Having reviewed a few seasons of The O.C., I think I have made it abundantly clear that very little about this show matches any of the experiences that I have had as resident in Orange County. I live in Fountain Valley which is north of where the events went down in Newport Beach. If you knew nothing about Orange County, CA and then you watched this show, you would think that everybody is white, they all drive expensive cars, and their biggest worries are should they buy a Lexus or a Cadillac? This show seems to exist in an Orange County where Santa Ana, Anaheim, Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, and even parts of Huntington Beach don't exist. In fact in the real place it is depicting, it seems to ignore other aspects of that area that may not have been as desirable as the show creators would have wanted them to be. Making this all worse is the fact that the reality show Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, seems to do the same thing. Maybe these shows are trying to drive home the point of how sheltered those kids are? But that is another story entirely...
I also came to this show via DVD. What that means is that when Seth, Ryan, Summer, and Marissa came onto TV screens, I wasn't around to get caught up in the sensation that was The O.C.. This isn't to suggest that I didn't care, I just wasn't watching television that much at that (I still don't), so the catch phrases like "Welcome to the O.C., bitch!" and timely ditties like "Looking good, Coop! Looking very Kate Moss pre-Vanity Fair cover!" didn't mean a thing to me. Yet, as this show caught fire and it set trends both in fashion, music, and lingo, I couldn't help being reminded of another show that had the same effect on me when I was high school: Beverly Hills, 90210.
There was a time in my life when the events of Brandon, Dylan, Brenda, Steve, etc... were more important to me than my own life. I waited with baited breath every week to see what would happen to my favorite characters. Then, as I got wrapped up in the drama of all their worlds (for some odd reason I was very excited when Dylan chose Kelly over Brenda), the end of the show would come and I would be honestly saddened. One thing I noticed was that I didn't stay with Beverly Hills, 90210 the whole way. In fact of it's 10 year run, I am venturing to say that I only watched 3 to 4 seasons. Not a small amount, but a number that was most likely unthinkable in the early years. There was just something about this show, initially anyway, that compelled me to tune in week after week.
So while I may never have had the love for The O.C. that I should have, I can understand how fiercely devoted to it it's fans were. Aside from the fact that the cast is filled with imminently watchable characters (my personal favorite being Melinda Clarke), I think that The O.C. was as pure a viewing experience as TV can be. As I start to work my around in the show (for some reason I find myself beginning in the Third Season), I understand a lot more about the fans obsession. I can see why characters like Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) and Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) would be as popular with guys as they are with girls. I can see why these characters as well as characters like Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson) and Julie Cooper-Nichol-Roberts (the aforementioned Melinda Clarke) not only set trends and styles of speech, but also captured imaginations and even hearts.
Watching this show I saw Beverly Hills, 90210 all over again. In Seth Cohen, I saw Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestly). In Ryan Atwood, there are shades of Dylan McKay (Luke Perry). In Marissa Cooper, there seems to be a mix of Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) and Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth). Beverly Hills, 90210 showed us a world of privilege and The O.C. showed us a similar world, they were just on opposite ends of the California coast. These characters weren't new in terms of their types. The brooding teenager whose parents don't understand them so they find sanctuary with their friends, is a common motif both in TV and movies. However, the issues these characters faced resonated very deeply with a lot of people. I remember being in High School and watching Beverly Hills, 90210, and even though I didn't attend a school in an affluent section of Orange County (I'm telling you, there's many more places in this city that aren't perfect than are), I related to to the kids of West Beverly High School. When they fell in love, when their hearts were broken, when they found themselves at a personal crossroads, it was eery how much their emotions mirrored mine. The O.C. was that experience for a whole new generation, and sadly, as always happens, generations move on, new generations come in and they want new things.
Beverly Hills, 90210 went for 10 seasons while The O.C. only will be on for 4. One could speculate on the reasons why one show outlasted the other, but I don't think it has so much to do with content as it does with climate. We are in a technological transition. People, more than at any time in our history, really can control what they are viewing. TV can be manipulated so that if someone chooses, all they could watch would be one show. Viewers have more choices and with those choices comes the ability to be more fickle. It used to be that networks were afraid people would change the channel. Now it seems like they are scared that viewers will leave and never come back. Add to this that DVD's and places like iTunes allow people to watch a show in any order they wish (on multiple viewing platforms), and one wonders how many shows will be able to have the lengthy runs of yesteryear?
Or, perhaps it could be something as simple as what O.C. creator Josh Schwartz said when news of the show's cancellation was first told. I am paraphrasing but he stated that he didn't think shows like The O.C. were meant to necessarily be on the air forever, they were just supposed to be a lot of fun while they were on. So who cares if this show rose and fell quite dramatically, or that it didn't go for 15 seasons, and that some of the plots started to just get cheesy (or, so I have heard). How many shows can you simply say the name of and have it conjure up so many thoughts, ideas and catchphrases? How many shows have taken a youth culture and spread it across a whole country?
For anyone who doubts this I will relate a personal story. I was staying in New Jersey at an Extended Stay Hotel for three months helping The Gallup Poll get an internet news show off the ground. As I was checking out of the hotel, I started talking to this girl behind the registration counter. She asked why I was leaving the hotel and I told her I was going back to Orange County, CA where I was from. Her eyes opened wide and her jaw dropped and she finally said, "You live in Orange County?" Simply by that response, I knew that she was a fan of The O.C.. We started talking about the show and at that time I didn't keep up with it, so I couldn't really discuss specifics. However, I could tell by her look that she was imagining the magical place depicted in the show. Of course, I was quick to point out that Orange County really wasn't like that, and that the show would be better off titled "South Orange County." This didn't diminish her ideas of what the city was at all.
Truth be told, I did concede that there are places in Orange County that are correctly depicted in The O.C.. However, by that point it didn't matter. This person was sold on that show, on it's characters, on it's situations, and on it's themes. At the end of the day that's all that matters for a TV show to be successful, and for it's time on the air The O.C. certainly was.
Dont't forget to also check out: The O.C.