Second seasons are always tricky for teen shows. The first season finale always leaves a huge mess to clean up and there aren’t a lot of relationships left to explore for the main cast. One Tree Hill fixes this problem just like almost any other character-driven show, by introducing a truckload of new characters. It adds just enough spice to the mix to keep things interesting and feeling fresh while steering away from the drama that ignited the series. After all, estranged brothers Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan (James Lafferty) are no longer mortal enemies and the battle between Leyton and Brucas fans is a distant memory.
The season picks up with a funeral but, as the show has done before and will do many more times after, it’s just a dream. Dan (Paul Johansson) hasn’t died from his heart attack but it proves to be enough for Lucas and Keith (Craig Sheffer) to return to Tree Hill. Lucas tries to be friends again with Brooke (Sophia Bush) and Peyton (Hilarie Burton) who are recovering from their broken hearts and are on their way to becoming besties again themselves. Deb (Barbara Alyn Woods) reconsiders her divorce now her husband needs her care. Nathan and Haley (Bethany Joy Lenz) slowly try to convince everyone that their impromptu marriage wasn’t a big mistake.
New faces include the cocky Felix (Michael Copon) who is set on leaving his mark on his new town by organizing a “dare night” while going after his neighbor Brooke. Anna (Daniella Alonso) is the mysterious beauty who runs into Lucas and the two connect immediately, as Lucas is want to do. Karen (Moira Kelly) and Keith both get their own love interests as well, causing their “will-they-or-won’t-they” story to take a backseat. But the only real interesting addition to the cast is the arrogant but charming Chris Keller (played by an unforgettable Tyler Hilton), who’s a musician that connects with Haley through music in ways her fresh husband Nathan can’t. Season 2 is definitely full of life with a large cast who are basically all love interests for one or more people (except for some family members who appear later in the season). But considering barely any of these characters are still around by season’s end, they are more of a distraction than anything else.
In the first half of the season, Tree Hill is turned into a love fest with everybody pairing up and getting disgustingly happy, for a change. Everyone, except Peyton. Gone is the rock chick from last year as the blonde gets the rare role of playing a single girl for a long time. Her journey is relatable and unique in any TV drama, culminating in a excellent episode that sees her alone at a formal wearing her deceased mom’s dress when someone spills a drink on her. Brooke also gets a complete overhaul as she turns from peppy, boy-crazy cheerleader to responsible, careful student-body president. The back half of the show’s longest season expands this kind of character development as multiple characters reflect on who they were, who they are and, as the show’s theme song so explicitly mentions every week, who they want to be. An episode that mirrors the pilot in a “what if” setting proves just how far all of these characters have come since we first met them.
In the sense of character development, the show’s arguably worst season, isn’t all bad. The acting is only really good by exception, namely leads Johansson, Burton and Bush are steady performers, while lead Murray is cringe-worthy at every emotional turn. A lot of time is spent on characters we are never going to see again, but the few times main characters get their spot light are absolutely worth it. After all, this isn’t your Emmy show. One Tree Hill, like other WB shows such as Everwood and Gilmore Girls, rely more on character depth than on story. Stories tend to move at a slow pace but complement the characters and focus more on motives, feelings and consequences, than they do on action. It’s the kind of show you watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you’re feeling romantic. It’s the kind of show that touches on blackmail, attempt at suicide or coming out gracefully but never in a raw or realistic setting. It’s the kind of show where moral is turned into quotes and where the musical soundtrack is often better than much of the dialogue. Especially this year the music steps up. With the introduction of club Trick, bands are given a platform to perform even more. Music from Jimmy Eat World, The Get Up Kids, Switchfoot and The Veils is used memorably. When Lucas opens or ends another episode with a voice over in which he quotes a famous author with a line that is relevant to every character’s journey while an indie-rock song is playing in the background, it’s easy to forgive the show’s shortcomings and only care about everyone’s happiness.
One Tree Hill’s second season is made up of more soap, more drama, more music and many more characters, but it still has some of that small town magic that made you fall in love in the first place.