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‘The O.C.’ is no ‘90210’

“The O.C.” wants to be “Beverly Hills, 90210,” but Fox’s new drama has to prove itself. By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper.
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A poor kid moves into a wealthy southern California neighborhood. He’s impressed by the wealth and beauty of his new neighbors, but soon learns that rich people can be just as messed up as poor folks. In fact, the poor kid seems more grounded than the kids who supposedly have everything. Imagine that.

WITH SOME VARIATION, that was the plot of ’90s hit “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and with a little more variation, the theme of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 1897 poem “Richard Cory.” And now it’s the plot of Fox’s new hour-long drama, “The O.C.,” which premieres Aug. 5 at 9 ET.

If you’ve seen the constantly airing previews, you’ve seen the first episode.

Hunky teen Ryan lives in uncool Chino, Calif., a long ways from the sun and surf of Orange County. When his older brother gets him in trouble, public defender Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher of “Sex, Lies and Videotape”) takes him under his wing and into his home.

Cohen lives in an Orange County home that’s ritzier than the Osbournes Beverly Hills mansion. His Gwyneth Paltrow-esque wife isn’t so sure about taking a juvenile delinquent into her life, but turns out she has a gawky son who can only benefit from a little of Ryan’s coolness coaching.

If you’ve ever even seen a TV show before, you can fill in the details. There’s a lovely rich girl with a mean rich boyfriend. She and Ryan exchange wistful glances, later her boyfriend beats him up. (The commercials overplay the hysterical line “This is how it’s done in Orange County!” as Ryan hits the dust.)

Orange County isn’t exactly Beverly Hills, and “The O.C.” isn’t exactly an original concept. But “90210” and “Melrose Place” both stumbled starting out, only discovering their delicious soapiness after a while. “The O.C.” has decent actors, especially Gallagher, and McKenzie has a soulful sadness behind his model good looks.

For this show to make it, the stereotypes used to introduce the show (Ryan’s loser mom has an abusive boyfriend, the rich town bullies must protect their wimmenfolk) die a quiet death. The most promising plot is the friendship between Ryan and the lawyer’s son, nerdy Seth (Adam Brody from “Gilmore Girls”). If that develops, “The O.C” might not be such a bad place to be.Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC’s TV editor.