The Show of a Lifetime

On one of my walls in my college dorm room there’s a huge poster of a surfer walking on a beach at sunset. It says ‘It’s nothing like where you live. And nothing like what you imagine.’ The air of exclusivity and subtle teasing that surrounds the poster mixed with a gorgeous backdrop is exactly what made me so invested in the show it advertises. Ten years have come and gone since ‘The O.C.’ premiered on FOX in the autumn of 2003 and to me it’s as brilliant, influential and beautiful now as it ever was.

To aptly express just how much this show has influenced my life we go back to when I was just an awkward boy hitting puberty. Though today marks the ten year anniversary of ‘The O.C.’, it’s not quite that old to me. It premiered in the summer of 2004 in The Netherlands, when I just turned fourteen. I don’t remember much of the advertising, except for the now epic meeting between Ryan and Marissa. It felt like a meet cute I had seen before and Ryan’s ‘cool’ factor was off-putting. This show couldn’t be for me, I thought. It took several weeks before a friend (whom I haven’t spoken to in years now) urged me to watch it. The first episode I saw was ‘The Escape’. Needless to say I was sold. The final minutes destroyed me. There was nothing relatable to Seth and Summer’s hilarious road banter or the incredible tension between Ryan and Marissa. In fact, going on a trip to a party city at that age was something I could only dream of. My parents would never let me. Yet, in comedy, drama and the translation of teen angst, the episode hit a home run. From that moment I wanted one thing and one thing only: to drive down the 101 and sing ‘California, here we come’.

The Ties That Bind
Everyone has a show, movie or song that is special to them in ways other people can’t possibly understand. So if you ask me how ‘The O.C.’ set itself apart in 2003’s landscape of entertainment, I can’t answer. I was too young to even have a concept of the television industry. What set itself apart for me, however, is a slew of impossibly perfect features that no other show have managed to combine. First and foremost, it’s the show’s concept of family. Today, nearly every show aims to portray a group of characters that are family despite the lack of biological motivation. ‘The O.C.’ never really set out to do that but embraced the theme nonetheless.

Ryan was as lost as a main character can be, smart, inherently good, somewhat awkward and caught in a bad life. So when the Cohens let him into this world full of wealth, he was still the odd one out. What grounded him, and the show, were Sandy and Kirsten. The Cohens didn’t just understand that teenagers desire freedom and make mistakes, they were fully prepared for it. They were the first two adults in any show or movie I’d seen that felt like humans next to parents. They disagreed on how their life turned out to be, they argued, they joked and were madly in love with each other. Sandy is arguably the funniest character on the show and Kirsten, despite her later tumblings, is the rational, independent but loving woman every mother aspires to be. Whenever I fought with my parents I looked at Sandy and Kirsten to say all the right things in all the right ways. Of course, being adopted from a third world country to a Western society, Ryan’s transition from a back alley neighborhood to a prestigious gated community somewhat resonated with me. The idea that two parents take in someone else’s kid out of the goodness of their hearts and create a home for that kid hits close to home. My admiration for and familiarity with Ryan’s situation extended way beyond that, however.

Enter Seth. Seth is a sidekick if there ever was one. Sarcastic, sharp, nerdy and misplaced. Except, he was a full fleshed out main character. When I aggressively hated Seth during the first season I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize I was exactly like him. More than any other character on the show, Seth took my commenting, passionately nerdy and comedic side and enriched it. Seth teaching me about irony was my salvation through high school. He made me feel like it was O.K. to be a geek. Seth and Ryan’s iconic bromance was also one to aspire. The tough looking kid who didn’t say two words became friends with the talkative hipster. The two were a great pair and from the get go had a sense of loyalty that was admirable. It pushed the dynamic of any buddy comedy to a whole new level. I was Seth but wanted to be Ryan.

