When it was originally on: 2003-2007
Original network: Fox
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: No. But there are some memorable lines that made it into the commercials I saw.
What IMDb says: A troubled youth becomes embroiled in the lives of a close-knit group of people in the wealthy, upper-class neighborhood of Newport Beach, Orange County, California.
Why I picked it: One of my friends recommended the The O.C. to round out my selection of teen soaps, (Don’t forget to check out my reviews of Beverly Hills 90210 and Dawson’s Creek). I know there are some iconic moments of television drama in this show, even though it’s not really anyone’s definition of “prestige.”
I’m also a big believer that any show airing on Fox during the peak years of American Idol automatically got a bump in the ratings, regardless of quality. Both 24 and House fa ll into this category too. I’m not saying any of these shows are BAD, I’m just saying they didn’t necessarily need to be as good as competitors on other networks during this period. That makes The O.C. even more fun to revisit for me. Is its legacy due to good quality, or happenstance?
What I liked: I love how The O.C. actually has something to say. It’s clear from the pilot that the divide between super wealthy people and people of a lower economic class is going to one of the main story engines in most episodes. This makes The O.C. feel important in a way most teen soaps don’t. Beverly Hills 90210 attempts to do the same thing, but in that pilot we just get a surplus of rich people without their wealth really causing much conflict between characters. In The O.C. Ryan’s lack of wealth is causing tension/conflict in damn near every scene. Sometimes it’s Sandy and Kirsten fighting over whether or not Ryan can be trusted. Sometimes it’s Ryan fighting with the other rich kids. Either way, I feel like there’s a proper theme here, and I’m excited about the layers of depth The O.C. could have beyond typical teen drama.
I also love how we see Ryan and Seth build a bond over the course of the episode. We get a great sense of how Seth was already out of step with all the rich kids he grew up with. It lets Ryan and Seth both be fish out of water, but in entirely different ways. We start with the common ground of video games to bring the two together, and they only seem to grow closer as the episode progresses, culminating in a fight with the douchey rich kids. In the end, it seems as though Ryan and Seth are sad to be parting ways, and this means we have a believable way for Ryan to come back into the Cohens’ lives.
What I didn’t like: Marissa and really all the female characters are completely devoid of any interesting characterization. Sure, there’s some plotline about how her dad is in trouble with someone and that presumably becomes more of a factor in later episodes. But right now, Marissa and Summer exist to be skinny and pretty and help drive Ryan and Seth’s narratives forward.
I also wish we got more explanation for why Sandy cares so much for Ryan. Since Sandy is a public defender, it stands to reason that he’s interacting with poor wrong-side-of-the-tracks type kids with bad home lives all the time. Yet we can tell from Kirsten’s reaction that he doesn’t make a habit of bringing them home. What exactly motivated Sandy to bring Ryan home? What sets Ryan apart from every other client he’s worked with? The premise, while promising, feels a tad contrived. However, I also see how that could only take another episode or two to iron out if the show is smart about it.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Sort of? I can see how the show might get more interesting given another episode or two but this was pilot #30 and I can’t see this one standing out amongst the other 70 I have yet to do.