"The O.C. (search) has no right to be this addictive.

Its characters are shallow, their lives pampered and their predicaments trivial. And yet, "The O.C.," which starts its second season one week from tonight, is one of Fox's most appealing series.

You have to give the network credit for having the moxie to place one of its strongest shows smack in the middle of TV's most competitive battleground.

Coming to Thursdays at 8 p.m., "The O.C." threatens to draw viewers away from "Survivor: Vanuatu (search)" on CBS and "Joey" and "Will & Grace (search)" on NBC, whose historical dominance in the lead-off hour Thursday nights withered the minute "Friends" went off the air.

You can expect "The O.C." to draw younger viewers away from those shows, but if you think "The O.C." is just another youth show, think again.

This is no "Everwood (search)." "The O.C." is an over-the-top prime-time soap whose producers have shrewdly populated its cast of characters with enough sly, scheming parents to make it interesting to a much wider audience.

After previewing the first two new episodes of the season, I have to say "The O.C." remains a pleasure to behold, starting with its scene-setting theme song, "California," by Phantom Planet.

As episode 1 gets underway, you'll learn where Seth (Adam Brody) ran off to at the end of last season and also that his middle name is Ezekial.

In their efforts to bring him home, Seth's parents — Sandy (Peter Gallagher) and Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) — will enlist the help of Ryan Atwood (Benjamin MacKenzie), the brooding, fish-out-of-water focal point of "The O.C." who is adjusting to life with his pregnant girlfriend, Theresa (Navi Rawat).

But it's the women of "The O.C." who steal the show, starting with troubled Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), who is headed for a "level 4 meltdown" (in the words of her mother, Julie, played by Melinda Clarke) that should earn her an induction into the Soap Opera Hall of Fame.

Ditzy Summer (Rachel Bilson) took all summer to get over her breakup with Seth and is now trying to "vibrate at a higher frequency," as her therapist advises.

And Grandpa Caleb (Alan Dale), Orange County, Calif.'s biggest mover and shaker, is facing an indictment that might change everyone's lives forever.

Or maybe not.

On this soap, you never know. And you never know how big this show can get if grownups start watching it.