Life after the OC
There were strict rules: no talking, no phone calls, no chewing loudly and no interruptions of any sort. I took these rules very seriously and made sure that others were aware of the rules as well, since I had developed them. The rules, you may be wondering, applied to my favorite hour of television from 2003 through 2007: “The O.C.” Not only was my life forever changed by this captivating teen soap opera, but prime-time television and modern culture were affected as well. Based in the affluent Orange County, Calif. city of Newport Beach, “The O.C.’’ caught fire in its first season, 2003-04, as the top drama among advertiser-favored young adults, with nearly 10 million viewers. Josh Schwartz created “The O.C.” at the young age of 26, making him the youngest person to create a one-hour program for network television. With its glamorous locations, beautiful actors and hip soundtrack, “The O.C.” defined new trends for music, fashion and television, pervading our culture on every level.
When “The O.C.” premiered, it was quickly compared to “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Dawson’s Creek,” other series that captivated audiences for their chronicles of teenage angst. Though “90210” lasted 10 seasons, “The O.C.” only lasted four, never making it to the 100-episode milestone, which is usually considered a benchmark for lucrative syndication. “The O.C.” was a guilty pleasure of many, as it offered an outsider’s perspective of the thrilling, over-indulged lives of California’s elitist teens.
“The O.C.” brought us Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie), a well-meaning juvenile delinquent from Chino who is taken in by a Newport Beach family: public defender Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), his real estate developer wife Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) and their teenage son Seth (Adam Brody, playing a slightly less charming version of his character in “Gilmore Girls”). Their neighbors next door, the Coopers, consist of white collar criminal Jimmy (Tate Donovan), his wife Julie (Melinda Clarke), who lives in constant fear of being returned to her lower class roots, and their pretty daughter Marissa (Mischa Barton), who thirsts for adventure.
Unlike the Walsh family from “90210,” who offered a June Cleaver-esque view of family, the Cohens are a lovable family with real problems that are often a little off-kilter. Though it focused on beautiful, wealthy kids, the show was also about adults, as it developed adult characters with their own story lines and concerns. The show created what can be argued as the first Jewish heartthrobs on television. Sandy Cohen and his son Seth Cohen, who dealt with his mixed religious heritage by creating Chrismukkah, offered a new insight into Jewish characters that had not been attempted before.
While “The O.C.” broke ground through its portrayal of teenage issues, what was addictive was its utter implausibility. It was pure escapism at its best. Schwartz claimed he wanted to depict the ephemeral sense of youth, but he ended up creating a fictional world, inundated with every problem known to man. There was teenage pregnancy, dalliances with the law, divorce, death and lots of drug overdoses (the most memorable one being Marissa’s bender on pain killers and alcohol that lead to a blackout in an alley in Tijuana). “The O.C.” was an alternate TV universe where anything could happen; even grandfathers could show up with gorgeous 24-year-old wives who then make out with 16-year-old boys. However, while completely entertaining, this implausibility contributed to the show’s downfall. When the show entered its fourth season without its most recognizable face, Marissa, who was killed in the third season finale, the show had veered off course.
With its heavy use of music from emerging rock to alternative-music groups, “The O.C.” became a showcase for new bands. It produced several soundtrack albums featuring groups like Death Cab for Cutie and Imogen Heap. The show also challenged the fashion of the times. Marissa’s wardrobe brought the alluring yet pricy racks of Neiman Marcus and Barney’s into our homes every week, challenging its female viewers to dress more trendy and sophisticated. Seth Cohen, the existential, dorky, Holden Caulfield of the show, gave sensitive, “emo” boys everywhere an excuse to sulk dramatically and to wear unusually tight pants.
“The O.C.” undoubtedly influenced culture, as two reality-based television series drew on the fame of the show: “Laguna Beach,” an MTV series that billed itself as “the real Orange County,” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” a Bravo reality show that follows the same kind of women that Kirsten Cohen on the “The O.C.” shunned. Though it ended, “The O.C.’s” legacy will live on through its viewers. Whether you wear a “Save Marissa” shirt, a leather wristcuff or hoodie in honor of Ryan or listen to Death Cab for Cutie, as Seth did, know that “The O.C.” was a cultural phenomenon that will not be forgotten.