Yes, Marissa is beautiful, and Seth is funny, and Ryan can rock a vest like no one else, but Summer Roberts is the best character The O.C. had. This is so patently obvious that it barely requires outlining, but given how long ago The O.C. aired (its final season ended 10 years ago, weep) maybe you need a refresher course.
The joy of The O.C.'s brunette lead lay in her evolution. From the very first episode — in which she comes off as a total asshole — Seth's one true love's defining feature was that she's a mass of contradictions. Gossip magazine queen and eco-warrior. Shopping expert and SAT score superstar. Most popular girl at school and that total nerd's girlfriend.
Besides which, while you first meet Summer as a party-hearty beach girl, there's more depth to her than you expect. She's improbably big-hearted and spends much of the series looking after her sad-forever friends, who seemed to spend the vast majority of their time at high school gazing out into the middle distance while a soulful acoustic track played in the background. While the show can sometimes get a little depressing, one character is always there to give us some much needed perspective.
1Summer Is Secretly The Funniest Character
This kills me. Maybe it's because the Internet at large has internalized that infuriating "women aren't funny" idea, but while Seth is hailed as the funny force that The O.C. revolves around, his crush's wit has never been acknowledged enough. Rachel Bilson's delivery is so flawless that even her most functional lines are as funny (if not funnier) than Seth's.
2She Keeps You Guessing
Like how when you meet her in the first episode, you find her kind of annoying and superficial and don't expect her to be one of the most sympathetic characters on the show. Or like, in Season 3, she scores a better SAT score than anyone else and acts like it was no big deal. Or when she deals with Marissa's death by tiring of celebrity gossip and getting big into environmentalism. Summer challenges that high school myth that who you are in your teens is who you'll remain for the rest of your life.
3She Cares About The Environment
And I'm not talking about someone caring about the environment in our somewhat more woke era, but someone giving a sh*t during the mid-'00s, long before it was that fashionable to do so. While Summer doubts herself and starts to believe she's only engaging with the environment "as a way of avoiding what happened to my friend who died," when she tries to become her environmentally-disinterested self again, she finds she can't do it. It's a passion for her, and she can't suppress it.
4She Brings "Ew" Into The '00s
Clueless had made "ew" the word of choice for any girl in the '90s wanting to convey their rage/disgust. But Marissa's best friend makes it seem just as relevant for the '00s, packing a whole kaleidoscope of feels into just one syllable.
5She Has A Realistic Relationship With Seth
One of the most popular girls in school suddenly falls head over heels for a nerd who has been worshipping her from afar her entire life. Realistic? Yeah, right. But it's not as cartoonish as it sounds. Who hasn't started crushing on someone after puberty hit and they suddenly went from duckling to swan, seemingly overnight? Plus the highs and lows of Summer and Seth's relationship seem realistic for a couple who first got together in high school.
6She Befriends The "Other Woman"
While I can't help but sympathize with Seth because both Summer and Anna are equally dazzling in their own way, I admire that when he juggles the two women at Thanksgiving until getting found out, Summer befriends Anna when they bond over watching Golden Girls instead of resenting her. Sure, it's never an epic Summer-Marissa friendship, but the point remains; Summer doesn't hold Anna's connection with Seth against her, which wins her major points in my eyes.
7She Has Fire Outfits
If you love '00s fashion, it's all here. While Marissa dresses more timelessly, Summer tries out all of the trends: low cut rugby shirts, argyle sweaters, pastel eyeshadow, lipgloss. Hell, she even wears her hair in a quiff and piles on the accessories.
8She Makes It OK For Women To Be Angry
Long before your male tears memes went viral, Orange County's pocket rocket confesses to suffering from "rage blackouts." She's not kidding, with the show often depicting her as getting into fights, generally for good reasons.
This matters, too. You can never write Summer off as superficial because, in moments when she seems at her most unlikeable, she goes ahead and reveals a vulnerability which explains her behavior. Example: her refusing to acknowledge Seth as her boyfriend at school before telling Anna she's afraid she'll get dumped by him and it'll become public knowledge.
10She Supports Marissa
A lot of incredibly disturbing things happen to Marissa (remember when Ryan's brother attempts to rape her and kill Ryan?) over the course of the show, meaning she often needs someone to confide in. Besides which, she also suffers from substance abuse issues. Looking out for an addict can be difficult and it's a testimony to Summer's warmth that she's always there for her, even when her best friend tries to push her away.
Despite her mother leaving their family before the series starts, Summer doesn't let it damage her permanently, unlike most of the other characters who ho through traumatic family relations. Similarly, while she's close to her father, he never seems to be around, but she still manages to make a fulfilling life for herself without his help.
12She Makes The Best Wonder Woman
If Gal Gadot suddenly drops out of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, you know who to call.
This isn't as ridiculous a reason as it seems, because when you think of the hair color of the leading ladies of The OC, one shade dominates. Marissa, Anna, Kirsten, Taylor, and Alex are all living, breathing arguments that blondes have more fun. And in the decade as a whole, whether you looked at TV (Lizzie McGuire, Unfabulous, Veronica Mars) or movies (Legally Blonde) there was a lot of content targeted at teens fronted by blonde women. OK, The OC's casting could have been a lot more diverse than casting one brunette lead. But in a sea of blondes, Summer's glossy brunette locks act as a healthy reminder that you don't have to bleach your hair to be beautiful.
So if you're wondering which '00s TV heroine you should be lovin' right now, there's one clear answer. Don't believe me? Line up The O.C. and see for yourself.