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Revisiting TDW: Favorite Teen Drama Holiday Episodes
On the original TeenDramaWhore, I had a section called “TDW Originals” where I examined different teen drama topics, like the essential love triangles, shared fun facts, and revealed some of my personal preferences, such as my all-time favorite couples.
I’ll be providing more of that type of content over the next few months, but since today is Christmas, I wanted to highlight a series of posts I did back in 2009: A look at my favorite teen drama holiday episodes!
From December 21 through December 25 of that year, I went show by show and revealed which “Christmas-Hanukkah-New Year’s-Plain Ol’ Winter episodes” I enjoyed most. Today, I want to single out two of those episodes in particular.
Among my favorite pop culture tropes is alternate universe storylines. This idea of “what if this happened differently, then what?” drove the plots in both “The O.C.” episode 4.07, “The Chrismukk-huh?” and “One Tree Hill” episode 4.10, “Songs to Live and Die By.” They each originally aired in 2006, not even two weeks apart from one another. While not marketed as a Christmas episode, the “One Tree Hill” installment was broadcast on December 6 as its midseason finale, while “The O.C.” gave its annual Chrismukkah edition a new twist on December 14.
When looking back at these episodes in 2009, I wrote about the latter:
“We know I’m a sucker for flashbacks and, by extension, alternate universes, which makes this quite possibly my favorite of all the Chrismukkahs. Ryan and Taylor’s accident turns Newport on its head, looking at what might’ve happened if Ryan never existed. While most of it involves some comedic pairings, like Summer & Che and Sandy & Julie (plus Che & Julie), there’s also a surprising emotional component: Taylor finds out that, in this world, Marissa may be alive. The possibility prevents Ryan from wanting to return to the real world but he ends up losing her all over again when he learns that Marissa never survived her drug overdose several years back since he was never there to rescue her. Intelligent viewers knew there was no chance of Marissa/Mischa Barton coming back but the writing and editing sucked us in anyway, getting our hopes up and our hearts broken.”
And of the “One Tree Hill” episode, I said:
“This episode is noteworthy for all kinds of reasons. First, among the many things OTH does well is flashbacks, flashforwards, and alternate universes. Those episodes are usually automatic wins in my book and this one is no exception. OTH also works off a crazy timeline that prevents holidays on our calendar from matching up with the Tree Hill calendar. Even this episode aired the first week in December, though it was clearly meant to be the only Christmas episode we’d likely ever get. Like The O.C.’s Chrismukk-huh?, we have a main character–Lucas–unconscious. And like Beverly Hill 90210’s It’s A Totally Happening Life, we have a spin on the classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life. The O.C.’s episode teased us with the return of Marissa while this show actually gives us Keith back, even if it’s just as a ghost and only for this episode. It tugs on heartstrings again and again, especially with Haley also unconscious, pays respect to the past, asks a powerful question (does it pay to be a good person?) and sets up a huge story arc for the rest of the season with Lucas trying to find out who really killed Keith. It’s one of my favorite episodes of the entire series.”
All of that holds up incredibly well for me. “Songs to Live and Die By” remains one of my favorites out of the 187 episodes of “One Tree Hill” and “The Chrismukk-huh?” is still my favorite Chrismukkah installment. One thing that’s interesting is that if you look back at that “O.C.” post in particular, you’ll see I was still on the Chrismukkah bandwagon at the time. But now a decade later, as I explained earlier this month in “Being a Jewish Teen Drama Fan,” I’ve since soured on the concept. Even still, this episode is especially noteworthy to me because, for me personally, it’s less about it being Christmastime and more about the provocative alternate universe premise, which deftly balanced both comedic and emotional moments.
You’ll also notice in the “One Tree Hill” post, I deemed this hour the “only Christmas episode we’d likely ever get.” That didn’t turn out to be the case. Just a few months after I wrote that came episode 7.17, “At the Bottom of Everything.” It aired in February, but part of the plot revolved around Jamie organizing an early Christmas for his dying grandmother, Haley’s mom Lydia.
At the time it was broadcast, I ripped this storyline because not only did I view the whole arc with Lydia dying to be a form of emotional blackmail on viewers (because it made people cry, fans thought it was good… it wasn’t), but it was also a knockoff of a “Beverly Hills, 90210” episode. As I pointed out then, in episode 9.09, “The Following Options,” which aired in 1998 — in other words, more than 10 years before this “One Tree Hill” episode — Kelly surprised her dying grandfather with an early Christmas. While the nature of the teen drama genre means certain aspects are going to be common among virtually all shows (see: the aforementioned essential love triangles), this copycat plot twist was an inexcusable knockoff.
Compare that redundancy and unoriginality to these two episodes of “One Tree Hill” and “The O.C.” that I highlighted here. Both took the same main ingredient — an alternate universe — and carried them out in fairly different ways almost at the exact same time. One focused on a main character suffering cardiac arrest and being guided by his dead uncle through an existential crisis while unconscious whereas the other focused on two main characters getting knocked out and having to figure out their way back to their “real” timeline.
Both succeeded in their respective takes on the alternate universe trope. Not only that, they are infused with holiday spirit without actually being explicitly about Christmas. And that’s why they stand out to me today as two of the most memorable episodes of each series whether it’s the holiday season or not.
Do you like alternate universe storylines in pop culture? Do you have a favorite teen drama holiday episode? Share in the comments below!