Dan’s Top 100 Everything: #75 The OC

seth-ryanI’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.

oc-sandyThe 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.


Dan and Brian from Earn This now have a film review site and podcast:

The Goods: Film Reviews

The Goods: A Film Podcast

Available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and more.

2 thoughts on “Dan’s Top 100 Everything: #75 The OC

  1. The OC in the same group as The Social Network and U2? As Seth would say, I might have to go lie down.

    I agree with all of your points, and until I write a real post, I’ll just add a few underrated reasons (IMO) for why the OC worked so well:

    1) Although the show billed Ryan as the outsider, it really gave us TWO outsiders as the lead characters. Ryan, of course, is the fish out of water in Orange County, but Seth doesn’t like living there, doesn’t know anything about its inner circle (in fact, Ryan becomes more popular and more in the inner circle faster than Seth), is resentful of it, etc. The fact that the two of them could always fall back on that bond (which Sandy shared a bit as well) was a neat, subtle little twist on convention, and one that made us buy their connection.

    2) Seth was just so much better than the stereotype that you expect him to be. We’ve seen the quiet nerdy kid before, so why is he memorable where people like Ross Geller, Michael Cera characters, etc, have failed? For starters, he’s legitimately funny and witty. He creates things we haven’t seen before like Chrismukkuh. He has his own passions and interests outside of his dream girl. He’s not afraid to call out said dream girl on her bs, is reasonable confident in her presence, and does NOT acquiesce to everything she say. Without ever going too far away from his unpopular, geeky roots. All of these reasons make the Summer relationship actually somewhat plausible…whereas, say, there’s no earthly reason why Jennifer Aniston would have ever given Ross the time of day.

    3) The Anna clip from above–and that relationship–is a great example of the show subtly bucking expectations. When I first watched this, I was dreading Schwartz having Seth forsake the girl he’s been in love with for years (who, you know, looks like Rachel Bilson) for Anna. That would have been the cutesy, Hollywood-y, and, let’s face it, non-realistic solution. But people don’t typically end up with carbon copies of themselves, and guys who have been in love with girls (who look like Summer) for 6 years don’t suddenly throw them overboard for a quirky little comic book pal. Him ending up with Anna would have been the ‘easier’ decision IMO, because it would have LOOKED more profound, but it would have been absurd. Also, Seth + Anna’s conversations about being too similar, about being great as friends but not connecting, all felt very real to me. I have an Anna in my life, and a lot of that was amazingly resonant.

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