by Kelly Lee
Official Summary: Season 1 focuses on Ryan Atwood's arrival in Newport Beach to live with Sandy and Kirsten Cohen, who take him in after his mother kicks him out. A major theme of the first season is the culture shock Ryan feels as he adjusts from a life of domestic abuse and poverty to living in a superficial high-class society. He quickly befriends and bonds with Seth Cohen, and begins to have a romantic relationship with Marissa Cooper. Although coming from very different backgrounds, Ryan soon discovers that he deals with similar issues to his new peers, such as self-identity conflict and familial alienation. The relationship between Ryan and Marissa flourishes when he supports her through her parents' divorce. As the show progresses, Ryan takes a very protective role over Marissa, showing Ryan to be a much more stable, controlled person than originally portrayed. Other storylines include Seth's development from a friendless loner to having two romantic choices in Summer and Anna, as well as the arrivals of Oliver Trask, a troubled teen who befriends Marissa during their coinciding therapy sessions, and Theresa Diaz, Ryan's close friend and former love interest from his hometown of Chino. Meanwhile, Sandy Cohen frequently comes into conflict with Caleb Nichol, Kirsten's father and a wealthy industrialist who is said to "basically own Newport."
The second season of The O.C. continues to follow the tumultuous romantic relationships between Ryan and Marissa, Seth and Summer, and Sandy and Kirsten. Josh Schwartz, the show's creator, stated that in Season 2, the show would "no longer be about Ryan's past; now it's going to be about Ryan's future," and that this season would "slow down the storytelling a little bit ... and evolve the characters." For example, the story closely follows Ryan in his advanced physics class, where tension is created between him and another student, Lindsay, who presumes that Ryan will be useless as a lab partner, who thus prevents him from contributing to the work that must be submitted. Ryan's character begins to grow when he stands up to Lindsay and convinces her to allow him to contribute, forcing them to work together to complete the assignment. They later become involved romantically, creating extreme complications and relational shifts amongst the now "Cooper-Nichol" family. The Bait Shop becomes a prominent social destination for the teenage characters. A number of recurring characters are introduced, such as D.J., Lindsay Gardner, Zach Stevens, and Alex Kelly, with whom the main characters form a variety of relationships. Ryan's brother, Trey Atwood, gets out of jail and threatens to bring Ryan's old life into his new one. Sandy and Kirsten also face new conflicts after drifting apart during the summer. Season 2 ends with Marissa shooting Trey after Ryan confronts him for attempting to sexually assault Marissa.
Season 3 creates many dynamic changes with regards to relationships and power within the characters' society. Firstly, Marissa is expelled from the Harbor School. The Cooper family, left with little money, is forced to move into a trailer park. Julie Cooper-Nichol, once one of the richest women in all of Newport, struggles to put food on the table for her daughters. Marissa's life begins to spiral out of control, as she struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, as well as dealing with the loss of her close friend Johnny. Similarly, Kirsten confronts her alcohol addiction and eventually leaves rehab, only to encounter more problems when she begins business with a con artist. The other characters look towards college, with Seth and Summer competing for a spot at Brown University. Sandy's moral compass becomes imperiled when a past love interest makes her way back into his life, and he takes over Caleb's old position as head of The Newport Group, pursuing a project to establish more low-income housing in Newport. Ryan also attempts to resolve his individual relationships with his mother, and with his childhood friend Theresa Diaz. He also pursues the idea of a post-secondary education, with encouragement from both Sandy and Kirsten to visit Berkeley. Ryan's life is quickly put on hold when, in the season 3 finale, Ryan decides to drive Marissa to the airport, and they are run off the road by Kevin Volchok, Marissa's most recent love affair gone wrong. In the last few minutes of the episode, Ryan pulls Marissa out from the burning car, only to watch her die in his arms.
The fourth and final season begins five months after Marissa's death in the car accident. Ryan starts the season in isolation as a broken, grieving man, seeking revenge on Volchok. With the help of Julie, both she and Ryan are able to track Volchok down in Mexico, and turn him into federal officials. The continued love of the Cohen family and the company of the eccentric Taylor Townsend guide him back to the light. Meanwhile, Seth and Summer face the problems of a long distance relationship as Summer leaves to attend college. The first half of the season focuses on the characters accepting the reality of Marissa's death. The second half focuses on the characters "finding themselves" while facing myriad identity crises. This final season contains multiple surprises, such as a new addition to the Cohen family, a visit to an alternate universe in which Sandy becomes mayor, and a natural disaster that leaves Newport devastated.
ALNM rec:. Being from Orange County myself, The OC was met with some hesitation from other Newport Beach residents when it first premiered in 2003. However, around the globe, it was met with much success. Though I chose to ignore the first two seasons, in the third season, I became hooked and quickly binged the previous episodes. The show was recently added to Hulu, making it the only streaming service to offer the teen drama and many have binged the show in its entirety. I’m currently rewatching the show and must admit, it’s quite nice to watch it without having to change the DVD discs every four episodes. Though this show is soapy and over the top, it’s by the same creator as Gossip Girl and is highly entertaining.