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Why 'The OC' got blown away and 'ER' is a breath of fresh air

I have Jet Blue and incredible winds to thank for getting reacquainted with two former hit serial dramas, Fox's "The OC" and NBC's "ER."

A week ago, I flew here on a flight from New York City that seemed to last longer than the teenage years of "OC" characters Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) and Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson).

It seems some incredibly strong winds made the trip last about eight hours, more than six of which were in the air. I wouldn't say that the Jet Blue perk of being able to see live TV made time fly by. But it helped me go back in time to watch two series that long ago lost their buzz.

Once a cleverly written, seriocomic series that highlighted class differences and effectively intertwined teen and adult characters, "The OC" has lost its way so badly in Season Four that it is easy to see why Fox is ending its run in February.

Take the three storylines in last Thursday's feeble episode, which I only watched because Jet Blue doesn't carry ABC and I wasn't able to view "Grey's Anatomy."

Ryan's romance with Taylor Townsend (Autumn Reeser) was put in jeopardy after her French ex-husband came to town to promote a sexy novel that was loosely based on their marriage. Seth, meanwhile, went off to Seattle to ask Summer's father for his daughter's hand even though his heart wasn't really in it. And Seth's mom, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), went undercover to discover that bad mama Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke) was running a prostitution ring from their office.

There was only one moment of redemption in the entire episode - when Seth's dad, Sandy (bushy-haired Peter Gallagher), did a quick imitation of the comedian who the French love, Jerry Lewis.

As silly as the show has often been in the past, it often was saved by some surprising emotional moments. Without that ingredient or any remotely plausible situation or emotion, "The OC" has become just silly and stupid.

"ER," which is getting decent ratings in its 13th season on NBC, has reinvented itself several times over the years. This season, John Stamos was brought in to breathe some life into it.

I hadn't watched an episode this season until the flight, and still felt like I hadn't missed a beat. The characters may have changed but the story lines are repeating themselves.

Stamos plays Tony Gates, who apparently is in competition with another younger doc, Ray Barnett (Shane West), for the heart of Neela Rassotra (Parminder Nagra). Tony is a pretty confident guy who is good with kids, just like the character, Doug Ross, that George Clooney used to play.

Meanwhile, Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney), deserves to be happy now that she has it all - a good man, Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic), a baby and the respect that comes from becoming a doctor. But she still has male problems. Her dad (played by character actor Fred Ward) is trying to wiggle into her life after more than a 30-year absence. Worse, a guy (played by Forest Whitaker) who had sued Luka for malpractice broke into her apartment. The poor girl just can't catch a break.

Abby also is causing problems. She got Dr. Gregory Pratt (Mekhi Phifer) into a pickle that landed him in police handcuffs after he tried to do a good deed.

Luka's former girlfriend, Samantha Taggart (Linda Cardellini), still has her own problems. She broke her new rule against dating co-workers just before her rebellious son decided to start an apartment fire.

As if that wasn't enough for one episode, former chief of staff Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), said goodbye after several years at the hospital. And goodbye. And goodbye. And goodbye.

I wasn't sure that the plane would land before she had her last hug and was thanked by someone she influenced for the final time.

Kerry's goodbye was more than a little windy. But for the most part, "ER" has smartly found enough acceptable ways to keep the fires and the ratings burning.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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