It’s impossible for me to top the epic work being done by television critics this week in memory of the 10-year anniversary of the debut of The OC. Alan Sepinwall, Andy Greenwald and Vulture have great interviews with creator/show-runner Josh Schwartz, and/or discussions of the show, what it meant in the moment, and its legacy. But hey, I’ll give it a shot.
For me, the show is always going to be beyond “just” a TV show. Debuting in the summer of 2003 while I was living in New York, episodes became weekly appointments. It hit all the cliches (poor kid living in a rich-kid neighborhood, working at the local restaurant, fitting in at a new school, friendships, love triangles, etc.), and yet it mashed them up so elegantly, and burned through so much plot in its first season, that I was hooked immediately. Fans of this blog could probably figure that out, since my banner image is Seth and Ryan chilling in the Harbor lounge.
Ah, that first season….magical. Ryan, the outsider, getting accustomed to Harbor, fighting with Luke (mostly over Marisa), having to fit in with the Cohens. Seth, choosing between Anna and Summer. Jimmy Cooper, the precursor to Bernie Madoff. Julie Cooper sleeping with Luke while Seth wore a “Don’t Mess with Kansas, Either” t-shirt (that I unabashedly bought from Urban Outfitters days later. What a finale: Seth sailing off (to Tahiti? nah, just Portland); Marisa drinking on her balcony after Julie and Caleb’s unholy union came to fruition; Ryan on his way back to Chino, dutifully agreeing to raise Theresa’s child (even though it was most likely Eddie’s). The moments from season one are inscribed in my memory: Ryan carrying Marisa after her overdose in TJ, “Luke, you got shot,” Seth and Summer losing their virginities to each other…
And then, the second season started. Immediately, the show lost some of its momentum by introducing a panoply of new characters: Zack, Alex, Lindsay, DJ. And rather than focus on the core relationship, Sandy and Kirsten, the producers decided to have Sandy try to save his former love (daughter of his old law professor), only to push Kirsten into Billy Campbell’s arms (and, ultimately, to rehab). And, well, the most-parodied finale in Fox history.
The less said about the third season, the better, as Johnny Harper’s real-life name of Ryan Donowho is probably the best contribution from that season. Well, except Volchok.
So many people had given up on the show by the start of the fourth season, especially after (SPOILER ALERT) the producers killed off Marisa. The show’s magic was gone, as were Marisa, Luke, and Jimmy. But Autumn Reeser breathed new life into the show as Taylor Townsend, and the music choices became sharper (“Running Up That Hill” by Placebo as the opening song perfectly frames the entire season, and Ryan running to “Black Swan” on the beach was pitch-perfect). Finally learning about Ryan’s father (who courts Julie Cooper), the introduction of Che…there were some real highlights in this last season. While the show didn’t get to take a victory lap, the last scene of the series finale brings all the characters full-circle, including Ryan taking in a kid in a tank top, and Seth and Summer marrying.
What did the OC really mean to me? It meant nights in my apartment (or my friend Nathan’s), with a big group of people who were not allowed to speak until the commercials, lest we miss a witty Cohen-ism. It meant appreciating interesting storylines for the parents as well as the kids. It meant rooting for a family who acted as though it knew it was in a television drama, and proceeded accordingly. It meant standing up and cheering (literally) when the show made knowing winks to Seth’s love of Natalie Portman or Death Cab for Cutie, which mimicked my own. It meant hating Oliver, learning to love Luke, Rooney jokes, Alan Dale’s “American” accent (that he later used as Charles Widmore on LOST), bagels, kids who would only apply to one college, and solidarity.
So many quotes still resonate with me: “China has alopecia,” “Confidence, Cohen,” “Luke, you got shot,” “Little brother…” and of course “Welcome to the OC, bitch!”
I wish the show had gone on, but recognize that with the mixed bag nature of the middle seasons, it was probably best for it to end when it did. But when people ask about my love of TV, and entertainment, the OC is always going to get mentioned: I remember feeling like I was in on a secret, and was always happy to show people episode 7 of season 1 (The “Tijuana” episode) to get others as addicted as I was.