When FOX’s “The O.C.” premiered in 2003, I was a mere 12 years old. Being a typical preteen, I always acted older than I was, sticking my acne-ridden, buck-toothed face into everyone’s business. When my older brother started watching “The O.C.,” a show entirely targeted at his age group and not mine, I plopped down on the couch next to him week in and week out, much to his annoyance. I didn’t always completely understand the culture that was depicted or the issues raised, but I had FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.
I recently revisited the entire series, but I had once again missed the boat. I was no longer an annoying preteen trying to fit into a much more grown-up world; rather, I am now in college, having already worked through the irritations of adolescence.
The show still resonated.
“The O.C.” falls into the category of teen drama and is oftentimes paired with its reality-TV sister show “Laguna Beach.” But “The O.C.” goes deeper into character development, teenage conflicts and societal issues than “Laguna” ever managed.
“The O.C.” depicts the lives of wealthy teenagers in Southern California. At the surface, the show doesn’t appeal to much of middle America: We don’t live in opulence like the Cohens, nor have many of us felt the sense of loss and hardship that Ryan Atwood has had to endure — and if we have, how many of us have been “saved” by an altruistic attorney like Sandy Cohen? Yet, there’s something about waking up to Sandy’s bagel shmear and Seth’s comic book collection that just feels like home.
At the core of it, “The O.C.” is a show about teenagers navigating the world as best as they can. Seth is a self-professed nerd who doesn’t fit in at school and essentially has no friends until his father brings Ryan home with him one day. Ryan, a troubled kid with a good heart from the wrong side of town, has never felt the warmth of a real family until the Cohens take him in. Marissa is a rebellious socialite craving attention from her family through her substance abuse and questionable relationships. Summer — a shallow and popular girl — finds herself confused by her feelings for the school’s nerd.
Though the backdrop of Southern California may be foreign to some of us, these characters are not. At some point during our upbringing, we have all felt the butterflies of first love, the fury of rejection and the drive of rebellion. The connections we feel to these characters are undeniable and they’re why this show is still relevant to a generation that was journeying through middle school when it first aired.
“The O.C.” also tackled several relevant societal issues including homosexuality, substance abuse, class conflict, infidelity, domestic abuse and divorce — to name a few — that have plagued our nation. While a show like “Glee” is lauded for its cultural relevancy, it seems this aspect has been largely overlooked when talking about “The O.C.”
But when comparing Ryan Atwood to Finn Hudson, it’s clear to me who the greater role model is. Ryan stands tall throughout adversity from his family, peers and the government, yet finds success through hard work and determination; Finn is the school’s quarterback (a.k.a. the popular guy) who is scared to acknowledge his role in the glee club (a.k.a. the losers), and who also, bizarrely, gains inspiration from the image of Jesus in his grilled cheese sandwich — but I’ll save my “Glee” ranting for another time.
My point is that “The O.C.” spoke to a number of different issues, thus separating itself from the typical teen drama. Paired with dynamic characters and interesting-but-sometimes-outlandish storylines, it’s a show that will be embraced by teens for years to come.
That’s not to say the show is perfect: It indeed had its flaws, from overly dramatized plots to the forced acting of Mischa Barton. But as a whole, “The O.C.” gave much more of a realistic portrayal of life as a teenager than any other show of its kind.
I found myself rooting for Seth every time he professed his love to Summer on the coffee cart, wishing I could attend a concert at the Bait Shop and hoping that this year would be the one I celebrate Chrismukkah, Seth Cohen style. I cried when Marissa died, I laughed whenever Ryan made a sarcastic comment and I cried again when Seth and Summer got married.
Even though only four seasons were produced, I feel as though I will always have a home and a family to go back to in Orange County, Calif., living under the sunshine with Captain Oats and Princess Sparkles.