I did it. I finished my marathon of all 92 episodes of The O.C.. I previously wrote about seasons 1 and 2, which were undeniably the golden age of this delightful show. That’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the latter half of the series as well—if anything, seasons 3 and 4 are so off the rails they make the Oliver storyline and Seth accidentally paying for hookers in Vegas look normal.
You have to wonder if the writers ever regretted getting Seth and Summer together as early in the series as they did. Sure, they broke up and got back together seemingly constantly, but at a certain point it became apparent they were seriously reaching to create conflict for a couple that was so clearly endgame. Possibly the most upsetting thing about the latter seasons to me was what they did to Seth’s character. For starters, when he fails to get into Brown (all of the main characters applied to exactly one college because that’s totally what normal people do) he spends several episodes hiding it from Summer and his parents like a true pathological liar before turning to smoking pot to ease his pain. Oh, and then after this storyline has seemingly passed, he smokes one last joint…and accidentally leaves it lit in his father’s office, burning it down. I’m sorry, what? This is not the Seth Cohen we came to know and love in the early seasons. Luckily, they fixed it by the series finale, in time to give Seth and Summer the storybook ending they deserved (more on that later).
You know what surprised me the most in season 4? Despite never being a very big fan of Marissa (or of Mischa Barton’s acting), I found her absence was truly felt once she was gone. I sort of missed her! For starters, as much as they enjoyed putting the fun in dysfunctional, she worked far better with Ryan than any of the other various love interests they forced upon him (ugh, Sadie and her jewelry-making). Her death itself remains a bit ridiculous. It wasn’t exactly out of left field—the Volchok storyline was well-established, but him randomly running Ryan and Marissa off the road because he was drunk and wanted to talk to her was still a bit extreme. In fact, the entire “Marissa goes to public school” storyline was so bad it was…just bad. The message is essentially “don’t go to public school. Someone will fall in love with you AND DIE.” (RIP Johnny and his surfer dreams.) But weirdly, I preferred even public school Marissa to no Marissa at all. The show tried very hard to fill the void by forcing obnoxious younger sister Kaitlin and borderline psychotic Taylor Townsend into the core group, but I never found Taylor and Ryan believable as a couple, much like I never found Kaitlin interesting. I did, however, like that they gave Summer a new friend while still not forgetting Marissa’s existence.
Speaking of Summer, I still find her transformation into an environmentalist and activist while at Brown to be an incredibly random development, but it gave us the gift of hippie Chris Pratt trying to save groundhogs, so who am I to look a gift horse (gift groundhog?) in the mouth. In terms of the adult characters, Julie Cooper is definitely the MVP of seasons 3 and 4, and also of life. While Sandy and Kirsten went in circles finding stupid things to be mad at each other about and trying not to relapse into alcoholism, Julie literally accidentally started a male prostitution ring. This is a real thing that happens, and it is amazing. She also receives more marriage proposals (usually from millionaires) than probably any TV character since the Golden Girls. I also really love the end of Julie’s storyline. I may or may not have teared up when she graduated from college in that flash forward.
We need to take a moment to talk about “The Chrismukk-huh?”, which is hands down the most bizarre episode of the series ever. Maybe they felt they had tapped out all of the real life Chrismukkah scenarios by season 4, because they resorted to Ryan and Taylor falling off a ladder and into mysterious comas. While in said comas, they experience a joint dream where they wake up in a parallel universe where Ryan never came to Newport. In this very 1% version of It’s a Wonderful Life, they must reunite everyone with their proper love interests before they can wake up. The doctors have no medical explanation for this because why would they, so the Cohens just kind of chill at the hospital while being assured that their son who is in a LITERAL COMA is totally fine and will surely wake up as soon as he’s done working through whatever he’s working through. The best part is that when they do complete their alternate universe mission and wake up, neither Ryan nor Taylor has any memory of it and the entire incident is never mentioned again. They just don’t make hours of TV like this anymore. If they do and I’m not watching them, please point me in that direction.
The series finale is almost as bizarre, but sadly coma-less. After a massive earthquake destroys the Cohen home and nearly kills Ryan via impalement with a glass bookcase in the penultimate episode (yes, this also really happens), Ryan and Seth travel up to Berkeley to try to convince the friendly gay couple who lives in Seth and Kirsten’s old house to sell it to them just because. The craziest part is that it works, only after Kirsten gives birth in the house (leading to the outstanding line “this is so random, but I’m actually a midwife”), Julie Cooper almost gets married in the backyard (the non-midwife member of the gay couple is a wedding planner because stereotypes), and Ryan and Taylor have sex in one of the bedrooms. These people should have probably pressed charges rather than handing over their home, but I guess we had limited time in the 16-episode final season. It’s not a particularly good finale, even if the final flash-forward montage is satisfying enough, aside from a heavy-handed full circle moment where Ryan (now a successful architect) sees a troubled young boy who reminds him of himself once upon a time and offers help. Let’s be real, all anyone cared about was Seth and Summer getting their happily ever after (and Julie Cooper. I cared a lot about Julie Cooper).
Ultimately, I am rather sad I have no more episodes to watch. They don’t make shows like this anymore. What was great about The O.C. is it had no real gimmick or hook—it was just a fun, soapy glimpse into the lives of some entertaining people. It never took itself too seriously and never asked much of us. This Chrismukkah, remember The O.C. and all of its delightful wackiness. Much like Ryan Atwood after meeting Seth Cohen, we are all better off than when The O.C. found us.