Though some nice scenes between Summer and her dad offer some cheer, lump-of-coal Johnny ruins ''The O.C.'''s holiday episode
The O.C., Benjamin McKenzie
Credit: Benjamin McKenzie: Matt Barnes/FOX
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”The O.C.”: Chrismukkah is ruined!

After hearing that something called a ”Chrismukkah Bar Mitzvahkkah” (henceforth known as CBM) would occur tonight, I was so ready to love this episode. I tried! There was tree shopping, an ”Oy humbug,” Sandy in his festive royal blue hoodie… but none of it was enough to cancel out the annoying presence of stupid Johnny and his stupid knee surgery. The kid was barely off the screen, and he can barely get around! When the high point of the episode for me is wondering if one of Ryan’s duties as a boy who lives in the pool house is to clean the pool every once in a while (if you think about it, this is actually hilarious), I can safely call the CBM a disaster.

I think I’ll just blame the entire thing on Marissa, because without her warped logic that ”taking some time off” from her friendship with Johnny meant bringing a Christmas tree to his house and then visiting him every half hour, none of the CBM nonsense would have happened. Or it would have, but in a private ceremony Chez Cohen during which only the major characters would get to live, love, and laugh at Ryan trying to speak Hebrew after less than a day of studying. Hmm… maybe not.

Summer’s assessment of Johnny as the crew’s Tiny Tim — ”poor guy, slight of build, on crutches” — was probably the Johnny-related highlight of the night. The idea of the CBM was a little difficult to swallow even without Johnny’s involvement — once I realized the event basically centered around him, I couldn’t really be bothered by it for the rest of the hour. As soon as Ryan escaped the generic Newport fundraiser at a crucial moment (ring a bell?), all I could think about was how this episode was so much better when it aired last spring as ”The Risky Business.” That one also featured Sandy, Marissa, and Summer sputtering nonsense onstage while Ryan took care of some mandatory trouble before the show could go on.

It seems hard to believe, but in this particular exact same plot vs. exact same plot contest, I have to give the advantage to season 2. Summer auctioning off her stilettos to some old guy (”Ew, foot fetish much?”) while Seth caught a Hail Mary of the Tom Cruise egg blew away tonight’s halfhearted mixed-faith holiday carols interspersed with Johnny kind of threatening to rob a local convenience store (you could see it in his eyes… I think). As the group stood and swayed awkwardly to ”That’s What Friends Are For” and Kirsten deemed the night the ”best Chrismukkah ever,” I was very confused. Unless that comment was just the writers being sarcastic. Sometimes they’re like that. We’ll never know.

Barring every Johnny-tainted scene, the episode didn’t totally bite. Seth’s bar mitzvah video was a little over-the-top, but succeeded (painfully) in reminding us how pathetic and lonely the poor kid used to be. And Summer, usually the rock in all of her relationships (she did save Chrismukkah!) revealed some emotional baggage in the form of missing her real mom around the holidays. For me, realizing that Summer and Seth were both utterly miserable and all alone that one day when they were 13 was pretty powerful, so it’s a shame that a mere five seconds after that, I had to watch Johnny discussing something about a ”vibe” with Marissa at the diner that really shouldn’t let people like Johnny in. I mean, he’s from a short Christmas tree household. Come on.

The episode hinted at a possible romance between Julie and Neil Roberts, although I hope the reintroduction of Summer’s dad isn’t just a ploy to get Julie Cooper into another scandalous relationship with one of Newport’s richest men. By the way, when Neil recognized Julie at the hospital, I was convinced there’d be some joke about her getting plastic surgery, but instead, he just quipped that Julie’s daughter had been living at his house for like three years now. I had completely forgotten, and from the look on Julie’s face, she might have too. It’s hard to remember things like that when there’s so much NASCAR and Skoal, not to mention Jeff Foxworthy comedy, to devour all the time.

Speaking of devouring, I ate up those scenes of Summer and her dad like Ryan eats bagels. The one with Seth being sent up to comb Princess Sparkle’s hair was cute, but I loved the one with Summer and Neil decorating 1 percent of their massive tree next to their massive pool. I’m convinced they’re running a luxury hotel and we just don’t know about it yet. Though it’s clear that he loves Summer, her father’s comment to her that ”We have each other… and I’ve got a ton of work” seemed to sum up their relationship pretty well.

Tonight hinted that the show might pay some more attention to Summer’s parent-related drama, and if that’s correct then I really hope last year’s short-lived rumors were true and that Demi Moore will play Summer’s infamous pill-popping stepmonster. She’ll be a good replacement for Johnny once the O.C. staff figures out a suitable way to kill him and/or have him move to the Midwest, à la Anna and Lindsay. Wait, he still has the gun, right? The writers should make him watch that surfing footage of his old, non-gimp body on a constant loop until he gets the right idea and offs himself.

Envisioning Johnny’s suicide put me in a little better mood, so I’ll point out that Seth’s ideas for the marketing of the bar mitzvah (”It’s got huge crossover potential”) were pretty hilarious. That whole scene with the dangerously edgy Jewish humor (Seth) against the more holy voice of reason (Sandy) was authentic Josh Schwartz, who in a few minutes managed to reduce yuletide hype to ”reindeers, snowmen, and Tim Allen movies” while acknowledging the fact that at this point, he was ”on thin ice” with both religions. Note for season 4: This inter-Cohen banter — not fake charity events for undeserving surfers who can’t act — is what the real Chrismukkah is all about. Until January… happy challah days to all.

What do you think? What kind of idiot asks someone playing solitaire if he’s winning? Will Summer’s stepmonster return and have to fight off Julie (hopefully near a pool) for Neil’s attention? And can newly returned Kaitlin Cooper handle spending winter break with Julie and Gus in NASCARland?

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