I’m going to write this, but I will note from the outset that I am woefully underqualified to. Not only have I just seen one season of this show — a breathtaking, addicting, incredible season, but just one — but we happen to have a devoted OC acolyte on staff. Grant cites it as one of his all-time favorite shows.
But in the absence of a Grant-penned tribute, my limited experience with (but extensive love for) this show will have to do.
The show chronicles the drama of a wealthy Orange County neighborhood where a teen from poor Chino, Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) is taken in by his public defender attorney, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher). Sandy’s wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) is reluctant of Ryan at first, while Sandy’s gawky son Seth (Adam Brody) immediately bonds with Ryan.
The Cohens’ next-door neighbors, the Coopers, have a close relationship with the Cohens and are also main characters. Jimmy Cooper (Tate Donovan) was a high-school friend (and boyfriend) of Kirsten Cohen, but he ended up marrying gold-digger Julie (Melinda Clarke). Their daughter is Marissa, who strikes up a romance with Ryan when he moves in with the Cohens.
It’s a big cast, and I haven’t even hit on the other leads (Seth Cohen’s crush Summer, played by Rachel Bilson, is a highlight) and the many side characters.
If you haven’t watched this show, there’s approximately a 100% chance that it’s better than you think it is. It earned a reputation as trashy TV when it first debuted, which is what my impression of it was until good reviews (and praise from Grant) finally convinced me to give it a go.
Man, am I glad I overcame my prejudices about this show. There’s something intoxicating about the way this show is written: it moves quickly, almost perilously, and is jam-packed with melodrama and romance and tons of comedy.
The cast is just as good as the writing. Everyone is perfectly cast: McKenzie (who plays Ryan) looks about ten years older than his character, and I personally find Mischa Barton (who plays Marissa) to be insufferable, but there are no glaring holes among the leads.
The two standouts, though, would have to be Adam Brody as Seth Cohen and Peter Gallagher as Sandy Cohen. Not only are their characters richly and humorously written, but the actors leave tremendous, memorable imprints. Brody as Cohen, in particular, is one of my favorite TV characters, period.
What makes this show tick are the many stories, often running in parallel, with interesting plots full of great conflict and drama. It can seem like a soap opera at times, and not every story works, but the pace is quick enough that the duds are out of the way before long.
There’s a common story about the first season of The OC that it had about three seasons’ worth of plots and twists in one long season. It’s certainly a justifiable take on the show: It rips through dozens of arcs, big and small, at an intoxicating pace.
My favorite stories from the season tended to be the ones with the most likable characters: I thought pretty much every Seth story was gold (his triangle with Anna and Summer in particular), while I found very few sympathies with Marissa, who seemed to bring the trouble on herself.
It would have been easy for the show to devolve into a high school soap opera, but the show really does give equal billing and complexity to the adults. Sandy and Kirsten are unlike any parents I’ve seen on TV before (Seth and Sandy having “the talk” is one of the greatest scenes in the history of television as far as I’m concerned).
I fear (and have heard) that the show stumbles after the first season and never quite regains its torrid, infectious pace. I also watched all 27 episodes of the first season in, like, a week. Those were the main reasons I decided to pump the brakes after that first season finale.
But I started watching it again with my wife, so maybe this time I’ll make it to the second season and beyond. If so, I may come back and leave some comments here.
In the mean time, here’s what might be my favorite scene from the show that I’ve seen so far: Seth saying goodbye to his friend Anna. (Confidence, Cohen.) Shoutouts to the ending of the New Years’ episode, too.
And I would be remiss if I did not point out that The OC has one of the two or three greatest theme songs in television history. So, if you’re looking for some fun and scintillating teen dramedy, sing it with me: California, here we come.