Curious Guy: ‘The OC’

The Mystery of Boogie

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Delivering the mail

After sifting through some mail, Bill Simmons breaks down 'The OC' vs. '90210'

Editor’s note: This column originally ran on Feb. 18, 2005.

As a sports fan, you have hundreds and hundreds of players pass through your life every decade, and maybe 10 of them are memorable, and maybe three of those 10 turn out to be good guys as well, people who make you feel OK about the fact that you waste so much time following sports. Tedy Bruschi? He’s one of those 3-out-of-1,000 guys. Needless to say, I didn’t handle yesterday’s news very well. Since it’s silly to write anything else until we find out what really happened here, I wanted to pass along best wishes to No. 54 and his family, and that’s that.

One more note: I’m headed to Denver for All-Star Weekend this afternoon, and my column will be posted on Tuesday morning — details from the party scene, highlights from the events, celebrity sightings, All-Star Game grades, even a surprise H-O-R-S-E game against someone who might surprise you. So stay tuned. Until then, you’ll have to make due with this mailbag. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers …

Q: What do you think of Colin Farrell as Crockett and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs in the upcoming Miami Vice movie?

— George Silva, Reno, NV

SG: I’m down with Foxx as Tubbs — he’ll realize that the beauty of Tubbs was how he straddled the line between “believable cop” and “complete self-parody.” Tubbs was the only character in TV history who could have pretended to be “undercover” by ripping off his shirt in a strip club, dancing around like a maniac and singing the words to Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” in a bad Jamaican accent, then switched gears and taken a call from a homicidal drug dealer 15 seconds later. He was one of a kind. I think Foxx can pull it off.

But Colin Farrell as Crockett? Yeeeeeesh. Forget about the fact that he can’t even master an American accent — as his performance in Phone Booth proved — has he ever been in anything good? Check out his page, it’s a train wreck. How does he keep getting plum roles? He’s also about 10 years too young for Crockett, who was in his late-30’s and always looked like he just had one of those “three packs of cigarettes, six Jack-and-Cokes and two strippers” nights (only that had been the routine for like 15 years). Also Don Johnson was funny as hell as Crockett. Has Colin Farrell had one funny moment in his career? I would have gone after Brad Pitt as Sonny: perfect age, decent sense of humor, could definitely pull off the hungover routine. If he turned it down, I would have gone after George Clooney or Ed Norton. If they turned it down, I wouldn’t have done the movie.

(And just for the record, I hope they center the movie around Calderon, because the two-part pilot episode and Calderon’s Return two-parter, patched together, with some edits, could have been a great 80s movie at the time. No reason it couldn’t work now. More on this when I review the Miami Vice: Season One DVD at some point this spring.)

Q: I came up with a fullproof idea for disproving that the WNBA is a real sport. You choose a person from a city that has a WNBA team and ask them the following question, “Would you rather your WNBA team win the championship or be walking along and find a $5 bill on the ground.” So far I haven’t found anyone that will choose the championship. What do you think?

— Josh, Kansas City, MO

SG: I think you’re a genius.

(By the way, how ’bout poor Chicago getting stuck with a WNBA team last week? These floating WNBA teams are like the worst possible present at a Yankee Swap … they keep getting passed around the room and nobody wants to end up with them. It’s like ending up with a $25 gift certificate to Chess King. Um, gee, thanks … )

Q: If there was a Past Champions-Only Slam Dunk Contest, who would win? I say it would be Vince Carter with Dominique coming in a close second.

— Scott Armstrong, Lexington, KY

SG: I’m assuming that all guys would regain the absolute apex of their powers for one day, which is the only way such a contest would make sense. If that’s the case, I think MJ would win because Team Stern would rig it for him over ‘Nique, just like they did in 1988. Remember that one? ‘Nique brought the house down and ended up getting screwed over. Better yet, he was completely devastated about it, which is why those contests can never be topped — there will never be another meaningless contest, in any sport, that athletes took so seriously. As for Vince, he would have finished a distant third — MJ would have gotten in his head and broken him down mentally in sections. Vince would have swallowed his own tongue like Miggs in Silence of the Lambs by the time the contest was over.