Then there were the girls. Marissa really was the most beautiful girl in the history of high school and the self-destructive side of her made her that much more intriguing. Here was a pretty girl that had everything and was deeply unhappy. The whole exciting triangle with Luke and Ryan aside, Marissa would become an emotional punching bag for drama. A lot of people were annoyed by it but I always found that her torture was inspiring. She dealt with alcoholism (in ways that was a terrible example to me), a compulsive mother, a weak father and the love for a boy that didn’t know how to save her. More on that later. Luckily, Summer was there to kept things light as the ultimate comic relief. “Ew” is the best combinations of two letters ever and because she lit up a room it was all the more hilarious when she had rage blackouts. Anna was merely a supporting character and yet in her brief time on the show spoke the immortal words of ‘Confidence, Cohen’, the importance of which to me cannot be measured. Julie Cooper remains the standard of which every strong, fierce woman on TV is measured with. There’s a long line of characters that try to match the comedic timing, status and sense of manipulative power that Julie wielded and they all fell short. Julie showed you can take any hit and still find a way to bounce back.

The show had a lot of characters and some were infinitely better than others, but in the core were these four kids and three parents that meant something. They were woefully dramatic but each had their own unique qualities. They weren’t a traditional family because in the end the Coopers would choose for themselves, the Cohens would do the right thing and Ryan would have a lot of blasts from the past to keep him occupied. But in their own way, they were all icons, characters that were fully fleshed and inspiring, which made them invaluable to me.

The Outsider
Growing up in a middle class European family home, I couldn’t quite believe people actually lived the way they did on ‘The O.C.’. A separate house next to your pool?! Really? As the years have passed that obviously became less of a stretch. But when the beautiful ocean view from Ryan’s room met my sight, I was enamored. From that moment on I was completely in love with Newport and California. The glamour, the parties, the beach, the ever lasting summer, I had no idea people could live like that. My desire for that life and California nestled deep inside me. It was so exclusive and unreachable I went out to find it. I applied for a year in high school in America. My wish was obviously to go to a private school in Newport, California. I ended up in a small hillside town in Central Oregon. It was the best year of my life. My life may never include bagels and a ocean view and that’s alright. I can’t say I still aim for the poolhouse or even a cocktail parties, as they were dreams of a lost teenager looking for an escape more than anything. But my ongoing wish to live in California? Yes, ‘The O.C.’ definitely is to blame for that.

The L.A.
‘The O.C.’ was the very first show I ever really got addicted to. It didn’t take long before the regular programming schedule didn’t fulfill my needs and I turned to illegal downloading. A brand new world opened up. Music, movies and yes, even other TV shows, were at my disposal. It would take many more years before I realized that what I was doing was morally wrong and it would take even longer before I could financially support my demand of entertainment. In any case, my need to see more of Ryan and his friends introduced me to a way to watch more shows than the Dutch broadcast networks supplied. In that sense, piracy introduced me to shows I fell in love with but would’ve never known about otherwise. Same goes for the Christopher Tyng score, which I still treasure. Discovering through internet, in turn, introduced me to another world: that of TV shows.

I was so obsessed with ‘The O.C’ I could not think of much else. Fortunately, many of my friends (male and female) watched the show and liked it. It didn’t influence our culture much (though I watched Dutch women fashion slowly transform into Summer and Marissa’s clothing style in the following years with a chuckle), but it had a presence. To me, however, the watercooler, or the classroom to be precise, didn’t suffice. I took to the internet to talk about the show. Tv.com was the biggest site at the time, but it was American. There were a few message boards (remember those?) but nothing with a big audience. So I decided to start a Dutch version of TV.com. Together with someone who loved ‘The O.C.’ as much as I did, I built a website and a database. I learned code, spend hours working on the site and adding information and ultimately watched more shows, to supply more information. I had always loved films, but TV shows became my calling. The fact I could spend hours, days, weeks, with characters was all I needed. I became a true TV fan with my own website (it would peak at 3,000 unique visitors a day before it’s untimely death in 2008, because I went to America). Soon I watched nearly 22 shows a week, wrote about them both publicly and privately, and maintained a website. My life was TV and ‘The O.C.’ was the high point of the week.

