A while ago, I was at home for 5 days straight while the common cold kicked my ass. I decided to rewatch The O.C. The love of my life. The first teen drama I ever saw.
I will defend this show, mainly my perfectly preserved memory of it’s flawless first season, until I die, but I’m the first to admit that it was totally insufferable toward the end, with actors itching to progress in their careers and writers experimenting with too many completely bat-shit secondary character storylines.
The golden years
At the top of it’s game (season 1 and 2) The O.C was a fast paced, addictive, touching, comedic teen drama. It knew it’s place as a trope-y melodrama, self-aware enough to use cliches to it’s advantage whilst setting itself apart with quick witty dialogue and interesting characters that both honoured and subverted the genre.
Creator Josh Schwartz explained his tactical pitch in an interview…
For me, I love shows like “Freaks and Geeks” and Stephanie was obsessed with “My So-Called Life.” By the way, it’s no accident that what are considered the two best teen dramas of all times only had a run for one season. But that being said, those kind of shows were one season and out, as good as they were. And so you can’t go up to Fox and be like, “Okay, what I really want to do is ‘Freaks and Geeks.”” That’s not going to fly. So for us it was like, “Well, we have the beaches and we have kids in bikinis and we’re giving you all this stuff, the sizzle,” but it’s a Trojan horse theory. And hopefully once we get inside, our characters can be a little quirkier, tone can be a little bit more offbeat. We’ll still deliver the melodrama and the cliffhangers, but hopefully we can do it in a way that feels surprising.Creator Josh Schwartz speaking to Alan Sepinwall from Uproxx
Sort of like My So Called Life, but very unlike 90210: Beverly Hills, The O.C tended to give the main adults’ storylines just as much emphasis as the teenagers’. It appealed to many age demographics. Your whole family could gather round the TV in 2003 and tuck into this glorious shit. It had an equal curiosity about the sex lives of both the teenagers and their parents, and it covered extremely dark, ridiculous topics in melodramatic fashion. There were overdoes in Tijuana, attempted-rapist brothers, car accident fatalities, evil fathers, mothers sleeping with daughters’ ex-boyfriends, guns at keg parties, mental health breakdowns, alcoholic moms, closeted gay dads…
It’s genuinely a household name. Everybody loves Sandy Cohen. Rufus Humphrey wishes he was as smooth, wise and caring as Sandy.
Without Seth’s flawless comic stylings, you wouldn’t have the myriad of nerdy, sarcastic teen boys as romantic leads that we have today. Stiles Stilinksi from Teen Wolf is literally Seth Cohen lite.
And try name one person who is more annoying and wears more controversial fashion than Marissa. Serena Van Der Woodsen could only dream of being as fucked up as her.
There are just so many iconic things about this show and I feel flustered every trying to list them all. The O.C really didn’t have to go that hard, but it did. And I am thankful.
The point of no return
It has a very lighthearted facade with it’s exceptional early 2000s indie pop-rock soundtrack and cute romantic pairings but FUCK did it turn out to be depressing at it’s core. I long for an ending to the O.C where I can wrap up a re-watch session and be able to sleep peacefully at night instead of being kept awake re-living the death scene of our tragic heroine Marissa Cooper. I’m certain that the reason 90’s babies are so messed up is because we all got collectively traumatised by this insane, unwanted plot twist.
There was this tweet I saw that said:
Basic of me but this generation gets smeared as wimpish and snowflakey quite a lot for a bunch of people who had to watch Marissa Cooper bleed out of her head until she died in Ryan’s arms and then just go back into school the next day without any therapy or time or space.
I’ve never read something truer.
Yes. In the beginning, The O.C was the greatest. But at it’s lowest, season 3 and 4, it was frustrating, repetitive and cruel to it’s characters in non-constructive ways.
I always strategically end my re-watch sessions just before Marissa joins Newport Union and meets Johnny. The early episodes of season 3 are almost worth it, with Ryan and Marissa relatively stable, flirting like old times. But if you like this couple at all, do not dare to progress past this point. There is no going back. Collectively Johnny, Oliver, Volchok and the songs Forever Young and Hallelujah will haunt you forever. After you’ve seen season 3 and 4, any happy Ryan and Marissa scene from season 1 and 2 will be tainted by a bleak sense of impending doom, and their desperate grasps at happiness will seem pathetic because you know that it ends so horribly. It’s actually really grim in it’s final two seasons and I hate it.
