TV's coolest parents

Don't feel too sorry for TV's Joan Girardi, Angela Chase or Brandon Walsh. Their folks may be bland, overbearing and insufferable, and sure, these kids are stuck with them like a zit on prom night. But it's the viewing public that must really suffer.

The moment these parents hit the screen on their respective TV dramas ("Joan of Arcadia," "My So-Called Life," "Beverly Hills, 90210") we want to push them out of the way (or, in some cases, out the window) to get back to their more interesting offspring.

Finally, though, there is parental relief, in the form of Sandy and Kirsten Cohen, the parents on "The O.C." I submit to you: the coolest parents on prime time.

Together, Sandy and Kirsten (Peter Gallagher and Kelly Rowan) are the parents of Seth (Adam Brody), the most charming geek on TV; and the guardians of the troubled, brooding Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie).

Individually, they are ...

Kirsten: rich, blonde, WASPy corporate executive of the family business. Social tippler (in times of trouble, she always seems to have a glass of white wine genetically fused to her hand.) Caring, loving. Hard to believe she was spawned by her awful, Machiavellian father, Caleb.

Sandy: Dark-haired, caterpillar-eyebrowed, Jewish bleeding-heart idealist. Former public

defender. Loves surfing, bagels ("I'm mid-schmear!"), wisecracks and verbal parries with his hateful father-in-law.

Because "The O.C." is mostly a showcase for hot young kids who drive hot new cars while wearing hot hip clothes, Kirsten and Sandy are a delightful surprise. Especially considering some of TV's other parents and their arduous storylines.

"Joan of Arcadia's" Helen and Will Girardi? Whiny and irritating. (We should expect more from Mary Steenburgen and Joe Mantegna.)

Patty and Graham Chase from the late, great "My So-Called Life"? So mired in their own failures that we could never learn to care for them.

Jim and Cindy Walsh from "Beverly Hills, 90210"? The ultimate parent ciphers, whose grand purpose seemed to be finger-wagging.

A typical scene had them freaked out when Tiffani-Amber Thiessen announced she was moving into a hotel.

"What kind of people live in a hotel?" Cindy fretted.

"Oh, you know the types," Jim said. "Howard Hughes, Heidi Fleiss ... Jack McKay. People with fast money and questionable values."

Bruh-thur. You know what would have been more interesting than that little moralizing moment? A five-minute still shot of Luke Perry's sideburns. That's why we should celebrate the Cohen parental unit.

They get part of their cool from "O.C." creator Josh Schwartz, who's written them as snappy, sexy, funny, flawed but ultimately happy people. And part of it comes from actors Gallagher and Rowan, who play them with verve and humor. The role of Sandy fits Gallagher like a favorite old college sweatshirt. Together or alone, they're so fun to watch that sometimes we want to shove the brooding kids out of the way so we can watch them.

You've gotta love parents who can pull off playful torture of their only son. To wit, this scene from season one:

Seth: "I like to think I can convey everything with a look."

Kirsten: "Well, you look adorable!"

Seth: "No."

Kirsten: "Cute?"

Seth: "No."

Kirsten: "Dope?"

Seth: "No."

Kirsten: "Rad?"

Seth: "Please, please, this is so painful for me!"

Kirsten: "Hey Sandy, doesn't Seth look rad?"

Sandy: "Oh, you do look rad! Mad props, son."

But they don't exist merely to humiliate their son. As a husband and wife, their love for each other rings truer than it does on a lot of other family dramas. One scene has Kirsten asking Sandy if they're in a rut.

Sandy: "No, we're in a marriage."

Kirsten: "It's just that ... we finish each other's sentences, we always know what the other's thinking."

Sandy: "Aww, that's my favorite part."

No role models here

Can you imagine how TV would be if all the parents were as cool as Sandy and Kirsten Cohen? Well, even that would get old. Truth is, the bad apples make it fun to watch. Here's our salute to a few of the worst parents on TV.

Julie Cooper, "The O.C." Such fun, that Julie -- she's a lying, selfish, manipulative, materialistic, marrying-for-money, world-class liar -- AND she slept with her daughter's ex-boyfriend. She's not bad, she's just written that way.

Homer and Marge Simpson, "The Simpsons" We all know Homer is more of a missing link than a parental role model. But let's not overlook Marge's maternal ineptitude. Once, when Lisa was so sad she didn't feel like smiling, Marge advised: "Well, it doesn't matter how you feel inside, you know? It's what shows up on the surface that counts. ...Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down, past your knees until you're almost walking on them. And then you'll fit in, and you'll be invited to parties, and boys will like you, and happiness will follow."

Jack and Laura Bristow/Irina Derevko, "Alias" Let's see. Parents are double, triple or quadruple agents. Dad brainwashed her as a child. Mom shot her. Ah, nothing says familial love like traumatic deception and a gaping bullet wound.

George and Lucille Bluth, "Arrested Development" Dad committed light treason by building homes for Saddam Hussein; Mom is as cold as a frozen banana on a stick.

Paul Young, "Desperate Housewives" Had his son committed to an institution and medicated like a zombie for no good reason. He's not much of a neighbor, either: he bludgeoned the nosy Martha Huber to death with a blender. Oopsie.

Cotton Hill, "King of the Hill" The angry little stump of a man spawned a baby boy, whom he named Hank ("Always wanted a boy named Hank.") When his older son, also named Hank, pointed out the obvious, Cotton solved the problem by calling the baby "Good Hank."

Livia Soprano, "The Sopranos" Tony Soprano's mother, played by the incomparable Nancy Marchand, was a monster. When I think of the scene where she slowly buzzes down the stairs on her motorized chair -- evil incarnate -- I still get chills. Classic line: "Power? What power? I don't have power. I'm a shut-in."

The parents on the Peanuts specials Who, on Thanksgiving, leaves their kids alone so they're forced to forage for their own Thanksgiving meal, which they make out of toast and popcorn?