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The Summer of our discontent

   Breaking news from the teen-angst front doesn't get much bigger than this: The O.C.'s status-obsessed social fluffhead Summer has turned commie. Well, maybe not commie -- yet -- but tree-hugger lefty for sure. When The O.C. returns Nov. 2, Summer will have left the Southern California beach for Rhode Island, where she's attending Brown and becoming an acolyte of a left-wing eco-nut named Che herself as a left-leaning, tree-hugging activist under the sway of Che (Chris Pratt, Everwood).

Rachel_bilson_0127_72rc    Probably no character on network TV has evolved further, faster than Summer, who when The O.C. debuted in 2003 was a chilly high school social queen who wasn't even going to be in the show past the third or four episode. Not only did she stick around, but her heart warmed to the point she began dating terminal nerd Seth and then revealed an unexpected intellectual side when college-application season approached. As she explained to a bemused Seth: "I'm not stupid, just shallow.''

   "I think it's really cool,'' says Rachel Bilson, who plays Summer, in a telephone chat with a handful of TV writers Friday. "I really like the direction they've pointed her in...I think it's really cool as opposed to cage-fighting or something like that.''

   Bilson was as surprised as anybody that Summer turned out to be something more than just a hot, unobtainable bod. "I was a guest star and didn't have that much to do, and [executive producer Josh Schwartz] just kept writing me great stuff ... I've had so much fun with the character and what she gets to do. I wouldn't say [the character's changes were] overexaggerated. Maybe in the comedic area, but that's fun. It's been pretty realistic. I think she became more human as the seasons have gone on ... I liked how she's handled every situation. She's come the furthest'' of any of The O.C. characters.

   Well, maybe not as far as Marissa, her perpetually tragic best friend, who rampaged through the entire evolutionary cycle all the way to death at the end of the last season. When The O.C. resumes, Marissa's guilt-ridden sometimes-boyfriend Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) will have returned to his lumpenproletariat roots, spending his time picking barfights and deliberately losing them. "The beginning of this season, it's really a battle for Ryan's soul,'' says Schwartz. Potential redemption appears in the unlikely personage of Taylor (Autumn Resser), the befanged high-school politician who was supposed to go off to the Sorbonne this year but is back with some kind of terrible secret, possibly that the French really like Jerry Lewis.

   Seth (Adam Brody), on the other hand, has reverted to fulltime nerdboy, working at a comic-book story. "The highlight of his day is he had a turkey sandwich and his dad had roast beef. Meanwhile, Summer is 3,000 miles away and has reinvented herself completely,'' says Schwartz.

   Schwartz wouldn't rule out an appearance by Mischa Barton as Marissa, either as a ghost or a flashback. But it sure sounds like the rest of the cast has moved on. Says Bilson: "I'm sorry, who?...Just kidding.''

   

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