Marissa was so annoying to watch as she floundered through life, but her helplessness was an integral aspect of the show. The dissolution of her and Ryan’s relationship could have maybe been tolerable, a sign of growth, but her premature death in a car accident completely ruined everthing. To be fair, the writers had a paradox on their hands. Without Marissa, Ryan had no one to save, rendering his hero complex useless. But the fact he had to keep saving her was both exhausting and tedious. The pattern of her needing saving and him rushing to her side couldn’t have feasibly gone on forever without him having a breakdown…but her death had the same result. Ryan was so ruined by Marissa’s passing that he fled his perfect, upper class adoptive family to live a life of storage closet accomodation and cage fighting.
I acknowledge that in a sense, her death was a suitably ‘epic’ ending to their star-crossed romance, a way to set Ryan free and (literally) put Marissa out of her misery, but in terms of audience satisfaction, longevity and renewing the show beyond season 3, it was a teen drama death sentence. I personally think killing Marissa was too mature and dark for a campy show The O.C.
Cheesy teen dramas usually provide a happy ending as a reward for putting us through the emotional ringer. Instead, The O.C violently tore a popular core couple apart and killed a controversial main character.
I blame Mischa Barton. Understandably, she was ready for her career to move forward with new projects, and was growing bored with the character. But I cannot simply forgive her tbh!
Mischa Barton, who played Marissa, recently spoke out about the decision. She admits that the writers toyed around with just having Marissa move away from the O.C. This would have left the door open for Marissa to reappear in later seasons. But, this was not a viable option in Barton’s eyes. In fact, she was staunchly against the idea of a happy ending for Marissa.
“I fought tooth and nail for that to not happen, because I just don’t think that’s Marissa Cooper. I just don’t think sailing off into the sunset’s the proper goodbye. She’s one of those burnout characters where I don’t know how much more we could have done with her anyway.” the 33-year-old proclaimed.Cheatsheet.com
Honestly though. No amount of Taylor Townsend will ever fill the Marissa sized void in Ryan’s broken, brooding, white singlet shaped heart.
My favourite scenes
As an amateur scriptwriter, I’m certain that I will never write scenes as iconic as those in The O.C. The soundtrack was just out of this world.
- I’ll start with this insanely good part of the pilot where they used a satisfyingly long snippet of the incredible title sequence song California by Phantom Planet…
2. Sandy and Ryan meeting for the first time in Juvi and says this:
“Modern medicine is advancing to the point where the average human life span will be 100. But I read this article which said Social Security is supposed to run out by the year 2025, which means people are going to have to stay at their jobs until they’re 80. So I don’t want to commit to anything too soon.“
3. I am still fucking obsessed with Ryan and Marissa’s ciggie smoking meet cute in the pilot. Ryan is absolutely beautiful to look at in season 1 and he’s trying so hard to look cool here.
4. No explanation needed for this one.
5. Inject the pilot episode straight into my main veins.
6. You know what I love about this scene? Luke Ward’s shell necklace and Seth and Ryan’s lethal comebacks in this scene. Also, great 8 Mile name drop.
7. These moments of raw sexual and romantic tension.
8. Literally every Seth and Summer scene in episode 6.
9. Seth and Summer have so much unbridled argumentative chemistry that they crash Sandy’s car.
10. More raw sexual and romantic tension…
11. Ryan and Marissa’s first kiss on the ferris wheel to Paint the Silence by South that makes me really want to kiss Ryan…
12. I am also obsessed with their incredible, goose-dump inducing new years kiss to the backdrop of Dice which I literally re-watch about once a week. Guys like Ryan do not exist in real life. He is the final boss of teen drama boyfriends. The apex teen drama boy. My one true love.
13. This amazing use of We Used to Be Friends, a song which is fitting because Summer and Anna had bonded over being sick of Seth’s shit. You might recognise this song as the excellent title sequence song for Veronica Mars.
14. Or this one where Marissa overdoses in Mexico and Ryan carries her to safety while that Mazzy Star song fit for a funeral from episode 1 plays again…
15. I have one word for you. Chrismukkuh.
16. Seth describing to Ryan how bad he was at sex.
17. This Seth and Summer Wonderwall moment after they had really bad virgin sex.
18. This other Paint The Silence scene in season 3 really affects me (even though it I hate out of principle cause it’s from season 3). Ryan and Marissa are apart, both reminiscing, and then Marissa falls down the stairs after not eating all day.
