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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

One Tree Hill

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One Tree Hill is the show that just won’t die. Now in its eighth season, it seems to have been fighting for its life for at least the last five, surviving the exit of two main cast members, several murder-minded psycho stalkers, and even the demise of its original network. Yet despite all obstacles in its path, the show has survived and now is just a full season-and-change from amassing 200 episodes. (Yes, that’s 200 with a 2.)

The difficult part is trying to figure out why. There’s nothing particularly special about One Tree Hill. At its inception, it was a somewhat paint-by-numbers teen drama about a pair of estranged basketball excelling half-brothers whose jerk of a father was really, really opposed to contraception in high school. As the years passed, the focus shifted away from brothers and basketball and more towards the female cast members, adding in a hefty dose of melodramatic soap in the form of attempted murder, actual murder, three or four comas, stalkers, teen marriage and subsequent pregnancy, and four-year jumps in the series timeline to spice things up. It created a strange duality in tone between heartfelt earnestness and pure melodramatic campiness (all set to an indie rock soundtrack, of course) and yet despite how awful that sounds in print, managed to make it work most of the time. Granted, it was never high art, but it was usually pleasant enough to zone out to for an hour each week. Sometimes, the over-the-top stories were even so much fun you might look forward to an episode! Still, it only ever managed to translate into modest ratings but due to a confluence of a rabid young audience, a network whose struggles consistently grew each year of the show’s run and a showrunner who tirelessly campaigned on his own show’s behalf, we sit here now faced with the eighth season finale.

Those days of creative highs (or what can be called creative highs for this show) seem to be completely in the rearview at this point. Ever since core cast members Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton chose to leave, One Tree Hill has often felt like a show in search of a purpose. Many of the new cast members brought in to facilitate storytelling in their absence have been either outright busts or no more than a vaguely present distraction, often mired in dead-end plots as scintillating as helping a young boy discover he needs glasses. Most egregiously, it feels like the show has forgotten that it is supposed to be telling stories at ALL. The past few episodes including the finale have done very little actual storytelling, and what actual stories they have had – like Brooke’s miracle pregnancy – have been glossed over so thoroughly that it’s almost insulting to the audience. A show where someone once went into labor while giving her high school valedictorian speech seems to owe more to one of its core cast members than having her pregnancy span the time frame of one episode and her babies be born off camera, while we instead examine the intricacies of an eight-year-old's love life.

The funny thing is, the writers have proven they can still tell a decent story once in a while even in these twilight years of the series. The arc earlier this year surrounding the sickness and eventual death of Haley and Quinn’s mother was heartbreaking, well-rendered and a genuine treat to see amidst their normal nonsense stories of Chester the bunny, Brooke’s superhero squad and Quinn’s pot brownies. Sure, a large part of the success of the story had to do with the writers waking up and finally giving Bethany Joy Galeotti, their strongest actress, a story she could sink her teeth into. That being said, it was a stretch of episodes where it felt like more than time wasted, which is more than I can say for this finale.

It was almost immediately apparent upon watching the finale that it was designed to serve as a series ender in case the show wasn’t picked up. Everyone got a happy ending, every main character (and even some recurring) got their own featured moment, and it was generally a very happy hour of television. An extremely boring, absolutely non-eventful hour of happy television, that is, but happy nonetheless. While it is commendable for the creator to give fans an ending in case the show was not picked up, now that it has been renewed for 13 episodes we are stuck with a series with nowhere to go. Every avenue has been explored, every overly serious voice over delivered. Beyond just throwing in the towel and making the entire thing an over-the-top festival of camp (which I would heartily enjoy, mind you) there’s nothing for these people to say, and imagining 13 more episodes like this one is almost painful to think about.

Yes, it’s nice to give long-running shows notice so they can wrap up their stories in a way that honors their fans and the years they’ve put into watching the series. If a show doesn’t have any more stories to tell, though, in the end it might just be better to put them out of their misery.

Stray observations:

  • I mean, come on! It even ends with Jamie dribbling a basketball across the bridge with the Scott Motors sweatshirt on, a la Lucas in the credits! That’s the bookend! Why was this show renewed!
  • My favorite episode ever: The one where Dan lights Keith’s grave on fire and then brings a stuffed animal to the eye witness of the murder. Genius.
  • As a great fan of Bethany Joy Galeotti’s voice and Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Karen’s Café performance was the only thing I enjoyed. Also, the callback to the quote they salvaged from the original Karen’s Café was very nice.
  • It’s always good to see Dan. If they want to make the final 13 episodes memorable, they should make Paul Johansson a regular again.
  • I know Jackson Brundage is a kid, but he’s been doing this for a while. That’s why him looking directly into the camera (and them not reshooting it) is kind of a massive fail.
  • The less said about Nathan lip syncing “Menomena” with baby Lydia strapped to his chest, the better. No wonder James Lafferty doesn’t want to come back full time.