Review: 'One Tree Hill: Season Three'

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"One Tree Hill" has always frustrated me by taking its tonal lead from Chad Michael Murray's Lucas Scott, the outcast-turned-cool-kid who refuses to accept that he rolls with the popular crowd.

On one hand, I always have a place in my viewing schedule for a good teen soap and "OTH" has all of the backstabbing, teeth-gnashing and interchangeable couplings that I require of the genre. But it's also a show that has stubbornly refused to be categorized merely as a guilt pleasure and its myriad artistic pretensions -- Lucas' "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations"-spewing narration, Peyton's (Hilarie Burton) pedantic lectures on indie rock, countless expositional monologues lifted from a Philosophy 101 lecture -- have often rendered it merely bad, rather than so-bad-its-good.

Season Three of "One Tree Hill" picks up in the immediate aftermath of the fire that nearly killed Paul Johahsson's Devil-without-horns Dan Scott and one of the main running threads involves Dan's quest to find out who started the fire. He also attempts to overthrow beloved hoops coach Whitey (the invaluable Barry Corbin, consistently cutting through the treacle), runs for mayor (against Moira Kelly's Karen, put through the ringer all season) and eventually commits murder.

As fun as Johansson's scenery chewing may be, the kids watch for the high school romance. It's senior year and Lucas is trying to regain Brooke's (Sophia Bush) trust, Haley's (Bethany Joy Galeotti) trying to repair her marriage to Nathan (James Lafferty), Peyton's moping about everything and Mouth (Lee Norris) is just wandering around as a geeky sidekick. Whole chunks of mawkish sentimental nonsense are redeemed by the very funny Skills (Antwon Tanner) and Bevin (Bevin Prince), who form a goofy odd couple. Narrative catalysts (they aren't really characters) include the return of Tyler Hilton's egotistical Chris Keller and the addition of Danneel Harris' smoking hot vixen-with-a-stupid-secret Rachel. While it's good to have Craig Sheffer's Keith back in the fold for a few episodes, I dare anybody to say that they needed more time with the wan Sheryl Lee, who enabled all of Peyton's most annoying habits as her terminally ill birth mom.

Parts of the third season are unbearably bad. Bush, the only reason I ever really want to watch this show, is forced to work around Brooke's erratic and often insufferable character fluctuations. Murray is asked to work around the fact that he still hasn't learned to play basketball. Lafferty -- who actually can play basketball -- is asked to work around his wooden acting. Sunkist seems to have come on board as an embarrassingly visible featured sponsor and creator Mark Schwahn has never learned to inject musical acts without being a shill (Peter Wentz of Fall Out Boy briefly romances Peyton, but none of the characters refer to him as anything other than "Pete from Fall Out Boy").

But there are good moments, particularly the much ballyhooed "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept," a surprisingly earnest and reflective depiction of a school shooting (Colin Fickes, mostly absent since the first season, makes a solid appearance as a troubled teen with a gun) that avoided the Very Special Episode syndrome by also advancing the season's plot. An effective finale also served up plenty of questions, a gutsy maneuver for a show that wasn't guaranteed a pick-up.

The bonus features on the DVD are sparse, with roughly 30 minutes of deleted scenes littered throughout the 22 episodes. The unseen footage for each episode is introduced with Schwahn, who elevates what would otherwise be filler by explaining some of the editing choices, cuts made because of time consideration, because of insufficient coverage and, in one case, because the leading men were wearing the same outfit.

There are two commentaries, one on "With Tired Eyes" and one on the finale. Schwahn and an assortment of actors and crew keep the conversation going. Most fans are going to think the tracks are long on dry production details and self-congratulatory love ("Shame on them if they don't acknowledge that," Schwahn says to Emmy and Peabody voters during the shooting episode). That's all fine and well, but how many people would rather hear Bush talk about doing love scenes with ex-hubby Murray? Exactly.

Extras: Commentary on two episodes, deleted scenes with intros.
Price: $59.98

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