It has been 10 years since Sandy Cohen reached out to Ryan Atwood and asked if he needed help. I was only 11 at the time of The OC’s debut: too young to really get it, but old enough to know what it was about. I never watched it when it was on TV, but when I begrudgingly sat down and experienced it at my friend’s urging, I was pleasantly surprise. It was strange at first, watching a show depicting what was supposed to have been my life growing up in Newport Beach, CA. There were aspects of it that were sensationalized (everyone living in a house that had a pool house as well) as well as real (the Cotillion episode from the first season). But Josh Schwartz’s creation had more to it than people gave it credit for. It might sound strange to hear this from a 21-year-old male, but The OC was a good show. In its first season, the show fulfilled its purpose to near perfection. It took the “beautiful-rich-teenagers-doing-beautiful-rich-teenager-things” motif and turned it into a new-millennium 90210.
The untimely deaths, unplanned pregnancies, overdoses, divorces, and myriads of other crises eventually wore on The OC’s audience, but for one season it was admittedly fun. While it wasn’t entirely original, it was one of the first shows that our age group was old enough to watch as well as understand. As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate the show for different reasons. I won’t bore you with the typical “huge influence on the commercial value of indie rock” analysis, a topic drawn and quartered to death, nor will I bother mentioning the word “Chrismukkah.” You have your own reasons for enjoying The OC that are yours to keep, but here are some of the more interesting aspects of the series.
One of the most unintentionally funny parts of the show that was mostly lost on us at a young age was the idea that these high school kids on the show might actually look like that in real life. On The OC, you could look like Adam Brody and still be considered a loser by members of the opposite gender. None of the characters seemed to endure the “awkward phase” that plagued so many of my classmates (as well as myself), but I soon learned that Benjamin McKenzie, Adam Brody, and Rachel Bilson were all in their mid-twenties—Mischa Barton was the only real teenager. This is not a new concept: the majority of “beautiful-rich-teenagers-doing-beautifulrich-teenager-things” shows feature actors older than their characters. One of the actresses on the monstrosity that is ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars is in her 30s. The OC didn’t push it quite that far, but 27 year-old Benjamin McKenzie portraying a high school senior is still inherently humorous. Had the show premiered today, online fan communities and comment sections of the countless Youtube videos titled “Ryan & Marissa: Best Moments” would undoubtedly ponder whether or not McKenzie even lifts.
The relationship between Seth and Summer was an integral part of the show for many reasons, but the most important is the justice that Josh Schwartz did to the character of Summer. Her character is essentially the opposite of the typical female object of affection in popular entertainment. Seth Cohen didn’t make himself cooler to win Summer over; he gradually made her more like him. She went from material girl to the kind of curious partner every video-gameplaying, comic-book-reading young man wishes he could luck into. Even so, Summer still retained enough individuality to be her own character and not just Seth Cohen’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl (If you are not familiar with this term, look it up on Wikipedia. It may help explain why, deep down inside, you actually hated the movie Elizabethtown). Schwartz realized he had to develop Summer into a deeper, more thoughtful character, but also one that could maintain some semblance of female stability.
It’s easy to forget that Rachel Bilson was not included in the credits as a main cast member until about the sixth episode of the first season. Her character was necessary to counter-balance the impending disaster that was Marissa. I’m not sure if Schwartz initially intended for Marissa to serve as the plot’s sacrificial lamb, but it became very clear that if there was going to be positive growth in a female character, it sure wasn’t going to come from Mischa Barton. On the subject of Mischa Barton, I have never seen one person almost single-handedly ruin a piece of entertainment like she did (save for Blake Lively’s character in Oliver Stone’s Savages—a story I will tell another time). Three episodes into the second season, Marissa decides that screaming emphatically and lengthily on her pool deck is a good way to deal with her life’s problems. This was the last episode of The OC I ever watched. A lot of viewers in 2004 agreed, and the show saw a ratings decline until the end of the third season when the producers solved their Marissa problem by means of vehicular manslaughter in the finale’s script. Ratings increased after that, but having bought high and afraid of selling too low, FOX decided to cut its losses and cancel the show after just 4 seasons.
While it’s unfair to put the blame for The OC’s demise on Barton and those eyes of hers—most critics and fans were not happy with Season 3 for a myriad of reasons—Marissa was spotted as a dramatic ball and chain early on in the show’s run and Barton’s acting did her no favors. In a 2003 article for Grantland.com, Bill Simmons stated that he’d “bet anyone $100 dollars that Olivia Wilde [would] be a bigger star than Mischa Barton in 5 years.” I sincerely hope someone took him up on the wager, not necessarily for the money but because I especially relish the feeling of being right.
Regardless of how you or I feel about The OC, there is no denying the fact that it’s been 10 full years since its debut feels very strange. A lot has happened in the last 10 years, both to us personally and to television. We all got older and started to experience some of the same nonsense the characters on The OC did, although hopefully not to the same degree. Schwartz moved on from his beloved creation the only way he knew how: by co-creating Gossip Girl. The OC could as frustrating as it was enjoyable, but it remains a big part of many of our childhoods and there’s no denying that its die-hard fans will still be referencing it in another 10 years.