by Zoe Siegel
When I watched the first episode of One Tree Hill, I was 23 and the series finale had aired two years earlier. I went into this viewing expecting the drama of The OC or innocence of Dawson’s Creek, its prime-time counterparts that I had only recently finished watching for the first time. With those two millennial classics in my repertoire, OTH was the logical next piece, the final leg of what I imagined to be holy trinity of teen dramas that my peers had dedicated their weeknights to in our adolescence, while I remained amused by Spongebob and devoted to Canada’s teen soap, Degrassi: The Next Generation.
While Dawson's Creek was a wide-eyed coming of age drama and The OC was a biting commentary on the teen drama genre, I could tell from the first episode of OTH that it wouldn’t measure up to either. It was just so… moody. None of the characters seemed to like each other. Some of them definitely hated each other. It wasn’t the kind of easy watching romcom-dram that I expected or needed as an angsty young woman myself, having recently moved from east coast to west. Dawson’s Creek was simple and gave adolescence the respect and honesty it deserves without adding a bunch of distracting, shiny shit on top of it. And what The OC lacked in sincerity it made up for in funny self-awareness and meta commentary. (And I felt a kinship with it, both of us set in California and all.) So, with both of those shows under my belt, I had understandable expectations of a certain standard that OTH in all its seriousness did not meet and I didn’t make it past the first few episodes.
After the first failed viewing, I didn’t look back, until years later, when I moved into my sister’s house for a month, back on the east coast once again, and the show was on her Hulu “Recently Watched” playlist. Sissy and I were both unemployed at the time and I’m open to changing my mind, so I gave it another try. I figured that One Tree Hill not only had its alleged merits going for it, but our COVID-drenched unemployment too.
Spoiler alert: After three seasons of much ado, sissy and I could not bear to continue. Even without jobs, we had better things to do.
Truthfully, my love for and loyalty to its counterparts probably heightened my disdain for OTH. As far as I could tell, the latter belonged with the likes of slick, sexy Gossip Girl, not wholesome national treasures. Granted, my imagined trio did have similarities; OTH shared a breezy disregard for parental supervision with Dawson’s Creek and favored external conflict over internal like The OC. Sassy brunettes with blonde best friends. Troubled neighbors. Witty boys and doe eyed smart girls. Idealistic leads. Mom drama and pivotal patriarchs. And yet! And yet. Most of those similarities were convenient tropes or highlighted the shows’ differences. Pivotal patriarchs Sandy Cohen of The OC and Dan Scott of OTH, for example. A self-righteous moral compass and a literal psychopath, respectively. Sandy’s ethics and dad jokes anchored the show to reality (lest it float away on its wealthy California romanticism), whereas Dan had antagonistic irons in everyone’s fire and stoked them as an easy fallback for conflict when the go-to “will they/won’t they” scenarios, which spanned seasons, got a little stale.
More than moody, One Tree Hill just took itself so seriously. The storylines were too outrageous to be sincere, the characters too neurotypical for their internal worlds to be of any interest. With such serious storylines and heavy handed conflict, you would think that the writers would infuse the show with a heavy dose of sass or sarcasm, self-awareness, or some sort of humor, but I guess that was too much to ask from writers who opted to implement a lunatic as a central cause of contention.
Dawson’s Creek and The OC maintained an innocence throughout their seasons that One Tree Hill consistently lacked. Capeside was a gentle and slow New England town where perfectly average kids could find themselves, fall in love, and grow into adulthood, without theatrical crises to throw them off course. Affluent Newport Beach was less gentle, with its money and parties and readily available everything, but the teenagers were still kids, absorbed in their personal dramas before eventually expanding their horizons and investing in their interests in college. OTH, on the other hand, featured high schoolers well beyond their years, who achieved modest (but improbable!) commercial success. Peyton Sawyer, resident alt girl, opened an all-ages nightclub, booked way famous bands, and dated Pete Wentz (as himself!). Her BFF Brooke Davis started a successful fashion line. Nathan married “tutor girl” Hayley, who became a famous pop star soon after! All while in high school, all within the first three seasons. Maybe the writers of OTH wanted the show to be aspirational for teens, but it’s misleading — nay, irresponsible — to suggest that success is that easy for anyone other than the wealthy and well-connected, and even The OC didn’t play those cards, because those rich kids were more concerned with their social lives, feelings, and firsts than achieving any sort of success beyond good grades and good colleges. Even the eponymous movie buff of Dawson’s Creek, Dawson Leery himself, who always knew he wanted to be a director, had to make due with homemade movies and high school film class ‘til the fifth season when he finally interned on a film set his freshman year at USC.
Soapy entanglements of family trees and affairs added scandalous elements to One Tree Hill, the likes of which Dawson’s Creek couldn’t (would never!) touch. And despite such disreputable chaos tipping near that of its Californian counterpart, the show’s endless supply of false suspense didn’t hold a candle to the insidious class warfare of Newport’s beach elite. One Tree Hill just couldn’t capture the golden mystique of its SoCal counterpart (and never stood a chance, given its podunk setting). And given such a backdrop, it had the potential to be a similarly innocuous version of its east coast equivalent, but increasingly outlandish storylines proved it to be even less similar to its 90s predecessor than it was The OC.
One Tree Hill seemed like it was trying to be the best of both worlds, but with neither the suburban innocence of Dawson’s Creek nor the extravagance of The OC, it fell into the ether between. Which, apparently, is a prime time slot on The CW (née The WB) which filled the airwaves from 2003 to 2012. This mediocre mess of repetitive plots and self-sabotage had enough support (from fans, from the network?) to run for nine entire years. Nine years! That is the same number of years that the other two spent on the air, combined. For that reason alone I may still finish the show, out of duty to the imagined trinity, even though apparently the show ends (spoilers!) with Dan Scott on his deathbed, surrounded by the people whose lives he destroyed, all of whom take turns forgiving him, despite him doing nothing that warrants forgiveness, except, apparently, dying. And should I see this show through til the end, I hope it grants my remaining brain cells the same courtesy.
Our fabulous blog team