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The O.C. Rewatch Files: Season 1
Welcome back to *Cash Register Alert*, the newsletter about all things ‘90s and ‘00s nostalgia, named after the best sound on AOL Instant Messenger. I recently commenced the official O.C. rewatch I’ve been putting off for a while, and have spent the past few days thoroughly invested in all the drama that goes down in Season 1, from Luke to Oliver to the Summer/Anna/Seth love triangle. So grab a bagel & schmear, cause today we’re headed down the 101 straight to the Cohens’ pool house. And if you haven’t yet subscribed (it’s free!), hit the button below so you don’t miss a single trip down the ‘90s and ‘00s rabbit hole.
The O.C., like a lot of other teen dramas of the early aughts, is full of absolutely wild and out of control scenarios—and it’s easy to forget just how many of them happen in the show’s first season alone. When I think about The O.C. now, my brain often goes to the conclusion of Season 3 (still can’t listen to “Hallelujah” the same way) or the completely unhinged Lindsay storyline of Season 2. But don’t be fooled; the series’ first installment, which made its debut in 2003, doesn’t exactly hold back.
Part of why each season was able to cram in SO much is the fact that they are all SO long —Season 1 has twenty-seven episodes. And right out of the gate in the pilot, there’s a lot going on, from the Ryan/Marissa ~*sexual tension*~ (“Who Are You?” / “Whoever You Want Me To Be”), to the Ryan/Luke feud that doesn’t subside for a dozen episodes or so.
Of course, The O.C. was more than its slow-burn romances and endless love triangles (and the occasional love rhombus) — for every episode, there’s usually 2 or 3 subplots woven in, often involving Sandy & Kirsten Cohen or Julie & Jimmy Cooper. And I think that’s where The O.C. differed from a lot of other teen shows of its time and even today; the parents weren’t just background characters, they were fully immersed in the drama too.
Anyway I digress. Let’s talk about the top 5 most batshit and/or memorable things that went down in The O.C. Season 1!
Number 5: The Luke Arc
I recently polled some of my IG friends about this and we were pretty divided on whether or not Luke gets a true redemption arc but either way, his storyline in Season 1 is a rollercoaster. In the first third of the season, he’s basically Ryan’s nemesis, complete with no less than four or five throw-down fistfights, and he’s the epitome of a Toxic Man: jealous, aggressive, violent—yeah nothx.
On the other hand....
When the whole Oliver thing happens (more on that later, don’t you worry), Luke is the only one who agrees with Ryan’s take on the situation. Not only that, but he tries to step in and warn Marissa even after Ryan has given up hope. Okay maybe he is good now? (Also, never forget the Rooney concert episode where Luke is straight-up giddy from being exposed to good music. Talk about a 180 from his character earlier on.)
On the other other hand….
BUT THEN HE SLEEPS WITH MARISSA’S MOM! Yes, this also goes down in Season 1; shortly after Caleb ends things with Julie, there’s some bizarre sexual tension between her and Luke which leads to them sleeping together for like three episodes in a row. (FTR, I think there’s a line of dialogue somewhere that insinuates Luke is 18 but still.)
Number 4: Theresa
Another thing I genuinely forgot happened right in the first season is everything with Theresa, Ryan’s on/off girlfriend from back home in Chino. I know we are supposed to root for Ryan and Marissa, but the show does a damn good job of also making you care about Theresa—so many feelings!
Anyway, Theresa and Ryan hook up, she gets pregnant, and Season 1 ends with Ryan leaving to help Theresa raise the baby. She later tells him she’s had a miscarriage in order to encourage him to go back to Newport, and then like three seasons later we find out she actually has the baby and oh yeah—it’s definitely Ryan’s.
Seriously, this whole subplot is SO dramatic, you could make an entire show just on this storyline alone.
Number 3: Seth/Anna/Summer
I should probably get this out of the way and say that I will always adore Seth Cohen. Eternal fictional crush. No one can convince me otherwise. Yes, I know he sailed away. I don’t care. Bring on the Death Cab concerts and the comic books, I will swoon forever.
An-y-way! Now that we have established that.
This love triangle goes on FOR SO LONG. Anna is introduced in Season 1 Episode 4 when she shows up for Cotillion, and she doesn’t depart until Episode 21, when she moves back to Pittsburgh. In between, there’s the wild Thanksgiving episode where Seth is running back and forth between his bedroom and the pool house to make out with each girl, the Christmas episode where Anna gives Seth a comic book and Summer dresses up as literal Wonder Woman, and all the episodes where Seth and Anna try to date while Summer tries to sabotage their relationship. Whew, I’m tired.
The thing about Seth and Anna is that they are too similar. I think Seth says it at one point—she’s basically the girl version of him. Someone like Seth needs a partner who will balance him out, which is definitely what Summer does...when they’re not bantering or fighting or giving each other the silent treatment, of course. (Cut to me making the teary-eyed emoji face when Seth goes, “It’s always been you, Summer” in the Valentine’s Day episode.)
Also can we just talk about the fact that Samaire Armstrong (the actor who played Anna) recently revealed herself to be a Tr*mp supporter? Somewhere in The O.C. alternate universe, Anna is yelling because SHE WOULD NEVER.
Number Two: Ain’t no party like a Newport party…
Right from the beginning of Season 1, we establish the fact that any time there’s a big party on The O.C., there’s going to be drama. Someone will likely get punched. It’s all but inevitable.
From the yacht party where Julie and Caleb’s relationship gets outed to the Cotillion Ball where Jimmy, Sandy, and Ryan all somehow end up in a fight with Holly’s dad, there is never a dull moment at a Newport party. Bonus points if it’s in the Cohens’ backyard, because then you KNOW sh*t is going down—and someone’s ending up in the pool.
Number One: OLIVER
Where to begin with Oliver Trask?
It’s pretty obvious that he’s shady right from the start, but for some reason every single character (except for Ryan ofc) thinks he is THE COOLEST GUY. He lives in a hotel penthouse! He lived in Paris! He can get them backstage at Rooney! He invites them to Palm Springs! It takes everyone so long—five whole episodes—to realize the truth, even though he’s given them a lot of reasons to be suspicious. (Natalie who?)
It’s one of those plotlines that’s so frustrating to watch, because we’re privy to so many details that the characters aren’t (like when Oliver is creepily standing outside the Cohens’ window and just watching everyone hang out without him). And it feels like a lot of characters are reallyyyyy dumbed down in order to make this storyline work. Like Seth is smarter than this, he should be able to see Ryan isn’t just being jealous, though in Seth’s defense, Ryan acts legitimately unhinged during that whole cafeteria fight. And Marissa strikes me as a girl who could catch someone in a lie pretty easily, so the fact that it takes her so long to realize the truth about the whole Natalie thing seems like a bit of a reach.
On a serious note/sidebar, I am not a fan of how Oliver’s mental illness is frequently conflated with him being an antagonist. Just saying! There’s plenty of ways to create a villain without making mental illness the reason they are villains. :(
On a less serious note/sidebar, the line of dialogue later on in the series when there’s a knock at the door and Seth goes, “The way things have been going around here, that’s probably Oliver”—a perfect moment of writing. *Chefs kiss.*
Well, there you have it. Season 1 in a very dramatic nutshell. Meet me at The Bait Shop next where we’ll get into all things Season 2. (Lindsay! ALEX! Trey!) The drama is only beginning.
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