(Here’s my buddy House’s take, and just because he’s the only person I’ve ever met who could be classified as a dunk contest historian: “I’m just not sold that Vince would come through in the clutch, consistent with every other ‘big’ moment in his career. MJ and Dominique went at each other with the highest stakes on the line — the amount of pride involved in their one-on-one showdowns was almost without parallel. VC, on the other hand, had nothing to lose and everything to gain in 2000. I think VC’s line would be 47-50-DQ if he had to face anybody legit, in his prime, in a real pressure situation.”)

Q: I know what your grace rule is for criticizing a team after they have won a title, but what is the grace period for accepting kisses from one’s dog after he has licked his genitals?

— Rich, Buffalo, NY

SG: Same thing — five years.

Q: I don’t know how much you can comment on it, being an ESPN production and all, but I think they’re missing a golden opportunity with the new “Dream Job: NBA Analyst Search.” We need some wild-card contestants like Qyntel Woods. Can you even imagine?

— Todd G., Mansfield, TX

SG: I’m with you. And just for the record, this was Reason No. 590 why I should be running the Worldwide Leader right now. First, I would have waited until the summer to do this show, just so Dikembe Mutombo could have been involved. I would have had Mo Cheeks and Darius Miles, and Rafer Alston and Sam Mitchell as tandem entries. Former Nugget Reggie Williams would have gotten an invite. Paul Mokeski would have been in there. And the fact that Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf wasn’t involved … honestly, I can’t even talk about this anymore. Just give me the car keys to Bristol. Please.

Q: You made a comment in your Ramblings about letting Isiah Thomas run different things into the ground. Well, we’re living through just that right now. It’s called “The Life of George W. Bush”. Running multiple oil companies into the ground? No problem. Trading Sammy Sosa when he ran the Texas Rangers? No problem. Running the U.S. economy into the ground? No problem. And I didn’t even touch the whole Iraq thing. Quite a resume he has — much more impressive than Isiah, don’t you think?

— Kevin B., Phoenix

SG: I’m not sure I see the comparison. For one thing, Isiah doesn’t owe much of his career to his father; people keep giving him chances over and over again, for no reason at all, really. But more important, I think he would have one-upped Dubya as president by being able to hunt down Bin Laden … it’s just that Isiah would have immediately offered him a six-year, $70 million contract and screwed up America’s salary cap for the next five years.

Q: I’m right there with you regarding the greatness of “Rounders,” but one thing always bothered me: Is there any way a cold-blooded, Russian mob guy who owns an underground poker place would have such an obvious tell as not eating Oreo cookies when he’s bluffing? I say no. There is a greater likelihood of Doug Christie going Tony Montana on us.

— Tee, Sao Paolo, Brazil

SG: I’m with you on this one, although it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as Mike McD turning down a free night of sex with Famke Janssen. Every time I watch Rounders — WRITTEN BY THE CREATORS OF THE NEW SMASH-HIT POKER DRAMA TILT, WHICH YOU CAN SEE EVERY THURSDAY NIGHT ON ESPN!!!!! — Teddy’s tell bothers me a little bit more.

Then I started thinking about it. When the movie was released (1998), movie audiences weren’t even remotely educated about poker, so maybe they had to play it that way. I remember not picking up Teddy KGB’s tell until like the fourth time I watched the movie, and that was only because the movie inspired me to start learning about poker, which is when I learned about tells and all that stuff. If they released that movie now — and by they, I’m referring to THE CREATORS OF THE NEW SMASH-HIT POKER DRAMA TILT, WHICH YOU CAN SEE EVERY THURSDAY NIGHT ON ESPN!!!!! — I think they would have written a less-obvious tell for Teddy.

Q: In a few years, when Tiger starts winning majors again, do you think this current era will be asterisked in the record books as “The Swedish Nanny Years,” like it was for those guys who were away on duty during WWII?

— Robert Kerch, Piano, Texas

SG: I don’t think there’s any question. But I’m more worried that Tiger is becoming the Eddie Murphy of golf. Think about it. A prodigy becomes a superduperstar at an incredibly young age. Everyone thinks he’s headed for the All-Time Pantheon. By the age of 25, he’s the biggest star in the world and the richest athlete … and he falls in love … and he loses the eye of the tiger (no pun intended), and suddenly he’s making crap like Harlem Nights and Another 48 Hours. And if this is true, that means the best we’re getting out of Tiger over these next 15 years is a Boomerang and maybe a Nutty Professor, along with a never-ending stream of crap like Metro and I Spy. So yes, I’m a little concerned here. And you should be, too.

