' One Tree Hill ' cast breaks down how the season 5 time jump brought new life to the show

These days, teen shows rarely seem to exist without a time jump, but in 2008, One Tree Hill was the only young adult drama to successfully pull one off. The season 5 premiere saw the residents of Tree Hill four-and-a-half years after high school graduation. The jump not only breathed new life into the already-established CW show (which went on for four more seasons), but would inspire similar storytelling in teen dramas for years to come.

Skipping ahead to the gang's post-college life brought about storylines fans never saw coming, and we were able to see our favorite Tree Hill Ravens in a light that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. We found Nathan Scott (James Lafferty) in a wheelchair, longing for a basketball career he believed he would never have. Haley James Scott (Bethany Joy Lenz) was tasked with raising Jamie while her marriage was slowly falling apart. Brooke Davis (Sophia Bush) was a CEO in New York and no longer visited Tree Hill. Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) was working on his second novel and spending his days in Tree Hill, yet Peyton Sawyer (Hilarie Burton) was in Los Angeles.

Gathered by EW to celebrate 10 years since the One Tree Hill series finale in 2012, cast members Lenz, Burton, and Bush recall their reactions to the big change.


Everett Collection

"I thought it was brilliant," Lenz says.

We might not have gotten to see our favorite Tree Hill Ravens live out their college years — but the time jump allowed the story to skip ahead to an even juicier time in their lives.

"We were really entering an era where you almost never knew a group of friends that all went to the same college. It's just not a thing that happens. It may have happened when our parents went to college, but things were different and it felt like we got to shed this old, impractical mold. Which I know is funny for people who did a show where a dog ate a heart to say, 'Well that wouldn't happen.' It felt cool," Bush says.

Burton adds that it also brought the story closer to the actors' own lives, as they were exploring "the conflicting emotions of being a person in your young twenties and thinking you're a grown up, but you're not really a grown up. We were all living that in real life."

Though Nathan and Haley had been a fan-favorite couple since season 1, when season 5 came along, they were facing more than a few challenges in their marriage.

"I loved being able to actually be in a really unhappy, complicated space, which is where Haley was when we came back. Haley and Nathan were in a really rough spot. And I think that was a great opportunity for James too. We both got to do something that we hadn't really been able to do on the show ... up until that time. So for an actor, it was really exciting," Lenz says. Nathan struggling to get back on his feet after his spinal cord injury was the just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Naley's marriage trouble. Throw in a crazy stalker nanny and you have more problems than you think you're capable of handling.

The rollercoaster that Naley's relationship took the audience (and cast members) on wasn't without reward. "You guys got to bring flaws and pain and angst to the two characters who had always been above it. I think it was so human and it was so refreshing because there were young people who were like, 'Well, I'm not perfect like them' and you guys got to undo a myth and make it better. It was fun to watch," Bush says. None of this would have been possible without thrusting our Ravens into adulthood.

While all Naley fans weren't happy to see Nathan in this light, it was definitely interesting to see Lafferty's new look. "James [Lafferty] looked so hot," says Burton. Bush adds, "He came back with his long hair and we were like 'Who are you?!?'"

Haley and Nathan weren't the only North Carolina residents who were in a rough spot after jumping forward in time. We found Brooke unhappy with the way her life had played out since the end of season 4, but Bush had some fun showing a more vulnerable side of the Brooke Davis. "I loved kind of punching a hole in this sort of veneer that success makes you happy, money means you have it easy. You know, she was really struggling and dealing with family stuff that was hard and it was nice to remind people to look behind the curtain at the person," Bush says.

ONE TREE HILL, Lee Norris, Antwon Tanner , Sophia Bush, Chad Michael Murray, Hilarie Burton, James L

Everett Collection Lee Norris, Antwon Tanner , Sophia Bush, Chad Michael Murray, Hilarie Burton, James Lafferty, Bethany Joy Lenz in 'One Tree Hill' season 5

Everyone's season 5 introduction had fans asking, "How did we get here?" Bush explains: "We got to come back and everyone had a mystery that you got to unravel through flashbacks. It was great. I loved it." The biggest mystery of them all had to be what happened between Lucas and Peyton. Last we saw of them, they were happy and in love — but that was not the case after the major life jump.

Eventually, we found out that Leyton broke up due to a premature proposal. "I kind of appreciated the realism of Peyton, coming back from that time jump. Lucas proposed to Peyton at a very young age and her saying 'Let's just pause' was the right thing to do," says Burton. Although it was the "right thing to do," Lucas didn't agree, and ended the relationship all together. (Which led to Lindsey (Michaela McManus) coming to Tree Hill, but that's a different story.)

Leyton fans know the two ultimately found their way back to each other, but it was torment watching them deny their feelings for one another. However, that just made their on-screen relationship that much more believable. "It felt so much better [to play adults] rather than playing teenagers who were put in adult situations," Burton says.

In the end, there will always be one Tree Hill, and one teen show to successfully pull off a major time jump before all the rest.

Watch the video at the top of the post to hear more from Lenz, Burton, and Bush.

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

Related content: