The Bible had Cain and Abel; the WB’s new teen drama “One Tree Hill” has Luke and Nathan. Instead of burnt offerings, these teenage brothers offer basketball skills in hopes of winning their father’s love and approval. (The show airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m.)
The Biblical story is a good, classic plot that lends itself well to a modern retelling, as John Steinbeck did so well in “East of Eden.” If the pilot is any indication, it should work just as well for the teen set in “One Tree Hill.”
There are several twists on the old tale, however. The father is unworthy of his sons’ devotion, and Cain is the good son, Abel the bad.
Luke Scott, played by Chad Michael Murray (“Dawson’s Creek,” “Gilmore Girls”) is Dan Scott’s (Paul Johansson, “John Q”) illegitimate son from a high school romance. Dan abandoned his young, pregnant girlfriend, Karen Roe (Moira Kelly, “The West Wing”), to pursue his hoop dreams in college. There he married and had another son, Nathan Scott (James Lafferty, “Emeril”), only to return to his hometown of Tree Hill, N.C., when his ambitions failed.
Dan became wealthy and influential, while Karen struggled to raise her son alone and to deal with her bitter disappointment at being jilted by Dan.
Nathan, the favored Abel character, is arrogant and obnoxious, a clone of his father. Luke is a good-hearted Cain; though rejected, he is free of resentment toward his half brother.
Both boys have inherited their father’s basketball gene. As the series starts, Nathan is the star player on the high school’s varsity team, while Luke is only a talented playground hoopster. But the school’s crusty basketball coach, Whitey Durham (Barry Corbin, “Northern Exposure”), soon discovers Luke and attempts to persuade him to join the team.
Nathan doesn’t want his “bastard” brother stealing any of his game, so he challenges him to a one-on-one match. The winner gets to play on the team, the loser, as Nathan confidently puts it, will “remember his place.” The pilot ends with the dramatic showdown between the two half siblings.
Of course, there are romantic entanglements to add to the drama. Peyton Sawyer (Hilarie Burton) is Nathan’s much-taken-for-granted blond cheerleader girlfriend who finds herself becoming intrigued by the niceness of Luke. Nathan, in turn, finds himself taking notice of Luke’s best friend, kooky, loquacious Haley (Bethany Joy Lenz).
The characters all walk the line between archetype and stereotype. Johansson plays Dan, a car salesman, with an appropriate level of self-interested sleaziness. Luke hides deep, sensitive thoughts behind his pugilistic visage. Nathan is as cold as the marble Greek statue he resembles. Corbin shines as the grizzled coach who won’t suffer upscale car salesmen gladly.
The female characters could use some development. Burton’s snippy Peyton likes loud music; other than that, she’s just a trophy for whom the two brothers compete. Lenz’s Haley is the typical zany best gal pal who runs on at the mouth in a not-too-adorable way.
In the end, however, the show is about men. The conflict, and drama, turn on how each boy deals with his father’s attention or lack thereof, the seemingly random twists of fate that left one son his father’s shining star and the other the dirt under his feet. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” God says to Cain in Genesis 4:7. Doesn’t every son long for his father’s love and praise? This compelling storyline could make the tale of battling basketball brothers a keeper for the WB.
‘One Tree Hill’
Where: The WB
When: Tuesday, 9-10 p.m., premieres tonight
Rating: The network has rated the show TV-14DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language).
Chad Michael Murray...Luke Scott
James Lafferty...Nathan Scott
Paul Johansson...Dan Scott
Moira Kelly...Karen Roe
Hilarie Burton...Peyton Sawyer
Bethany Joy Lenz...Haley
Barry Corbin...Whitey Durham
Creator, writer Mark Schwahn. Executive producers Brian Robbins, Mike Tollin. Director Bryan Gordan.