One Tree Hill (2003): Genius Shows We Loved

One Tree Hill castThe wonderful cast of One Tree Hill. -Credit: Everett Collection

One Tree Hill was one of the most popular teen dramas on television when it premiered during the early 2000s. It followed two half-brothers, Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan Scott (James Lafferty), who grew up in a small fictional town called Tree Hill, North Carolina. They both play for Tree Hill’s high school basketball team, The Ravens. The first few seasons of One Tree Hill follow the show’s main characters as teenagers before shifting to the far superior second half of the series, where the narrative does a time jump into the characters’ adult lives. The program was designed as a coming-of-age tale with the central theme of the show including love, marriage, divorce, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, murder, and suicide.

One Tree Hill’s music-centric format was unique compared to other teen dramas of the era, with many episodes named after songs by well-known rock musicians. Karen Roe (Moira Kelly)’s fictitious bar TRIC, initially run by series protagonist Peyton Sawyer (Hilarie Burton) and managed alongside her label Red Bedroom Records, would feature many rock or popular indie artists. These artists included Jack’s MannequinJimmy Eat WorldYellowcard, and Gavin DeGraw (who performed the show’s main theme song). Musicians regularly guest-starred on the show, such as Pete Wentz (as himself), Wakey! Wakey! (as Grubbs), Kate Voegele (Mia Catalano), Tyler Hilton (Chris Keller), Bethany Joy Lenz (Haley James Scott), etc. Additionally, in one season, they remix the theme song multiple times which is super enjoyable.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover…

I’ll be the first to confess that I had this series pegged utterly wrong. My One Tree Hill-addicted significant other forced me to watch it, so I thought it would be like all the other cheesy teen dramas from around the same period. I didn’t anticipate how sophisticated and frequently dark the writing would be. Nor did I foresee the number of times my jaw would hit the floor over the series’ many plot twists.

That is what we’ll explore in this article: the tangled webs and complex narrative arcs that spanned throughout the show’s nine seasons.

No other character has made me run the gamut from total hatred, to absolute love like Dan Scott.

“You Can’t Kill Dan Scott…”

For starters, Dan Scott (Paul Johansson) is one of the most crucial storyline threads in One Tree Hill. He was initially seen as an egotistical, self-centered braggart who had no care for anyone but himself. Dan is an unpleasant, domineering father who is often obnoxious and easy to despise. He has difficulty getting along with his son Nathan, a top high school basketball player who he frequently belittles to enforce discipline. Dan’s behavior and treatment of his then-wife Deb Scott (Barbara Alyn Woods) push her into infidelity and, eventually, drug and alcohol addiction, culminating in the breakdown of their family life. Dan and Deb’s frequent head-butting drives Nathan to seek legal separation from the two of them, which he obtains through emancipation.

However, over time, Dan matures into a more complex and nuanced character.

Following a tragedy of Dan’s doing, Dan is immediately tormented by guilt and PTSD due to his actions. Dan’s crimes begin to be known throughout his community, and he becomes an outcast from his family. At first, as a viewer, you have no empathy for Dan. However, as the character’s life worsens and Dan becomes the victim of several horrible breaks, I found myself rooting for his redemption.

From Villain To Hero…

This is where Paul Johansson and his exceptional performances come into play. To heal himself, Dan had to acknowledge his shortcomings. He had to realize how his horrible actions ruined people’s lives and damaged those who cared about him. For much of the first half of the series, Dan is seen to be one of the most reprehensible humans imaginable. It’s easy to despise Dan, and that’s the idea. Still, very few actors are capable of bringing a redemption arc to life effectively enough to make you question your sympathies for the villain. Wait till you see what happens to Nanny Carrie. In his flawless portrayal of Dan Scott, Paul transforms the bully from a figure you’d want to punch in the face into a Shakespearian tragic soul that elicits tears from the audience.

However, it’s not just Dan’s development that makes One Tree Hill so appealing. Many other characters see changes in their personalities throughout the show, causing viewers to whiplash their views.

Producers initially had no plans to give Brooke the character arc she had. Sophia Bush fought for Brooke’s development, and we’re grateful she did.

“Brooke Davis Is Going To Change The World Someday…”

Viewers can find an example of this in the character of Brooke Davis (Sophia Bush). Brooke Davis is the beautiful, popular, and spoiled daughter of Robert (Richard Burgi) and Victoria Davis (Daphne Zuniga). Initially, Brooke is a superficial teen that cares more about her reputation than anything else.

Despite these flaws, Brooke possesses many admirable qualities underneath this deceptive exterior. Brooke is selfless, kind, loyal, caring, charismatic, intelligent, resourceful, and an excellent friend. Unfortunately, it is so often in the series that Brooke is forced to watch as others achieve happiness and true love while being deprived of this dream for herself.

Brooke Davis’ Growth

After the departure of Peyton and Luke (further expanded on later in this article), Brooke’s character development begins to shine, shedding her high school persona entirely. The founder of the multi-million dollar clothing empire Clothes over Bros, Brooke often butts heads with her mother, Victoria Davis. This causes insecurity for Brooke as she struggles to get her mother’s love and acceptance. Through these trials, Brooke learns to assert herself and demand respect from her mother and others. As a result, Brooke transforms into the most powerful woman on the show and becomes an inspiration with her strength and resilience.

Brooke frequently gets the raw end of the deal for nearly the entire series when it comes to a romantic relationship. So naturally, therefore, the audience can’t help but whoop and cheer when Brooke finally finds the man of her dreams and sees all her childhood dreams come true. I went from being annoyed by Brooke’s initial shallowness in the first few seasons to loving everything about her character.

One Tree Hill - Lucas and Peyton
Damnit Lucas, just get married to her already.

