The last season of Mark Schwan’s brilliant One Tree Hill was an important one for the show. With two of the leads, Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton, leaving at the end of the sixth season, there was a big task ahead of the seventh season to prove that the show could still work without Lucas and Peyton, that it would still be watchable. And though I know some might disagree with me, I know a lot of people would agree that they did such a good job at not only keeping the show alive but maintaining the same level of excellence in the beloved One Tree Hill that we’d all come to know in the half-dozen years prior.
As we said goodbye to Lucas and Peyton, we in turn were introduced to Clay (Robert Buckley), Nathan’s agent, and Quinn (Shantel Vansanten), Haley’s sister, who filled the spots left by the exiting leads. We saw another psychopathic character come to Tree Hill in the form of Katie (Amanda Schull), who, at the climax of the seventh season at the very end of its final episode, sneaks into Clay’s beach-front house and shoots both him and Quinn, leaving them for dead and us on the edge of our seats, willing the end credits not to roll.
That intense cliffhanger is where we left off last year, and it’s here that season eight picks up. The season begins with an excellent three-parter (implicitly in three parts, rather than with an explicit ‘To be continued…’) to rescue us from the cliff upon which we were so unfairly left hanging for so many months. Schwan and his writing team have the kind of talent at creating such inspirational television that I think is only comparable to Aaron Sorkin’s work, and we see this inspiration coming through right from the beginning of the season to its finale.
We have the return of old faces as well as some new ones, and characters that were once more in the background come wonderfully to the fore. Case in point is Chase Adams (Stephen Colletti), bar manager. As Schwan notes in one of the episode commentaries, Colletti as an actor had been putting in the effort to better his acting talents to in turn better the show, and his work is really justly rewarded with a much more dramatic arc to his story this year than we’re used to. He performs so well in the role and I can’t wait to see what kind of story is lined up for Chase next year.
One of the biggest changes we see is integral to the plot, and introduced early on in the season, so if it’s a spoiler for you, I apologise, but I promise you’d have found out very quickly. Nathan (James Lafferty) had finally made it to the NBA and had his contract secured with the Charlotte Bobcats last season, but now finds himself facing a comatose Clay, in need of a kidney; a back problem that’s increasingly worsening; a newly pregnant wife, our beloved Haley James Scott (Bethany Joy Galeotti); and a son whom he feels he hasn’t been able to spend enough time with being on the road so often. And it is in the face of these things that we see one of the show’s initial staples, basketball, shift a little further from the foreground. But it is readily replaced by the emergence of Jamie (Jackson Brundage) and his newfound love of baseball, adorably making the baseball team with a few of his friends, with Nathan, Clay, and Julian (Austin Nichols) as the team’s coaches.
Brooke (Sophia Bush) and Julian are pretty much smooth-sailing, which is very much well deserved after such a rocky road last year, but in the mid-season finale, we get a huge episode in which we see Julian granted a new light and a new label as a heroic figure, as we’ve rarely seen him before. ‘Huge’ doesn’t do justice to how big the episode is, because it really is utterly incredible, with the entire cast and crew giving everything they have for this multi-story episode that is just so impressive.
As always, the music of One Tree Hill is perfect, and we see the introduction of another Grubbs-like character this year, very talented on the piano and with a powerful voice. And not only that, but we get the return of Gavin DeGraw’s exceptional theme song, I Don’t Want To Be, after years of absence, with the opening credits restored. It’s not just Gavin DeGraw that we get, either, but a series of short covers after we return to theme in the first episode with the original, including my personal favourite by Grubbs’ band, Wakey!Wakey! (who if you haven’t checked out yet, you should do so right here, right now).
If you’re still reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re a fan of One Tree Hill just like me, which means there’s an almost certain guarantee that you’re going to love this eighth season. If you ask me, the show hasn’t taken a single step in the wrong direction since the beginning of the last all-important seventh season (nor one before that, either), and all of the brilliant storylines we’re shown throughout this eighth year are so good. The show has a tremendous cast and crew, with brilliant direction, writing, and acting, and it is by far one of my favourite television programmes of all time, and certainly one of the best still running. It is as utterly addicting as it’s always been, and you’re yet to see it, I can’t recommend enough how much you should watch it; you’re going to love it. If you can come to the end of a season, as I did, and immediately want to re-watch it from the beginning, then you know that you’ve got a winner on your hands.
The biggest part of the special features comes in the form of the two commentaries on key episodes with creator-director-writer Mark Schwan, producer Joe Davola, and a number of the cast, giving us an insight of what went on behind the scenes, what decisions were made and why, and giving us a chance to enjoy Jackson Brundage (Jamie) crack a few little jokes. Alongside these commentaries, we’re also given some deleted scenes, a gag reel, and some Making Ofs. The behind the scenes of the mid-season finale (episode 8.11, Darkness on the Edge of Town) is an interesting look, showing us the rain towers used throughout the episode that kept the cast drenched and freezing whilst filming, the creation of a whole bridge on set that looks so real, and a lot more great stuff to boot. We also get to hear Mark Schwan talking about the show’s belief in promoting from within, which I think is really notable and praise-worthy, giving Chase more of a dramatic character arc, as I’ve mentioned, and giving Austin Nichols (Julian) his first episode to direct, which was brilliantly done.
One Tree Hill Season 8 is available right now from all good stores, and at time of print, it looks to be cheapest here or here.
And just because I can, I’ve included a bit of Grubbs’ band, Wakey!Wakey!, to enjoy below, regardless of the fact that it relates more to season seven than season eight.