19. This one that uses a Champagne Supernova cover to facilitate a very amazing Spider-Man homage featuring Seth and Summer.
20. The fucking epic, culture defining shooting scene to the backdrop of Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap that birthed a thousand memes for years to come…
21. Kirsten’s gripping intervention. Ryan looked so sad here. (Hated the god-awful Charlotte fraud storyline post-rehab though).
22. Or when Fix You plays as Ryan arrives at the O.Sea to dance with Marissa whilst Caleb dies in a pool. Caleb dying just before Julie can actually poison him and her sudden desperation to save him is actually really poignant and sad.
What I would change:
OLIVER AND JOHNNY. I HATE THESE MEN.
The trajectory of Ryan and Marissa’s relationship was a resounding NOT GOOD. Marissa had an infuriating tendency to befriend lost male souls with bland personalities who would go on to obsessively fall in love with her…exhibit A: Oliver, exhibit B: Johnny. In the two seperate, tedious storylines, Marissa prioritised these annoying male sub-characters over Ryan constantly and told him he was paranoid whenever he got jealous or rightfully expressed concern that they were in love with her and wanted to be more than friends. She always realised that Ryan was right at the last possible moment. Both times that it happened, it propelled said bland dudes into life threatening situations which Ryan had to save them from. He basically got sidelined constantly and it was fucking annoying. Oliver as an isolated incident would have been fine, but I wish they thought of more interesting ways to challenge and explore this semi-toxic relationship without just throwing in random characters like Johnny who no one liked and added nothing of substance to the story.
MARISSA COOPER DYING.
I simply would not have killed Marissa Cooper. A total cop out. I think Marissa should have moved away for college, away from her useless parents, and found happiness outside of Ryan. Audience views would still have shrunk with her absence but this would have left room for them to rekindle later on. She didn’t need to die in order for Misha Barton to have time off and for both Marissa and Ryan to evolve as characters!
PHASING OUT LUKE
Luke Ward could have been a more major character. Yes, he slept with Marissa’s mum, and yes, his entire personality for the whole of season 1 was starting fights and cheating on his girlfriend, but he did not need to be phased out of the show entirely. In season 2 he went through a bizarre transformation from macho dickhead to goofy golden retriever. I’m confident they could have found a place for changed-Luke as the pure, slightly dumb, funny one in the group. He was an underrated comic genius, vastly under-utilised. And he’d already paid for his previous shortcomings adequately enough for this to work.
So pilot-Luke is this buffoonish cypher, just a stack of prime lean beef who exists only to facilitate the evolution of other characters. But after The OC got picked up Schwartz decided there was more to his bro-ed out demeanour than met the eye. He becomes their buddy, which still makes no sense at all, and eventually gets to show the sensitive side that lurks inside all TV bullies when we find out his dad’s gay later in the season. This is all fine, but to me peak Luke will always and forever be his performance during ‘The Third Wheel’, when the gang go to see the Strokes-y strivers Rooney at some nameless downtown LA venue.
The show’s writers had figured out Luke worked great as Tatum-esque comic relief by this point. Here he was working to offset to the soap-y earnestness of the Summer-Seth-Anna love triangle and the high stakes drama of millionaire teen junkie Oliver Trask’s era. Trask was the show’s best villain, but all that stuff would’ve been way too heavy without Luke’s newfound appreciation for music, particularly that of Rooney, in this episode.
CHARLOTTE MORGAN REHAB CON WOMAN STORYLINE
Not much to say here really. Awful awful awful. I hate this bitch. Leave Kirsten alone.
Ok I know I can’t just say get rid of every character I don’t like. But put Lindsay Gardner out with the trash. She was so rude and so incredibly unworthy of Ryan’s affection and a shitty sister to Kirsten. And also weird how he dated her because she ended up being his foster half aunt. Teen dramas need to learn that a girl doesn’t need to be rude af to be smart, assertive and independent. Seth did say some hilarious shit to her though. Love that for him.
What I am trying to say is that I’d die for The O.C.
It is peak early 2000s teen television. Nothing else is quite as iconic, comforting, depressing and infuriating. It has a place in my heart forever. And I would absolutely without a doubt enter a three way marriage with Ryan and Seth.
If you haven’t watched it yet, and feel angry that I’ve ‘spoiled’ the ending, you’re literally insane. It ended in 2007.