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One Tree Hill: Jumping Forward in Time, But Still Looking Back

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When Dawson's Creek left our screens in 2003, two potential successor shows were left to compete for the position of America's leading high school drama, and the adoration of teenage hearts. They went about it in very different ways.

The OC represented an evolution in the form. Set among the super-rich in Newport, California, it embraced the darker side of life. While Joey had climbed into Dawson's bedroom to watch ET for the millionth time, The OC's characters were more likely to be sneaking out to go buy drugs in Tijuana. It had all the emotional brooding you'd expect from a bunch of high school kids, but was also irreverent and funny - even making a leading character out of geeky, comic book-obsessed Seth Cohen.

Its rival One Tree Hill had no such ambitions. This was a show that wanted to return to a simpler time. Set in sleepy North Carolina, it followed the fortunes of a high school basketball team. The jocks were the stars and the cheerleaders their girlfriends, and emotional brooding was pretty much all they did. If one of them caught even a whiff of an illegal substance it would be an opportunity to learn about the dangers of drugs, and they'd inevitably kick the habit just in time to win the big game on Friday night.

It looked like The OC had won this battle. It enjoyed higher ratings in the US, and produced the bigger stars. But it didn't last - it was cancelled after a relatively short run of four seasons. One Tree Hill, in contrast, has just commenced its ninth and final season, Monday night on E4.

It's an irony that during its long run, backward-looking One Tree Hill has arguably earned a place in television history for pulling off a remarkable jump forward in time, in between seasons four and five. This allowed the show to conveniently skip the main character's college years - the very period in which both The OC and Dawson's Creek ultimately floundered, by the way.

One Tree Hill survived the jump, using it to bring in new characters and provide a new stock of backstory from the intervening four years. 'Adult' One Tree Hill has now been going for one season longer than its high school-based predecessor.

Other shows have tried this, much less successfully. In Desperate Housewives it was little more than gimmick, with the five-year gap in the story between seasons four and five leaving the show more or less the same as it was before the change.

Mad Men usually has a short time jump in between seasons, with some speculation that the gap leading up to the upcoming season five will be the longest yet, taking Don Draper and co even deeper into the swinging sixties. If that's true then - and this might be the first time these words have ever been said - Mad Men has a lot to learn from One Tree Hill.

So is it any good, this final season of the show? At this point, that's no longer really the point. What quality the show had faded a while ago. But it captured its audience at a young age, and such a long time ago that most of them are still tuning in simply to see how it all ends.

Two of the original three pillars of the show's storylines are now gone. First there was the love triangle between Lucas, Peyton and Brooke: this was resolved years ago, with Lucas and Peyton marrying and departing the show. Then there was Nathan's basketball career: now concluded with his retirement. All that is left is the scheming of evil Dan - Lucas and Nathan's estranged father - who returns here for another attempt at world domination via a small town in North Carolina.

It's all as silly as it ever was, and not always intentionally. Dan is spotted in the first scene cocking a handgun and plotting a murder. Fashion mogul Brooke and pop star Haley are running a café in high heels and mini-skirts. Meanwhile bad boy Chris has returned and committed identity fraud to take over Tree Hill's resident record label, with barely an eyelid batted. All that's required now is a basketball court and some pom poms and One Tree Hill will have turned the years back all the way to the start.