Q: Is there any phrase that you would want to hear less than: “We now go live to Roger Cossack to discuss the Bill Simmons situation.”

— Jeff Mc, N. Weymouth, MA

SG: That’s right up there with: “Your conference call with Don Yaeger and Lester Munson is in 20 minutes,” “Hey, the camera crew from Real Sports is here” and “You may want to take a deep breath before you click on The Smoking Gun.” But yes, there’s one sentence I would rather hear less than any of those … and that’s “Good news, we’re sending you to Jacksonville again!”

Q: Who’s on your list of celebrities that you’re waiting to run into on the street and talk to? Personally I wouldn’t mind running into Tom Cruise, patting him on the back, and with a look of utter compassion say, “I’m really sorry about Goose.”

— Danny Smith, Miami Beach

SG: I already peaked in this category two years ago, in the Jimmy Kimmel Live green room, when my buddy Tony and I convinced Luke Perry to reenact the “fall to the ground, hold both fists in the air and scream” scene after his father blew up on90210. I wish I was kidding. These are the things that happen when you work for a late night TV show.

(That reminds me … )

Q: I know it’s only halfway through the second season, but has the time come to seriously compare The OC with the grandaddy of the genre, Beverly Hills: 90210?

— Michael Tedesco, Hopewell, NJ

You’re right, it’s time. Let’s break this baby down, Dr. Jack-style. To keep things fair, I’m only comparing The OC to the first two seasons of 90210.

Premise: 90210 revolved around two twins from Minnesota moving to Beverly Hills and dealing with rich people. The OC had a troubled kid from Encino moving to Orange County and dealing with rich people. The lesson, as always: You’re probably going to have a hit show if an outsider is dealing with rich people. The OC pilot was better — actually, it was probably the best episode in the history of the show — but90210 gets points for originality. Too tough to call.

Stars: Brandon Walsh could have been a pretty corny part in the wrong hands, especially when the pilot had him turning down the advances from a smoking-hot chick in a hot tub, or the episode when Emily Valentine slipped him an ecstasy pill and he reacted like she had infected him with an AIDS-infected needle. It was also confusing how the writers made him the moral conscience of the show, then gave him a gambling problem out of nowhere, or had him smash up his car in a DWI accident. But Jason Priestley handled all of these things, became a pretty big star, helped launch the remarkably bizarre sideburns trend, hosted an SNL episode and breathed life into lines like “You sure you should be driving?” and “You OK?” Good actor, great part. He was the rock of the show — we even forgave him after he broke the Code of Guys and started dating his best friend’s girlfriend.

Meanwhile, if it wasn’t for Marissa, Ryan would have been the weak link of The OC — he was very good in the first few episodes, before the whole “he’s a brooding outsider with a hair-trigger temper who means well” act wore thin because they ordered too many episodes at once. By the end of the season, Ben McKenzie (who plays Ryan) was stuck doing Jay Mohr’s eyeball rolling, “I love her man!” impersonation of Andrew McCarthy, only he wasn’t kidding. So they preppied him up in Season 2, gave him a self-deprecating sense of humor and a broader personality, and now he’s an absolute mess — to the point that they’re starting to steer the show around Seth. What happened to the guy who wore leather jackets and white T-shirts and couldn’t express himself? Now he’s whipping out one-liners like Yakov Smirnoff. I’m confused.


Breakout Sidekick: I’m already on record as saying that the guy who plays Seth (Adam Brody) has the best chance of anyone to become the next Tom Hanks … and yet, I’m not sure Seth could carry his own show. He’s a little too manic. Dylan McKay? He could have carried his own show. And then some. I’m just saying.


Babes: Tough category for 90210 — there were only four girls on the show, and two of them were Tori Spelling and Gabrielle Carteris. Ouch. I liked Jennie Garth, and her Kelly Taylor character clearly foreshadowed every loathsome character we would see 14 years later on My Super Sweet 16, but she wasn’t prettier than anyone on The OC (except for maybe Ryan’s new girlfriend). And Shannen Doherty was too wholesome and crazy-looking during those first two seasons, although maybe she had to be.