The writing about television, as you may see, hasn’t waned. I even chose to study ‘Journalism’ because of my passion for writing and television. The writing for television, however, is an idea that grew out of my love for ‘The O.C.’. It was the first show where I looked beyond what I saw. And what I found was marvelous. The witty dialogue, the returning scenes (the knocking in case a threesome was going on, Ryan being driven away while Marissa watches at sunset), the fantastic editing (the transitions on ‘The O.C.’ remain the best I’ve seen, slamming doors, in particular), the exceptional choice of iconic music (‘Wonderwall’, ‘Hallelujah’, obviously and the closing credits which are still my ringtone to this day), the fact every episode title started with “The” which eased my obsessive, controlling mind. To me, ‘The O.C.’ was perfect in detail. Knowing people like Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Doug Liman, Norman Buckley, Christopher Tyng were responsible for that blew my mind. Someone actually made this show and paid attention to it and nurtured it. From that realization on, I never wanted anything else in my life. One day I will create ‘The O.C.’ of my own and if I can put half of the effort, detail and heart into it as these, and so many other, people did, it will be great.

The Heartbreak
Despite my obsession with TV I still had managed to become social and so for my Sweet Sixteen I had planned a party on my birthday, which is May 17th. Because I watched the show a day after it aired in America, due to downloading, I didn’t watch the Season 3 finale on May 16, when it aired. I watched it on my birthday, hours before my party started. Big mistake. The past week had been the longest of my life. The promo for the finale teased about the death of a main character. Everybody online was convinced it was going to be Marissa but I wouldn’t have it. Nobody was going to die. I couldn’t handle it if they did. I couldn’t. Marissa died and I cried. A sixteen year old boy, who hates crying, cried because the girl of his and Ryan’s dreams died. Something broke that day and it would take years before it would be fixed. Marissa’s death is probably something my therapist will discover during my mid-life crisis. It felt so incredibly wrong to the show. Looking at the pilot, when Marissa is passed out, or to T.J., where she overdosed, her dying is not a stretch in terms of regulated storytelling. But ‘The O.C.’, to me, was never regular storytelling. The first season had an unparalleled pace, back then, it was unpredictable, unchallenged and still so incredibly down to earth. When Ryan picks up Marissa’s bag in front of her house when she’s out, you think he’s going to get caught. He’s not. Instead a heartstring cutting song fades in and he carries her to bed. In the face of predictable storytelling, the show stepped aside and let brilliance bloom. Ryan was always supposed to save Marissa, in my eyes. The fact that she died in his presence destroyed me and the flawless image of the show in my eyes. I stopped watching ‘The O.C.’ and never continued.

So yes, someone who calls himself a fan but never saw a full episode of Season 4 is writing this piece. In fact, I also never saw the back half of Season 3 again. And as my experience in television continued, I noticed the flaws in Season 2 as well. ‘The O.C.’ was subjected to the harsh reality of television. Which is where actors want to leave, studio heads meddle, writers get assigned more workload than they can handle and ultimately a show gets cancelled. That reality explains a lot and it makes me understand why the show went out the way it did. I thoroughly believe all 92 episodes were made with love and dedication, and I’m sure Season 4 might be the best season of them all. But all of that doesn’t matter anymore. I still have 27 episodes of pure entertaining madness. I have seen many shows since and objectively I can say there have been better ones. But none of them can quite measure up to the captivating storytelling of ‘The O.C.’. It’s my favorite show of all time and there can only be one.

The Perfect Couple
Ten years have passed since ‘The O.C.’ first aired. The show had me chasing a dream and now has me thankful for family and friends I already have, the Cohens of my life. I have encouraged many people to watch the show. I bought the DVD’s and the CD’s. I’ve had amazing conversations about the show online. I moved to the U.S. for a year. I’m sarcastic, somewhat self-destructive but ultimately morally O.K. I started writing about television because of it. I chose my study accordingly and even wrote my thesis on ‘The O.C.’ and it’s resonance with a new generation. Through all the hardships and life choices, I looked to a show as rock in the most influential time of my life.

So much has happened in the last decade and so much of it can be traced back to ‘The O.C.’ I tell people I was formed by a TV show and they will scuff. To me, however, it makes more sense than anything. The show influenced me in every aspect of my life. When the show ended Josh Schwartz said ‘To a certain audience in a certain time, The O.C. meant something, and for that we are grateful.’ He will never know just how right he was. To me the show meant something and in turn I am grateful to everyone who made it happen. One day I will have worked on a ‘The O.C.’ of my own. Then, I can only dream it will inspire someone to hang up a poster of it in their college dorm room and confess their love for it, ten years after it aired.

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