“Leyton” – Lucas and Peyton

Another power duo exists in Peyton Sawyer and Lucas Scott. While the series included several ship-worthy relationships, Peyton and Lucas’ “on-again, off-again” romance was the show’s highlight for many years. Their occasional separations made waiting for the anticipated conclusion difficult for fans eager to see the two get married and start a family. Lucas’ character is impulsive and prompted by his feelings at times. This results in him losing Peyton for an extended period because of a misunderstanding of her emotions. At times, Lucas never seemed to know what he wanted, despite how much he cared about her.

The at times frustrating character arc resulted in a complicated relationship with the character. I frequently desired to reach through the screen and chastise Lucas for some of his decisions. As if Chad Michael Murray had any control over how his character is scripted. Like others, I wanted to push him back towards Peyton whenever he pulled away. But Lucas also, much like his half-brother Nathan, always stood for what was right. In the end, I came to admire “Leyton” and their journey together.

The Departure of Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton

After six seasons, the two characters departed the program for various reasons. After a pay disagreement, Chad Michael Murray was written out of the series, which resulted in his contract not being renewed. Hilarie Burton, Peyton’s actress on the show, left it due to rising discomfort with sexual harassment at the hands of the show’s creator. These allegations are disturbing, and it is poetic justice that Mark Schwahn‘s career has essentially come to an end. Women should not have to put up with sexual harassment at the hands of men in the entertainment business. In 2017, she and 17 other cast and crew members of One Tree Hill would write an open letter about their experiences on the show, revealing further details of her departure.

It was unfortunate not to see Hillarie continue throughout the rest of the series. However, One Tree Hill handled her last sequences with finesse and care. You didn’t get the impression that the writers hastily wrote the conclusion to accommodate her exit, and the story closes nicely.

One Tree Hill - Nathan and Haley
Nathan and Haley. For all the time this couple spent in the rain, it’s amazing they never got pneumonia.

“Naley” – Nathan and Haley

Finally, I’d be negligent (and would annoy many OTF fans) if I didn’t mention the fantastic match-up of “Naley” – Nathan and Haley Scott (Bethany Joy Lenz). The bond between Haley and Nathan was unique because it proved how wrong preconceptions may be. For example, it’s easy to assume that a the star of the basketball team and a book-smart tutor would have a short life together. But this did not happen. Instead, Haley saw through Nathan’s smug attitude and was the main driving force behind Nathan’s improvement and maturation. By her patience and love, Nathan develops and becomes the moral rock of the series, contrasting sharply with his father and growing in ways that would have appeared impossible for him previously.

Nathan and Haley fall deeply in love after the first season, and he ultimately proposes. Nathan’s parents fight against the engagement, attempting to sabotage it, but they only make the pair more determined. It was a bumpy road to love for these characters at times, and their relationship has had its fair share of hurdles.

The Struggle is Real

Early on, the couple’s goals conflict. Nathan has aspirations to become a great sports student and play professionally in an NBA basketball team. Haley wants to establish herself as a musician. In pursuit of her musical ambitions, Haley meets the self-absorbed and frequently third-person speaking Chris Keller (Tyler Hilton). While Chris attempts to portray his desire to assist Haley as entirely business, it becomes evident that he has feelings for her. This introduces the first genuine conflict between Haley and Nathan. Nevertheless, Haley decides to continue touring with Chris and pursue her ambitions despite Nathan’s opposition to Chris, which leads to their first breakup.

After a period of separation, the pair reconciles and begins to build a family, culminating in the birth of their son Jamie and long-awaited marriage. For some time, things move forward nicely. Still, when Nathan’s NBA hopes are crushed, he falls into a lengthy spell of alcoholism and melancholy. This nearly destroys their relationship as a result. James Lafferty was a brilliant choice to play Nathan as he portrays this downfall beautifully.

However, you cannot keep a solid relationship apart. No matter what life dealt them, Nathan and Haley always found their way back to one another.

The Real-Life Career of Bethany Joy Lenz

Ultimately, Haley does achieve her dreams of writing and recording music. For fans of the actress, this is not very far from reality. Bethany Joy Lenz is a fantastic vocalist, and all of her performances on the program are her own. She recorded “When The Stars Go Blue” with One Tree Hill actor Tyler Hilton in 2005. This became a mega-hit and peaked at #89 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bethany has released five studio albums, including two out-of-print independent releases over her career. She has also put out several EPs. Her most recent EP is a Christmas EP titled Snow, which includes two covers and four original songs.

One Tree Hill Has Many Unhappy Endings

Of course, some fan favorites do not receive a happy conclusion and survive through to the final season. Death plays a prominent role in One Tree Hill. No beloved citizen of Tree Hill is immune to unexpected departures. Many characters are safe one moment and killed the next without notice. There is a certain school shooting episode that absolutely destroyed me. These occurrences make you worry about the fate of your favorite Tree Hillians. Especially when you’re not sure if they’ll make it to the end of the series.

There Is Only One Tree Hill

Because of this uncertainty, I believe that One Tree Hill is a stellar example of quality television. Much like the characters’ growths proved to the audience, my experience with One Tree Hill has taught me not to judge a book by its cover. Instead, as my binge-watching sessions with my partner have demonstrated, perhaps I should pay more attention to her recommendations. She’s never been wrong once.

If you’re looking for a show that will make your heart pound, eyes hurt from crying, and lead to hours of discussion with friends; One Tree Hill is a perfect choice. I’ve laughed and cried with these characters. One Tree Hill, much like life, is filled with pain but also has something everyone can relate to in one way or another. So give this show (and Dan Scott!) a chance. There is only ONE tree hill (see what I did there?).

Loved this article? Check out the feature we did on The X-Files (1993): Genius Shows We Loved

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