As I woke this morning from a terrible headache (don’t worry this part was written way before the COVID-19 pandemic) and after several glasses of water I stumbled upon on my laptop and accidentally played the song ‘Paint The Silence’ by South. Immediately, my mind waved images of the old and short-lived teen California drama about a kid from an impoverished community that got adopted into the high class society of the rich and beautiful. That television series was, The O.C.. In late summer during the year 2003, was when the show first aired. In a short-time, the series took off on a whirlwind through the public eye. The cast of the show were showcased on every magazine and inside every interview. It had all the elements of a daytime soap opera and yet never felt that way. It was adventurous, dramatic, hilarious, sad, strange, and everyone wanted to be hanging out with the Cohen’s. The soundtrack painted a picture of what it would be like to live in this part of California. And everyone wanted to be part of the action.
After 17 years since its birth, many people reading this article might have been too young at the time or weren’t even born. For me, the show capitalized on the four years I was in High School, just like the length of the series of four seasons. In August of 2003, I was only 14 years old about to enter 9th grade and when it ended in February of 2007, I was 18 where I had a few more months before finishing out my senior year. The characters on the TV show were about a year older than me, so it was very relatable.
The O.C. starred Ben McKenzie (Gotham and Southland) as Ryan Atwood, Adam Brody as Seth Cohen, Rachel Bilson as Summer Roberts, Mischa Barton as Marissa Cooper, Peter Gallagher as Sandy Cohen, Kelly Rowan as Kirsten Cohen, Melinda Clarke as Julie Cooper, Tate Donovan (Voice of Disney’s Hercules) as Jimmy Cooper, Chris Carmack as Luke Ward, Autumn Reeser as Taylor Townsend, Alan Dale as Caleb Nichol, and several cameos or characters who stayed for one or two seasons. Many of these actors consisting of Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Willa Holland, Shailene Woodley, Amanda Righetti, Morena Baccarin, Nikki Reed, Michael Cassidy, Samaire Strong, Cam Gigandet, and Logan-Marshall Green got their start on this show.
The premise of The O.C. begins something out of a social work case where Ryan Atwood and his older brother Trey steal a car in their neighborhood of Chino, a lower socioeconomic town. They quickly get caught by the police. Ryan gets sent to juvenile detention while his brother, who is 18 is sent to prison. During Ryan’s short stay in the caged facility, he meets his public defender attorney, Sandy Cohen, who immediately attempts to make a connection with the 16 year old, who we discover from his high SAT scores that Ryan is brilliant, but due to his involvement in his life circumstances, he’s unable to apply his academics to his grades. Ryan is able to get bail and then we are met with his mother who curses Ryan out and drives him back home. It is evidenced that the mother could be intoxicated. I’m surprised Child Protective Services were not called then. Back at Ryan’s small quarters, he noticed his mother aggressively drinking in the kitchen and has a fist fight with his mom’s boyfriend, who is an abusive and useless deadbeat. Then his mother kicks him out of his house. Nothing seems to be going right for this teenager, he calls his relatives and friends on a pay phone (I know, this was before smart phones), and then decides the last person to call is Sandy Cohen who gave him his number before he went back home that day. For Ryan’s fortune, he made the greatest call as he spends the night in Newport Beach, a rich town within the boarders of Orange County, CA. Visuals of young people surfing or throwing the pigskin are shown on the gorgeous and sunny Pacific coast. Multi-million dollar homes can be seen on cliffs overlooking the massive open space of clean and blue waters, docked yachts at the pier and even a busy boardwalk. Ryan has the famous initial meeting with Marissa Cooper who lives next door from the Cohen’s and is waiting a ride from her asshole swimming polo jock boyfriend, Luke Ward. Ryan shares a cigarette with Marissa before Sandy calls him inside their home. Meanwhile, Kirsten Cohen, Sandy’s wife is a realtor and has a different opinion on allowing an random adolescent to stay the night at their luxurious home. Sandy quickly convinces his wife to accept Ryan into their home in which he stays the night in their pool house (which is the size of a studio apartment).
The next day, Ryan wakes up in a daze as he opens the shutters of the pool house and is welcomed to an open landscape of mini mansions, pools, and beyond that the Pacific Ocean. In the Cohen’s backyard is a pool that seemingly falls off a cliff. The entire scene is a paradise and for the troubled teenager, something he would never imagine. As he steps inside, he enters the living room and notices a similarly aged teenager heavily engaged in playing a video game. Ryan startles the person as he cries out in frustration at the game and introduces himself as Seth. Seth asks if he wants to play some “PlayStation” and says, “It’s Grand Theft Auto, it’s cool., you can like steal cars…” Ryan gives him a look and Seth nervously continues with, “Not that that’s cool”. Not too long after, Ryan and Seth are both engaged in PlayStation 2 until Sandy walks in and says, “Well, I can see you two became acquainted” (something to that matter). At this time they’ve been sitting on the living room floor playing while eating a bowl of cereal.
Not too long after Ryan asks Seth, “What do you guys do for fun around here?” Seth takes Ryan out on his sail which is named after his longtime crush, Summer Roberts who also happens to be best friend’s with Marissa Cooper. Ryan tells Seth that he got invited by Marissa to attend a fashion charity event and Seth shockingly agrees to go in the hopes of meeting Summer. Seth tells Ryan that Marissa who is his next door neighbor never comes to visit and reports his mother almost married her father. Sandy immediately denies this.
