August 11, 2003 12:00 PM

FOX (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

Since this is a FOX series, everybody knows the initials in the title can’t stand for Old Codger. But I’ll wager a lot of viewers don’t automatically think of Orange County, Calif., when they hear The O.C. Why didn’t the network call this new prime time soap Newport Beach, 92663 and celebrate its similarity to a famously trashy, zip-coded ’90s drama set in Beverly Hills?

Judging from the Aug. 5 premiere, Newport Beach teens are rich, spoiled and into drink, drugs and sex. Fairly hot stuff, but not enough. What’s needed to complete the scene is a broodingly handsome boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Enter Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), a 16-year-old charged with car theft and represented by Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), a public defender who can afford to live in Newport Beach only because his wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), has big bucks. In a burst of altruism (or simple bad judgment), Sandy invites Ryan to stay in the Cohen home for a weekend, during which the supposedly rough-edged but surprisingly clean-cut visitor falls for Marissa (Mischa Barton), the beautiful girl next door, and fights with her brawny boyfriend Luke (Chris Carmack), who displays his lack of character by kicking Ryan when he’s down. Clearly it’s only Round 1 for these two.

Nothing in the opener is especially fresh or intriguing except the relationship between Ryan and Seth, Sandy’s odd-duck son (well played by Adam Brody). Can the tough outsider really be friends with a kid who says “cool” uncoolly? This I want to see.

BOTTOM LINE: Mostly stock soap

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