Change is good. Or at least it can be, especially cast change-over kind of change. MASH really became MASH when BJ showed up in the fourth season to replace the frivolous Trapper; Grey’s Anatomy gained so much by adding adults like Teddy, Arizona and Owen and losing whiny upstarts like George and Izzy; Lost lost Boone and Shannon and so many others but icons like Ben and Juliet swooped in and saved the day. It’s not always the case (what convinced Whedon that Kennedy was an adequate Tara replacement I’ll never know), but oftentimes when castmembers leave, those who come in their place take the show to new levels.

So when star Chad Michael Murray left One Tree Hill it seemed like the end of the show. But what it really was was the beginning of a much, much better one. The thoughtful/angsty golden boy Lucas was replaced by hands down my favourite character the series has ever had.

Julian Baker (played by the wonderful Austin Nichols) is smart, fun, charming and handsome- just like everyone else in Tree Hill. But he’s also a huge dork. A film nerd/indie director, Julian peppers his dialogue with references and quotes. He’s a mama’s boy, an awkward sidekick and a girl’s guy. He’s a weirdo, but an amazing weirdo who’s engaged to the most perfect woman in the world (I love Brooke, always have, don’t let her perfection persuade you otherwise).

And the writers know exactly what to do with him. Julian’s not often at the centre of OTH‘s more dramatic plots. Rather, he plays the observer, working as a frame device or colour commentator as he makes a documentary about the people in his life. But most often, he serves as a charming comic subplot or a foil to Nathan’s social ease. His most amusing trademark: Julian’s not good with guys. He gives weird high fives, knows nothing about sports, the list goes on and on. Some of the series’ best episodes have featured Julian dreading male bonding time, or (most recently), searching for a best man. He was picked last for the touch football game at Thanksgiving in tonight’s episode and was teased by 8-year-old Jamie for his lack of baseball skills earlier this season. He gives impassioned speeches, is a hopeless romantic and showed us who he really was for the first time in the John Hughes episode when he channeled Duckie from Pretty in Pink.

Julian always, no matter what’s going on or how bad the episode is, makes me smile. He’s the best thing about One Tree Hill (and I freely admit I love lots of things about One Tree Hill). He may be a dork but I wouldn’t change him for the world.