Tree Hill, however, Gossip Girl’s tone fits that show’s outlandish plots.
Among the extras is a featurette about the show reaching the 100 episode mark, beginning with this quote by creator Mark Schwahn: “It’s a funny thing about getting to 100, all the rest of it goes away. Whatever the critics had to say, whatever the haters had to say you just kind of want to look at them and go its 100 episodes man, check out the scoreboard.”
Schwahn and his actors are justifiably proud that One Tree Hill has achieved a relatively rare milestone. But if a television show’s success is based on how many of its episodes are memorable, One Tree Hill is ultimately losing the game.