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ANOTHER WILD SEASON FOR 'THE O.C.'

The O.C. ***

Rating: TV-14

What had high schoolers crying the night before their AP exams last year? No, it wasn't fear of that darned AP European, or the AP Spanish, or even AP Calculus.

It was the devastating season finale of "The O.C."

Six months ago, the first season of Fox's "The O.C." wrapped up with a bang. Ryan got Theresa pregnant (supposedly) and returned with her to Chino. Marissa started drinking again. Luke was in a car accident. Seth ran away from Orange County on a sailboat that was more like a glorified raft.

Sound like a soap opera? That's because it is -- one big, prime time, teenage soap opera. Call it a guilty pleasure, an addictively unrealistic pop phenomenon, call it utter rubbish. Call it what you want. The fact is, "The O.C." is, above all, one thing: exciting.

Last year, we were introduced to the Cohens and their son Seth -- a witty, slightly geeky, very endearing teenager. We watched Ryan, the displaced young man from Chino, come into their lives and change everything. Other characters weaved in and out as the complications of love, lust and money made their way through the plot.

This past week, "The O.C." finally returned for its second season, in a new position on Thursday at 9 p.m. Seth refused to return to the O.C. unless Ryan came back. Theresa pretended to have lost her baby so that Ryan would leave and have his own life back in the O.C., and so ensued Seth's and Ryan's return home. We watched Marissa's desperation grow, be repressed, and then explode in a sudden temper tantrum involving some overdramatic screaming and patio chairs landing in a pool.

Phew, that just about covers it.

Thankfully, "The O.C." boasts better acting than your typical soap opera. Seth is played by Adam Brody, who you may remember playing Lane's boyfriend on "Gilmore Girls" two seasons ago. Peter Gallagher, from "While You Were Sleeping" and "Center Stage," is one of the show's best assets in his performance as Sandy. Others in the cast are Benjamin McKenzie as Ryan, Mischa Barton as Marissa, and Rachel Bilson as Summer. While the situations are far from realistic, the actors manage to bring a fair amount of believability to their characters.

OK, so maybe you're not apt to relate to Seth's impromptu father-son trip to Las Vegas, or the subsequent encounter with prostitutes. But I bet you can relate to his emotions -- the embarrassment, the panic. What's more, Seth's quirky, sarcastic, and undyingly cute sense of humor is something you probably can relate to, as is his "I've-got-it-all-and-I-want-more" teenage angst.

Maybe you haven't happened to miraculously bump into, seduce, and impregnate your ex-girlfriend from Chino. But guess what? Newsflash: teen pregnancy is no mere myth, that's for sure. Watching 17-year-old Ryan and Theresa trying to make ends meet to prepare for a baby they don't want is strangely poignant and relevant.

Even though "The O.C." may not be realistic, who can blame the fans for their devotion? It's refreshing to realize that the teenagers of "The O.C.," just like us, do go to high school. Unlike us, they're doing everything but studying, and their problems can be huge, frequent, and unrealistic. But some of them actually tie back into real life all too well. And us? We get to watch it all.

So if you're aching for a break from your own problems, academic or otherwise, relax for a sec. Sit back, take your nose off the grindstone, and watch something that's a little foolish, a little serious and always exciting. Emily Sullivan is a senior at City Honors.