Today marks the tenth—yes, tenth—anniversary of Fox's melodramatic teen soap The O.C.
I know, it's hard to believe it's been that long since Seth Cohen entered our lives, but it definitely has. And though the series floundered in its later seasons, the first season is still a crowning achievement of television.
In the decade since its premiere, many have tried to replicate The O.C.'s initial success—you get an A for effort, Gossip Girl—but doing so has proved rather hard. The O.C. burst on to the scene in the doldrums of August 2003, and was successful because it was the first show of its kind. Teen soaps were hardly new by any means—Dawson's Creek had ended only a few months earlier—but exploring the world of the rich through the eyes of an outsider from Chino, California served up a new spin on the genre.
The O.C. was compelling drama, and not just because Ben McKenzie happened to look good rocking a tank top. The show changed the face of television—and popular culture—in a lot of ways. So in honor of this momentous occasion, we give you ten of the most important things The O.C. gave us during its four-season run.
10. An Alternate "Reality" for MTV
Soon after The O.C. premiered, MTV had the bright idea to explore the "real" version of Orange County, California. Enter Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, the "reality" show that followed the so-called true-to-life versions of the rich and privileged children of the area. The show became an instant hit among teenagers, and even birthed a spin-off by following Lauren Conrad to Los Angeles for The Hills.
9. Paul Wesley
Before he was Stefan Salvatore, and before he took the stage name Paul Wesley, he was Paul Wasilewski and he played Donnie, Ryan's new friend from Corona who shot Luke.
You can't make a list of the wonderful things The O.C. contributed to this world without including the Seth Cohen-invented Chrismukkah holiday that meshed the magic of Christmas with the spirit of Hanukkah.
7. TV Parents Who Matter
The O.C. wasn't like Beverly Hills, 90210, where the parents existed solely to provide an infrequent sounding board for their children, nor was it Dawson's Creek, where the parental storylines were important only as they affected the lives of Dawson, Joey, Pacey, and Jen. No, The O.C. popularized the concept that a youth-centric television series can be as much about the kids as it can be about the adult figures in their lives. Nearly every teen soap to come after The O.C. would try this same approach, but let's face it: No TV dad is as cool as Sandy Cohen was. No one.
The idea of 'shipping characters has been around for a long, long time; it's just that there was never really a word for it until recently. But Seth and Summer definitely helped to usher in the more widespread 'shipping movement. Fans of The O.C. loved Seth and Summer—Sethummer—to the extent that they'd take to the internet to discuss the relationship, and they hated anyone who came between the two characters... a pretty big deal in the early aughts, when talking about TV on the internet wasn't nearly as common as it is today. Now, you can't Google the title of a teen drama without encountering fans vocally 'shipping various match-ups. Just be careful, because it's easy to get caught in the crossfire between warring fan factions, and we wouldn't have it any other way. (Fun fact: Yes, that is Wilson Bethel, Rachel Bilson's current Hart of Dixie co-star, with the long hair in the clip above.)
5. Meta Before It Was Cool
If you were to ask a bunch of current TV fan which show does meta the best, Community and Supernatural would likely earn multiple mentions. But before the Greendale Community College and the Winchesters hit the small screen, The O.C. featured The Valley, an on-screen parody of The O.C. itself. You see, The O.C. premiered right at the beginning of the social media craze, and therefore had firsthand access to the critiques and comments the show's fans made online. The writers and producers had no problem parodying their work for laughs, so The Valley became Summer's favorite TV show. And later, when Laguna Beach premiered, Josh Schwartz and Co. invented a reality version of The Valley called Sherman Oaks: The Real Valley.
4. More Drama = More Fun
Revenge is known for blowing through storylines like they're going out of style, but it was hardly the first series to run through a season's worth of story in about seven episodes. The O.C. was successful in its first season because it lived life in the fast lane in addition to amping up the drama to 11. Unfortunately, the show moved so quickly that it eventually ran out of stories to tell for Mischa Barton's Marissa Cooper (drugs, alcohol, sexual experimentation, kleptomania, parental issues, etc.) and was forced to take the drastic measure of killing her off because there was no place left for her to go. There was also that thing where she had become completely insufferable, too.
3. Revenge of the Nerds
I still don't necessarily buy that anyone ever looked at Adam Brody and found him unattractive or nerdy, but this is Hollywood we're talking about, so we'll just ignore that fact for now. Seth Cohen introduced the world to the good-looking, comic book-loving nerd who survived the hell of being rich, privileged, and white in Newport, California with his charming humor and biting wit. He was responsible for making The O.C. so quotable; if you need an example, watch this compilation of some of his greatest one-liners from Season 1.
2. The Modern Bromance
Sure, today's television landscape is littered with bromances, from Damon and Alaric on The Vampire Diaries to Shawn and Gus on Psych to Troy and Abed on Community, but Seth and Ryan's relationship was one of the first to really deserve the label—and it's still one of TV's best. The Ryan and Seth bromance blossomed because of—not in spite of—their opposite personalities. While Seth talked too much and too quickly, Ryan was quiet and pensive, making it possible for their relationship to exist. While Seth lived in his own world, Ryan lived in the real world. While Seth preferred indie music (more on that below), Ryan preferred Journey (before they were cool, again). They were best friends as well as brothers.
1. A Damn Good Soundtrack
If you can name another show that influenced music—or rather, that was influenced by the music—in a way that is comparable to The O.C., then I'll eat my words, but there's no denying that the series' greatest impact on popular culture was the way it introduced the world to, and explored, indie music. From Death Cab For Cutie to Rooney to Imogen Heap, from Patrick Park to Joseph Arthur to Jem, The O.C. was as much about coming-of-age in Southern California as it was about the soundtrack to that life. The music was almost another character, it mattered that much to the story.
(Related reading: Alexandra Patsavas, the music supervisor on The O.C., recently discussed the series' impact on the music industry, and it's worth a read.)
What are your favorite memories of The O.C.?
AIRED ON 2/22/2007
Season 4 : Episode 16