There are some shows that just stick with you. For many, they’re shows that meant something to your formative years, and such is the case with the teen drama The O.C and me. The story of a kid from the wrong side of the tracks being unceremoniously adopted by a wealthy Orange County family, The O.C. has it all: love, death, money, sex, comic books, teenage angst, the ocean, high school, Range Rovers, and secrets. There’s also a horse named Captain Oats. The O.C. is so perfect, in fact, that I’m willing to stake the claim that the first season of The O.C. is the best first season of any show ever. Ever. Don’t talk to me about Breaking Bad. Don’t talk to me about Mad Men. It’s all O.C., all the time.
The O.C. came from the minds of Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who went on to produce huge television hits like Gossip Girl, Chuck, Heart Of Dixie, Cult, The Carrie Diaries, Dynasty, Astronaut Wives Club, and Runaways. If anyone knows how to make a show that holds your attention, it’s them. But The O.C. was Schwartz’s first foray into television, making him one of the youngest people ever to create and run a show for a network, per The New York Times. The co-creators brought that freshness into the show, making it must-see TV for teens and adults alike in the mid-aughts.
Seasons 2 through 4 get heavy and soapy all at once, but the brilliance and optimism of Season 1 can't be disputed. Here’s why.
1. It Got The Adults Involved
Too often teen shows let the adults act as background figures, but The O.C. did something pretty different — it involved them in the drama. Sandy, Kirstin, Julie, Jimmy, Caleb — they were all flawed people, and it was a reminder that yeah, adults do make mistakes. Some of these mistakes (I’m talking to you, Julie Cooper, when you decided to have sex with your daughter’s ex-boyfriend) even rolled over to affect their kids. The drama was generational here, and in the end, it was all about family.
2. It Showed The Real Side Of Sex As A Teen
The O.C.’s first season had three characters losing their virginity, and the experiences were all varied. Marissa gave her flower to a guy who would end up breaking her heart right after; Seth and Summer deflowered each other, but to great comic effect — Seth assumed that he was the only virgin in the room, but Summer had never had sex, either. In trying to be popular, she just never corrected the guys who said that they'd had sex with her. Opening all kinds of doors and emotions here, people.
3. Seth Cohen Was Hilarious
Seth Cohen was at his funniest in the first season. Between checking if his eyebrows have grown in (because his dad Sandy’s are voluminous and beautiful) or quipping while he gets thrown into a trashcan at school, Cohen had the lines you wish you always had ready on your tongue. He could easily act as a cipher for the awkward teen that everyone felt inside them in high school.
4. The Music Was Amazing
Sure, the show released a soundtrack every season (remember when shows used to do that?), but the first version of The O.C. soundtrack was by far the best one. Alexandra Patsavas, who went on to do all the music for Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, and the Twilight films, among many others, is a genius and probably responsible for introducing the world at large to bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse.
5. Everyone Felt Recognizable
The core characters of The O.C., though slightly dramatized, all reminded me of people that I knew. Ryan was tough but gentle, Marissa was beautiful but tortured, Summer was ditzy but smart under all that suntan lotion. Even the parents had layers. No one was a caricature on The O.C., which allowed his or her character development to flourish.
6. It Wasn’t Just About The Girls
Typically speaking, soapy dramas are marketed for women and that’s usually who watches them. But in the case of The O.C., the core story was about the relationship between Seth and Ryan, as well as their father/son relationships with Sandy. Many a man can relate to this, and that’s probably why The O.C. brought in many viewers of both genders.
7. The Season Was A Marathon
The modern television landscape involves both streaming and browsing video, and season orders for Netflix and Amazon are way, way shorter than network television seasons. Where a Netflix show has to maintain pace for only ten episodes, The O.C. had 27 episodes. The fact that it was able to tell a watchable, engaging story in its first season over 27 episodes is pretty astonishing.
8. It Was Perfectly Awkward
Teenage years never go smoothly, and anyone who says they did is lying. Which is why when Ryan said “I love you” and Marissa said “Thank you,” we all felt a shiver down our spines. This happened IRL to a friend of mine 15 years ago. She's married to a different guy and has two kids, and she still can’t talk about it.
9. Everyone Could Change
Julie Cooper was framed as a villain in the first season, and boy, was she a piece of work. But it’s in the bits and bobbles and insights into Julie's personality that one could see that she was so complicated underneath. Julie’s story was that of a phoenix rising from the ashes (even if it didn’t all culminate until the end of the series).
10. It Was Okay To Make Mistakes
Yeah, that whole Oliver thing? That storyline was bogus. It was terrible, and it shouldn’t have happened. But it’s how you recover that shows real character, and The O.C. pushed aside that stupid, silly arc (I’m still mad about it, not sorry) and brought in episodes like “The Heartbreak” that were the best of the season.
11. The One-Liners Were Group Property
Seth was witty, sure, but who would have thought that Luke and Ryan would be allowed to bust out some great lines? “Welcome to the O.C., bitch” and “You know what I like about rich kids? Nothing,” were genius and the writers were nice to spread the wit wealth to the jocks and loners.
12. It Had The Best Theme Song
When will your faves take an amazing song used in the pilot and turn it into the basis for the whole show? You wish. California, here we come, indeed.
13. It Perfectly Captures The Optimism Of Being A Teen
The first season of The O.C. was full of drama, but those montage moments when Marissa, Summer, Ryan, and Seth were skating or swimming or biking or sunning — that’s what being a teen, and especially a teen in the summer, were all about. Joy, opportunity, positivity. The bad stuff will come later, but for now, now is what we have.
Shows may come and shows may go, but true love — and the love found in the first season of The O.C. — springs eternal.