Unlikely love blooms on 'The O.C.' and across the dial

Autumnreeser_theoc_s4_240_2 At the end of the last new episode of The O.C., a grieving Julie pulled aside an equally gloomy Ryan and asked him to talk about the dearly departed Marissa, to refresh her connection with her lost daughter. Ryan responded "I remember the first time I saw her. She was wearing this white top thing, and I think she had jeans on. She was standing at the bottom of the driveway. And I thought... Whoa... She was really hot."

Ryan and Marissa were in love because the pilot episode pre-destined them to be in love, almost the same reason as Ross and Rachel and David and Donna were all back together by the time Friends and Beverly Hills, 90210 went off the air. A legion of teenage girls probably disagree, but by killing Marissa, Josh Schwartz and the show's creative team probably freed the show from inevitability, that Romeo-and-Juliet drudgery of tearing Ryan and Marissa apart and bringing them back together just because that was what Hollywood fate demanded.

Now, can a less obvious romance rejuvenate the show?

Thursday (Nov. 30) night's episode, titled "The Sleeping Beauty," was so souffle-light that a major plotline revolved around Summer liberating and befriending a bunny named Pancakes. Given how heavy the season's first four episodes were -- Is the opposite of "souffle-light," "anvil-heavy"? -- that was a relief.

The episode was really about launching Ryan's first hypothetical post-Marissa romance, an unlikely pairing with Autumn Reeser's Taylor Townsend. What started with an annulment-insuring kiss last episode blossomed on Thursday, but wisely strayed from any predictable progression.

An inability to sleep has forced Ryan to watch Bollywood movies to kill time and made the already taciturn character even quieter than usual. Enter Taylor, knees still quaking from that kiss and conveniently blessed with an advanced science fair-fueled knowledge of sleep disorders. Of course, her path to better dozing involves less counting of sheep and more massages, candles and sleepovers, but her heart is in the right place. Getting Ryan's heart in the right place is a different issue.

The reason we doubt the potential of the relationship is simple: Taylor has a tyrannical mother, no father to speak of and she falls into the arms of any man who helps her, be it Seth last season, Henri in France between seasons or Ryan now. Plus, everybody hated Taylor at the beginning of last season, but the writers were still trying to figure out the character then, so much is forgiven.

But the last time Ryan had a healthy, semi-nurturing relationship, it was with a girl who turned out to be his half-step-sister or some such nonsense. So maybe he'd benefit from having a girlfriend who loved him more than booze? For now, the flirtations and fantasies are devoid of any agita beyond the normal agita that accompanies any early relationship.

And me? I prefer my TV love to come with some stumbling, stuttering and missteps. I'm not so interested in polished or quippy romance. I've never needed Veronica and Logan to be together. I've never much cared whether Kate ended up with Jack or Sawyer. But I liked the truncated romances between Hurley and Libby on Lost and I even liked Mac and Beaver on Veronica Mars until it became clear that that was woefully wrong.

That's why my favorite couple on TV right now is Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden) on Friday Night Lights. They haven't slept together, kissed or even gone out on a date. I'm not sure that either character has managed to say a complete sentence to the other. And that's why it's just about the cutest and most realistic potential union around. That first date is coming -- much to the chagrin of Kyle Chandler's Coach Taylor -- but it's taken them nine episodes to get there, even though we knew from the pilot that they were making eyes. It hasn't felt like the writers were keeping them apart, just that the characters were taking their time to come together.

Masioka_heroes_nbcnet_240_1Things don't look so good for my second favorite TV couple, Hiro (Masi Oka) and Charlie (Jayma Mays) on Heroes. I know they seem doomed, but I endorse all manner of contrivance to bring Mays back somehow, because that's another refreshing case of sweetness and yearning taking the place of glibness and crass sexuality. It's not that I'm not a big fan of Ali Larter on Heroes or FNL's Betty-and-Veronica team of Adrianne Palicki and Minka Kelly (fine examples of crass sexuality on both new NBC dramas), but I may feel the awkward romance more (or relate).

So here's hoping that Ryan and Taylor can may things work, at least for a few episodes.

What'd you think of this week's O.C.? And do you have any favorite less-obvious TV couples?

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