As for The OC … good golly. It’s a murderer’s row. You could make the case that Alex (Marissa’s new girlfriend) and Summer (played by Rachel Bilson) are two of the hottest characters in the history of televsion — that’s right, I said it — with Marissa right behind them, as well as Julie Cooper and Seth’s mom making the Meredith Baxter-Birney Hall of Fame for smoking-hot TV moms. Say what you want about Josh Schwartz (the creator of The OC), but the man clearly knows what he’s doing.


Parents: I liked the Walshes, but the Cohens serve the Brandon Walsh role for The OC — in other words, they’re the collective rock of the show, which made it so infuriating when they introduced the recent storyline where Sandy Cohen struggles with unresolved feelings for an old flame (played by a Botoxed-out Kim Delaney). Too out-of-character for him. Anyway, I can’t ever imagine the Cohens getting slowly phased out of the show like the Walshes did, or getting transferred to Hong Kong and knocked off the show. Wouldn’t happen. Only one thing saves this from being a complete landslide: The opening credits of 90210, when James Eckhouse (as Mr. Walsh) would proudly turn around with his arms folded over his chest, followed by the “that’s right, I’m Mr. F-ing Walsh!” smile. That always killed me.

Wet Blanket Character: This boils down to Andrea (90210) against Caleb (OC), which is ironic because they’re both the same age (bah-dum-cha!). But at least Caleb serves some sick, twisted purpose — he’s a villain, just a bad one. Andrea murdered entire episodes at a time — she was like a cross between Adrian Balboa and Ted Bundy.


Theme Song: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but …


Unintentional Comedy: Between David Silver’s budding music career; the two-part accidental shooting death of his buddy with the cowboy hat; Brandon nearly making the basketball team when he was like 5-foot-5; Andrea being like 35 in real life; and every single scene with Steve Sanders — including the unforgettable adoption episode, which should have won Ian Ziering an Anti-Emmy — I’m not sure we’ll ever see the likes of 90210 again from an Unintentional Comedy standpoint.

(Again, Ian Ziering was one of the stars of this show. The man had a blonde mullet perm. Repeat: Blonde mullet perm.)

Anyway, The OC is too smart for that stuff — if anything, the Unintentional Comedy is intentional, if that makes sense (like Luke’s “welcome to the OC, b—h!” scene, a parody of those cheesy 80’s scenes with the Zabka-like villains, the more I’m thinking about it). I’m pretty sure they’re parodying shows like 90210 with some of these plots — like Caleb’s secret daughter being involved with his other daughter’s surrogate son, or the entire episode when Luke’s dad was outed — which is one of the reasons I enjoy the show so much. No premise is too absurd for The OC. At this point, the only Unintentional Comedy happens during any scene when Marissa has to act, especially if she’s throwing a tantrum or pretending to be drunk. I keep waiting to find out that Mischa Barton is Keanu Reeves’s illegitimate daughter. Then again, she’s no Ian Ziering.

HUGE EDGE: 90210.

Plot Lines: The OC‘s biggest mistake was the way they raced through plots and relied too heavily on the “tune in next week!” factor, which is a pretty dangerous way to go — we weren’t even midway through the second season when they were playing the lesbian card. At the rate they’re going, by Season 4, we’ll see Ryan kidnapped by a UFO or something. I also think they juggle way too many plots, almost like the TV version of the Memphis Grizzlies playing too many guys. And with so much going on, the characters are racing through their lines now, so everyone talks in the same snappy, sarcastic fashion and you almost need to watch the shows twice to pick everything up. With 90210, they were very good at building shows around guest stars and one-episode plots during those first two seasons, with almost everything revolving around Brandon’s world and the Dylan-Brandon relationship. Some of those early episodes stood on their own, like the one when Brandon dated the racist volleyball player, or the slumber party where Kelly confessed that she lost her virginity in the woods to a conniving senior. (It’s weird, I can’t remember what I did last week, and yet I can remember all of these stupid episodes). When something major happened — like the Dylan-Kelly-Brenda love triangle — it happened over the course of an entire summer, not two episodes, and it actually made sense as it unfolded (they set that baby up like a multi-episode arc in “Lost”). I don’t feel like there’s any rhyme or reason to the stuff that happens on The OC — personified by Marissa falling for another woman during February sweeps. That’s right, it’s girl-on-girl action, Thursday on Fox!


