Teen Dreams 

Once again, rich California kids are the subject of a hot nighttime drama.

McKenzie defines what teenage girls think is hot. With deep blue eyes, tousled brown hair and broad shoulders that show off well in a wife-beater, his only problem in the role of 16-year-old Ryan Atwood is that he looks about four years too old for the part. But that seems to be more of a problem for casting purists than it does for the target audience. Buff, unblemished, and with an engaging way of tucking his chin down and looking up through enviably long eyelashes, McKenzie shows a real knack for playing the guy from the wrong side of the tracks who winds up being taken in by a wealthy family with an oceanfront mansion in idyllic Orange County, Calif.

His new family is the type that those of us on the Right Coast like to sneer at: a mother who’s a former beauty queen and now makes pots of money in real estate, a father who can indulge his passion for being a public defender because of his wife’s income, and a dweeb of a video-game-playing son who is Ryan’s age, but who totally lacks any of Ryan’s teenage sophistication, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron for you.

Ryan found his way into the Cohen family after he and his older brother got busted for car theft and Ryan wound up with Sandy Cohen as his lawyer. Kirsten, Sandy’s wife, is uneasy about having a troubled kid living in her pool house, but their soulful-dreamer son, Seth, thinks his new playmate is too cool for words. So does the lovely teenage princess Marissa, who lives next door.

Predictably, Ryan quickly proves that he’s the only one of the lot of them that has more sense than God handed out to animal crackers.

“Predictably” is a word that cries out to be used in any plot summary for “The O.C.” Series creator Josh Schwartz has built his scenarios from bits and pieces of everything from “Melrose Place” and “90210” to “Rebel Without a Cause” and even “My Man Godfrey.” But originality is not what’s drawing young viewers to “The O.C.” Instead, you can credit stories that seem relevant to the 21st-century high-school zeitgeist, the lush and lavish Southern California setting, and the fact that if you gathered this many beautiful young people together in one room in real life there’d be some sort of sexual meltdown.

Actually, that’s probably what the show’s teenage viewers are hoping will happen.

Fox decided to debut this new entry on its fall schedule a month early, before the field becomes insanely cluttered with new choices. And they’re airing each episode a couple of times a week.

It’s a savvy move — one that just might set the boy from U.Va. up for more success than he dreamed of in his first time at bat. S

“The O.C.” airs on Fox at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays.


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