After more than a bit of a sophomore slump, the creator/executive producer of "The O.C." (Thursday, 7 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is promising that the upcoming season of the Fox show "will be our best season yet."
"There will be a wedding. There will be a funeral. There will be a bar mitzvah. There will be graduation," said Josh Schwartz. "There will be some old faces returning and some exciting new characters. I think we're not holding anything back this year.
Not that he and his team were exactly holding anything back last season. But after breaking out into a genuine hit the year before, the problem was trying to repeat that success without repeating the same plotlines. And there were some rough patches in that bumpy ride.
And it's a tough task to make all the viewers happy.
"Every fan has a different thing they're sort of passionate about," Schwartz told TV critics in a teleconference. "Anybody you talk to has a totally different opinion about the show or what they watch the show for or what they want to see in the show. Some people want to know are Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) and Marissa (Mischa Barton) going to be together. Some people really want to know are Seth (Adam Brody) and Summer (Rachel Bilson) going to be together or Sandy (Peter Gallagher) and Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), but it always seems to land back on sort of the core relationships that are the foundation of the show and will those stay together.
"That seems to be the most frequently asked question, along with Ryan's baby."
Well, if it's Ryan's baby that his ex-girlfriend gave birth to. Schwartz will neither confirm nor deny — although he did say, "That story line will resolve itself sometime in the near future."
Thursday's third-season premiere quickly wraps up the cliffhanger from last spring's second-season finale. Trey (Logan Marshall-Green) — who was shot by Marissa as he beat his brother, Ryan, is not dead, but he's in a coma. And there are legal problems for Marissa and Ryan as a result that, even when they're resolved, will "reverberate" through the season.
Eric Mabius joins the cast as the new dean at the Harbor school — "sort of 'Mean Dean,' as he's referred to" — who throws Melissa out of school in the aftermath of the scandal.
"It's going to put Ryan at odds with the dean. It's going to put Sandy at odds with the dean," Schwartz said. "He's going to be a really good, sort of new nemesis for our kids. He's also going to go after Seth and Summer."
And, with Marissa expelled, Taylor Townsend (Autumn Reeser) steps into the void as the "scheming, young, in-training socialite" who is going to clash with Summer. "It's a real sort of 'All About Eve' (relationship) between Taylor and Summer."
Kirsten is still in rehab, where she's made a new friend (played by Jeri Ryan of "Star Trek: Voyager," who will be around for at least seven episodes). Not that we should expect her to be a good friend.
"(Ryan) was really great and has the ability to be really sweet and really charming and turn on a dime," Schwartz said. "So she's brought a lot of that to the role and kind of played both at the same time.
In a few weeks, there will be a "new young, business partner" for Sandy as he takes over the Newport Group in the wake of his father-in-law Caleb's death. "He has to be careful that he doesn't become what he beheld and not turn into Caleb Nichol," Schwartz said.
While Julie Cooper-Nichol is expecting to inherit the bulk of her late husband's estate, she's "in for a bumpy ride" when his will is read. She's going to get back together with her ex-husband, Jimmy (Tate Donovan), at least for a while.
"Julie and Jimmy are going to make another run at it — but you know that Jimmy Cooper," Schwartz said.
"We're also looking to expand Summer's family. . . . You're going to see a lot more about her family and her dad and all of that."
And we'll be getting the now-traditional Chrismukkah episode — the Christmas and Hanukkah hybrid Seth came up with as the product of a Christian-Jewish marriage. This year it will be a "bar mitzvahkah, I guess is what you'll have to call it, which will be Ryan's honorary bar mitzvah," Schwartz said.
The young producer — he just turned 29 last month — feels like he learned something from taking the show from it first season through its second season — lessons he'll put to use in its third season.
"I just want to say that I'm really excited about this year. . . . I think it will be our best season yet," Schwartz said.