The first time the viewer sees Seth Cohen (Adam Brody), he’s sitting cross-legged in pyjamas and playing a computer game like a parentless Kevin McCallister. This fish-out-of-water comedy/drama features a brilliant, moody, self-centred 17-year-old.
The first sign of trouble. Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) is dreamlike: drenched in warm, shimmering, streaming sunshine, half-smiling, every inch the teenage dream she would become to millions as The OC swiftly caught fire. She and Seth live next door in different universes.
Soon we’d meet Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson), Seth’s unreachable obsession and Marissa’s unusual best friend, the type of girl who goes to house parties in a bikini and spouts California isms like every day was a cheer rally, as shallow as the pools they party around.
Fresh out of jail, Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) is carrying all his worldly things in a sack. The kid’s lawyer, Peter Gallagher’s Sandy Cohen saw a spark in him. By the end of the first episode, Ryan lives with Sandy in a Newport mansion, as lost as Seth. California!
The OC was a lightning-in-a-bottle show, intended to be a cross between The Karate Kid and 90210, and containing all the essential elements of both: a James Dean type from the wrong side of the track; a smart kid who can’t wait to leave the fishbowl he was born into; tragic teenage love set amid wealth, glamour, and California coastlines; and hard-partying teens shepherded by troubled adults. Overdoses, home fires, and fist fights filled an hour-long program, more than most TV series.
Josh Schwartz, still in his late 20s and working on his debut show, sped through plots so quickly that by season two, huge flaws were appearing. The OC lasted four seasons, one and a half of which were outstanding. Like Friends or 90210, its stars will always be known for the show that launched them.
This episode introduces the Jewish/Christian festival of Chrismukkah. Seth’s fandom pushed Death Cab for Cutie into becoming a million-selling rock band. The public’s voracious fascination in Orange County generated The Hills and The Real Housewives of Orange County. It made water polo sound like a tough-kid sport.
Sandy Cohen on the oc show immediately became a sex icon in his own right, unlike most shows portraying minors. Sandy popularized huge eyebrows before Cara Delevingne.
The OC knew it was ludicrous. The program had self-aware winks, sarcastic references to its own crazy, and never portrayed its flawed people as aspirational, despite their pool mansions and horses. Everyone’s life was fractured, like in California. Every rumble caused an earthquake; megamansions were erected on shifting sand.
The OC peaked in season one, but the second season is perhaps the most memorable because of The Bait Shop and its lineup of mid-2000s indie rock acts. The Killers, Modest Mouse, the Thrills, the Walkmen, Rachel Yamagata, and Death Cab all played at the venue, where Seth said you could converse above the music, and there was never a drink line.
The OC is a perfect time capsule of a certain age. It’s a high-octane, funny trip into an impossible world.
According to Death Cab, it’s a new year. World chaos. Cozy up.