SO OVER THE O.C., THE O.C. IS OVER: Fox, who are very good at this sort of thing, cancelled The O.C. this week, proof that there’s often just a year or two separating the cast of a TV show from a hit season and unemployment, especially if they’re on Fox. Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson’s agents are probably the most grateful people in Los Angeles right now, as they’re free to book their clients into every mid-level thriller, arty horror film and Oscar-bait indie film that comes their way.


Ratings have fallen since the series reached its pop culture plateau with its second episode, and the final episode will air on Feb. 22. "Thanks to the hard work of our cast, crew and writers, we have enjoyed our best season yet," said creator Josh Schwartz on the TV Guide website, "and what better time to go out than creatively on top. It has been an amazing experience and a great run. For a certain audience, at a certain time, The O.C. has meant something. For that we are grateful."


Shortly afterward, Schwartz laid out the final eight episodes for Michael Ausiello of TV Guide: "There will be a pregnancy," he said. "There will be a most-unexpected new love triangle. There will be some new animals that need saving. There will be some hallucinatory dreams. There's going to be a fight for the love of a certain woman. And there's going to be some surprises for the Cohen family, and some really big decisions for everybody to make. The finale is going to deliver real closure to these characters. It's going to be the finale we had always planned to do."


The hell with "closure" – Schwartz probably had an idea this was coming, so there’s no reason he couldn’t have turned his show’s swansong into a real event. Mutant births, terrorist cells, time travel, an epidemic of stigmata, inexplicable guest shots, even crossovers with other shows, current and cancelled (I’m imagining a whole episode set on a deserted Gilligan’s Island, complete with straw huts and bicycle-powered radios, but meant to play as a wryly somber parody of Lost) – the sky’s the limit, really.


What does Schwartz have to lose? Fox has to fill the time slot; they could use the publicity, and even if they get cold feet and pull the episodes, there’s a whole internet out there for Schwartz to use to create a sensation over "censorship" and "artistic freedom." Just as the history of popular music would be a lot less depressing if bands were forced to break up after their third album, there aren’t a lot of TV shows that were well-served by being renewed for more than four seasons.

In retrospect, The O.C. would probably be better served in TV history if its second season ended with the whole cast drifting out to sea after a cataclysmic earthquake separated southern California from the rest of the union, giving the Cohen’s a new zip code somewhere in Micronesia.