Chrismukkah returns to 'The O.C.'

Benjaminmckenzie_theoc_s4_240Chrismukkah has always been very good to The O.C., which is appropriate since The O.C. has been spectacularly good to Chrismukkah.

In season one, viewers got Summer in a Wonder Woman outfit (Yay!) and the introduction of Oliver (Boo!). In season two the Cohens welcomed Lindsay (who now?) into the family. And last season Ryan had a bar mitzah to help Johnny get his knee surgery, which was silly on at least five levels I can count.

It's that time of year again on TV's most holiday-prone soap and the creators of The O.C. decided to celebrate the blended holiday by blatantly ripping off last week's episode of One Tree Hill.

Sorry. Little joke there. That'd be like walking out of movie about a crazy guy who dresses up like his mother and kills people and claiming it ripped off Gus Van Sant's Psycho.

No, the writers on The O.C. have just dipped into that endlessly refillable well of Yuletide plot derivation known as the Christmas Carol/It's a Wonderful Life two-step. It's such a reliable formula that it'd be hard to bungle it as badly as OTH did last week, with an uneven narrative structure and absolutely no sense of seasonal whimsy. The O.C. crew goes the opposite way, delivering an episode that's overflowing with quirky character fun and whimsy, but if the spirit of Chrismukkah was truly invoked I may have missed it.

Credit the O.C. crew for recognizing the silliness of the It's a Wonderful Life-inspired holiday episode and playing it for humor, rather than leaden OTH-style pathos. In the opening minutes, budding not-quite-couple Ryan and Taylor are up on the rooftop bickering over their relationship status and the metaphorical value of a George Foreman grill when Taylor's ladder goes falling and Ryan falls after her. If Ryan learned nothing else from the regrettable Johnny Incident, it should have been that he can figuratively save people, but he's a bit more clumsy with the literal act.

Ryan and Taylor, sweetly hospitalized in comas, find themselves in an alternate reality that posits one version life in Newport Beach if Ryan never showed up. It isn't a pretty picture. Seth may have gotten into Brown, but he's a loser who never got to see Summer dressed as Wonder Woman. Summer, never cured of her superficiality, is about to get married to Winchester (calling himself Chester instead of the more familiar Che). But Chester's having an affair with Julie Cooper, who's actually Julie Cohen, since she's married to Sandy Cohen, who's now the mayor of Newport in the aftermath of divorcing Newport Group CEO Kirsten, who's now married to Jimmy, just so that Tate Donovan had an excuse to come back for a brief visit. Oh and Taylor's a boy, but don't ask how that works. And Marissa? Well, the teasers for the episode led you to believe that she's still alive, but [spoilers here], she actually ODed in Tijuana three years earlier. Turns out Marissa was pretty much doomed regardless and Ryan's presence and heroic intervention gave her three bonus years in which to do blow and experiment with alternative sexuality. Take that, Mischa-missing teenage girls!

Fortunately, Taylor is something of an expert on alternate realities, having gone through a sci-fi phase that must have begun at the tail end of her fascination with sleep therapy. She recognizes that only by restoring order can they return to their real lives. She also makes a brief stab at trying to explain the logistics of the alt-reality, but quickly gives up. Hijinx ensue.

Here's my problem with the episode: It took Josh Schwartz and company six episodes to restore order in the show's actual [non-alternative] reality. They led viewers through every stage of grief and closed myriad plot holes and they seemed to come out the other side with an episode last week that may have been the show's best in two seasons. It's hard not to feel like this mumbo-jumbo, however quirky and however much the actors seemed to enjoy playing bizarro versions of themselves (vaguely gangsta Summer and weirdly preppy Che were standouts), was a diversion or a distraction from business of the season. Last year, an episode this amusing would have been an oasis, but for all of the inspired trickery, the resolution -- Taylor liberating herself from her desperate need for her mom's approval, Ryan freeing himself from guilt over Marissa's death --- didn't move the story very far from where we left it.

I had favorite moments (Bizarro Julie's attempt to hide infidelity with the cover-up, "Thong is an acronym for 'The Homeless of Newport'" was a bit brilliant), but since I've already written too much, I'll invite you, dear readers, to share your favorites.

What'd you think of this year's Chrismukkah?