That night, Ryan, Seth, Sandy, and Kirsten attend the event to find Marissa, Summer, and Luke. During the fashion show, Luke notices some sensual gazes exchanged between Ryan and Marissa in which Luke is already feeling jealous. After the fashion show, Ryan gets invited by Summer who has a crush on him to come to her friend’s beach house in which she is having a party. Seth tags along as they all pack into a Jeep. Drama occurs at the house party in which Seth has too much to drink and tells everyone that Ryan stole a car and is from Chino after he thinks Ryan is hitting on Summer. Summer once discovering that Ryan is from “Chino” says, “ew!” and Marissa is unhappy to discover that he was lying about being Sandy’s nephew. On top of that, Luke beats up Seth and Ryan in which Luke yells out the infamous line, “Welcome to the O.C. b***h!” in a classic 80’s style bully fashion. Ironically, though the setting is supposed to take place in Orange County, the series was actually filmed in Los Angeles County and at Redondo Beach and its pier. Anyway getting back to the show: on the same night that Seth and Ryan got beat up, back at the Cohen house, Ryan notices from across the way that Marissa is carried to her front door by a tipsy Summer and Holly Fischer. After they leave, Ryan goes to pick her up and carries her into his bed in the pool house.
The next day, Seth is hungover, Kirsten is disappointed at Ryan and Sandy tries to tell Kirsten that Ryan is a better influence on Seth that the other kids at his school. When Sandy drives Ryan back home, Ryan discovers the house is abandoned and that his mother left and took off due to what Ryan reads from a small note on a napkin. Sandy takes Ryan back in. Eventually, Ryan’s mother is discovered and turns up to the Cohen household in which Sandy and Kirsten offer to adopt Ryan into their family due to his mother unable to care for him and her trying to get her life back together after maintaining abstinence.
The rest of the series goes off on a whirlwind of drama, excitement, romance, adventure, and comedy. There are affairs, overdoses, deceit, lying, and some Hallmark moments. In later seasons, The O.C. was responsible for bringing many alternative rock bands to fame like: Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, Modest Mouse, and The Walkmen to name a few. It became a tradition on the show to see which band would play at the Bait Shop club for that episode. I remember at the time that I was beginning to get into that type of music. The series was known for its many pop culture references thanks to Seth Cohen who also provided as the comedic relief and sometimes almost breaking the fourth wall to communicate with the viewers, like Deadpool. Speaking of comic books, Seth was making the comic genre popular before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was even a short lived spin off web series called “Atomic County” which was a superhero cartoon show satire from the series. These were superheroes that Seth had created based off of characters from the show.
The shows best moments were when the fab four “Ryan, Seth, Marissa, and Summer” are all together and hanging out. As predicted Ryan and Marissa have an on again and off again relationship while Seth and Summer remain more consistent with a slight bump in the road during Season 2. In Season 2, Ryan dates someone who turns out to be his Step Aunt as she is the younger sister of Kirsten Cohen. And then Kirsten’s younger sister, Hailey Nichol continues to come on and off the show as she at one point has a tumultuous relationship with Jimmy. Seth dates a rocker chick who then winds up briefly dating Marissa. We cannot forget the classic love triangle between Seth, Summer, and Anna Stern where Seth was dating both of them simultaneously in which Summer at one point dressed in a scantly Wonder Woman cosplay.
Some other great moments in the series was every year Seth created his own Holiday of Chrismukkah which combined Christmas and Hanukkah since his mother was Catholic and his father was Jewish. There was the time in Season 2 when Ryan had a showdown with his brother Trey after discovering that he had molested Marissa when Trey was high on cocaine and when Ryan was out of town for the weekend. The showdown ended with Marissa shooting Trey who was about to murder his own brother in a Cain and Abel inspired story arc. Trey survived, but their relationship was never the same. The scene was emotional as it played Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”. Then there was the consistent rivalry between Ryan and Volchok who was more evil than Luke. And to mention that Luke wound up becoming close friends with both Ryan and Seth. Luke moved to Portland, Oregon. Let’s not forget the drama that was also occurring between the adults and parents. Sandy was always fighting his father-in-law, Caleb Nichol, Julie and Kirsten always had passive aggressive conversations and Jimmy Cooper was either getting into trouble with the police from his surmounting debt and fraud or hitting on his ex-girlfriend and neighbor’s wife, Kirsten Cohen. If you think about it, these people’s lives are chaotic.
Unfortunately, due to Mischa Barton’s sudden departure from the series, from to wanting to seek a movie career she was killed off in the Season 3 finale. It was shocking and depressing for viewers. They even played the Imogen Heap song, “Hallelujah”. The 4th and last season seemed to be a shell of its former series. It was campier, had less episodes, and the fact that Marissa was gone created a gaping hole in the story-line. To counteract that argument the first few episodes of the season were intriguing because it flushed out the remainder of Marissa’s tragedy. Ryan and Taylor were cute, but did not seem to have the same chemistry as Ryan and Marissa. Though after all the drama and heartache, the writers chose to end the show in a positive note. Ryan went to college and became an architect, Seth married Summer, Summer continued with her social action, Sandy and Kirsten had a new child and somehow bought back their old home in Berkeley CA, Ryan’s father (Frank Atwood) wound up marrying Julie Cooper in which she wound up getting a college degree and Sandy Cohen became a Law professor. Then the final shot of the series went full circle in which Ryan appears to take in a troubled teenager who seemingly has no other option, just how Ryan was during the pilot episode.
What did everyone else think of the show? The same creator of this show, Josh Schwartz, also made Gossip Girl, which I never bothered watching. After The O.C. I moved on from soap operas. Looking back at this short lived series is like opening a time capsule when I was in High School, a time forever stuck in the 2000’s.