Gratuitous use of half-siblings and step-siblings: It took a few years for 90210 to master this one, whereas The OC jumped right in — at this point, Seth is related to everyone on the show except for the gardener.


Hangouts: 90210 had the Peach Pit, where aggrieved teenagers gathered to bitch about their parents, throw down some greasy food and crack wise with Nat (the one-note Peach Pit owner who inexplicably landed in the credits in Season Six). My favorite part about the Peach Pit was that Dylan hung out there — here’s a 17-year-old kid who didn’t need a guardian and somehow knew every shady character in Los Angeles, someone who Mr. Walsh thought was WAY too dangerous to date his daughter, yet you were always most likely to find Dylan in a diner having lifetalks with someone who was three times older than him. How did that make sense? It was right up there with Daniel-San introducing Mr. Miyagi as his “best friend” in Karate Kid 3.

As for the Bait Shop, which became the main hangout on The OC this season, this might be the most unrealistic club on the planet. First of all, it’s never crowded, even though they frequently have bands like The Killers playing there. Second, they don’t card at the door, but there’s a full bar. Third, it’s the only music club in America where it’s possible to have full conversations without shouting at the top of your lungs, even when the band is playing on stage. Fourth, there are no fights, no mosh pits, no obnoxious bouncers, no marijuana smoke, no cigarettes and nobody ever throws up. And fifth, none of the characters on the show are aspiring musicians along the lines of David Silver, who would have belted out “Precious” on stage at least six times by now. So why even have the Bait Shop? Again, I’m confused.


Glaring and embarrassing exclusion of any African-American characters: At least 90210 had a black manager at the Summer Club, or the episode when Brandon butted heads with Vivica A. Fox, or the one where Brandon nearly exposed the rule-bending on the hoops team. I’m not sure I’ve even SEEN a black person on The OC. Has it happened? Did I miss it?


Originality: 90210 mastered the love triangle — which was shamelessly ripped off by every subsequent show of this ilk, including most of the excruciating “Dawson’s Creek” — as well as those preachy storylines involving alcohol, the loss of virginity, drugs, diet pills, drunk-driving, bi-polar girlfriends, elephant tranquilizers, bestiality and everything else you can imagine. It also invented the “outsider deals with rich people” concept, as we discussed before. The OC mastered the “parody of a 90210-type show that somehow carries the weight of a real show” dynamic, which is harder than you think … but not enough to take this category.


Inexplicable homoerotic overtones: When Brandon and Dylan grew matching sideburns and started calling each other “B” and “D,” you would have thought they were a lock for this category. But between Seth and Ryan’s “Single White Female”-like friendship and Marissa’s new relationship, this isn’t even close.


Cultural Impact: Brandon and Dylan started the sideburns trend back in 1991, leading to my ill-fated attempt to grow them during my senior year in college. I’d rather not discuss this again. Ever. But The OC never inspired me to do anything. Not even throw up in my mouth.

Watershed ridiculous episode (through two seasons): For 90210, it’s the episode where Brandon dumps Emily Valentine and she melts down — any show that ends with a crazy girl threatening to set herself on fire on the school’s homecoming float is one for the ages. Of course, Brandon visited her in San Fran a few years later and there was no mention of any of this. You had to love “90210.” As for “The OC,” I’d have to go with the Tijuana episode, which ended with Marissa overdosing and Ryan carrying her in slow-motion through the streets of Mexico, one of those “I can’t believe I’m watching this” moments in life that you can never get back. Throw in a homecoming float and we would have had a winner.


Final verdict: 90210 invented this genre, whereas The OC tried to re-invent it (throwing in a little self-parody to boot). 90210 didn’t make many mistakes during those first two seasons, whereas The OC made a bunch of them (most famously, the Oliver debacle). More importantly, I can’t believe I just spent 2,000 words trying to figure this out.


Filed Under: Bill Simmons, People, Simmons, TV

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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