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Why The First Season of The O.C. Remains One Of My Favorite Seasons Of Television

California, here we come. Once the opening credits rolled, it was time to travel to Orange County to visit the Cohens on The O.C.

In a time where television is at an all-time high in terms of quality, I find myself in the middle of rewatch. The show is The O.C., Fox’s teen drama that debuted in 2003. When The O.C. first aired, I was 10 years old. I watched the show during its first season because it was “the show” to watch. I didn’t know it then, but I now realize that I was watching great television. In fact, The O.C.‘s first season is one of my favorite seasons of all-time and it remains a classic to this day.

If you have never seen the show, The O.C. is about a teenager from Chino named Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), who is taken in by Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), his wife Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), and son, Seth (Adam Brody). The Cohens are from Newport Beach, Orange County, California, hence the title of the show. I’m a sucker for a good teen drama, but so many shows seem to miss the mark and forget that the premise is about teenagers in high school. Let high school kids be high school kids! There’s no need for murder mysteries or dramatized crimes. I want to watch kids deal with issues over alcohol, drugs, sex, popularity, parental pressure, etc. The O.C. incorporated what it was like to be a high school teen (even if your parents weren’t millionaires).

The heart of the first season dealt with the inner workings of a family. Ryan was the kid from the “wrong side of the tracks, who was brought into a rich family, which is a tale as old as time. However, The O.C. was able to put its own spin on it that made it relatable to so many. The characters were relatable teens people that mimicked people in our own lives. Ryan was the troubled kid with a heart of gold. Seth was the lovable nerd. Marissa was the popular girl with insecurities. Summer was the beautiful ditz that had a soft side. I’m sure everyone can put a name to all of these characters with people in their own lives.

Now, I’m not going to say that season 1 was without its flaws. In the middle episodes, things were a little rocky thanks to this guy.

I understand that for every hero, there needs to be a villain, but Oliver was too over-the-top for my liking. Although compared to the villains in later seasons (looking at you, season 3), Oliver was manageable. There was also the Luke / Julie Cooper storyline, which is cool if you’re into fantasies with your friend’s mom, but I preferred the Ryan vs. Luke rivalry.

There are so many iconic moments you can look at that took place in the first season. For starters, a holiday was invented.

The most memorable line of the series happened in the pilot episode, bitch.

There was Summer Roberts as Wonder Woman.

I have to mention Anna Stern, who won Seth’s heart over before Summer gave him the time of day. Summer turned out to be a great character, but in the beginning, how could you not be Team Anna?

There’s so many other plot points and moment that I haven’t mentioned. I haven’t even gotten into the all-star relationship between Sandy and Kirsten. Seth standing on the coffee cart and Ryan kissing Marissa on the ferris wheel will always get a smile out of this guy. Did I mention that Marissa Cooper was the “it girl?” I can also write a dissertation on “Why Marissa Cooper was The Worst Person Ever.”

Overall, the season had multiple high-quality episodes. The finale had the perfect mix of tying up loose ends, but also kept the imagination going with its cliffhangers. It’s hard to find a better 4 minutes to end a season than this montage. The shot of Ryan looking at Marissa as he drives away (which happens in the pilot) is one of my favorite shots of the season. It’s symbolic of their relationship. No matter how hard they tried, there will always be space between them that neither can fill.

Finally, I want to end by focusing on one episode, which happens to be the best episode of the series and remains one of my favorite episodes of television.

The pilot.

It’s hard to mention the best pilots of all-time without mentioning The O.C. It’s as close to perfect as you can get. What am I looking for in a pilot? The story has to grab your attention within the first couple of minutes. Right away, when Ryan is hesitant to steal the car with Trey, you could tell that there is more to Ryan than meets the eye. We meet Sandy Cohen, the generous lawyer who takes in a kid that needs a break in life. From there, we’re introduced to the “will they, won’t they” couple when Ryan has encounter with the girl next door, Marissa. That’s not even the most important relationship in the show because that title belongs to the brotherhood between Seth and Ryan.

The pilot ends with a twist as Ryan travels back to Chino only to see that his mother has abandoned the place, and Sandy takes Ryan back in. The rest is history. It’s an unbelievable pilot that ranks as the best pilot of the 21st century according to The Ringer.

Despite the fact that the show declined (became way too soapy and serious) as the seasons went on, the fact remains that season one is an all-time classic. The legacy of The O.C. was so vital to the mid 2000s because of the young adult shows it inspired. The O.C. created this rich teen sub-genre of shows like Gossip GirlLaguna Beach, and The Hills. 

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hang with the kid with a troubled past, the quirky geek, the girl next door, and a princess.

P.S. I started my rewatch on August 26. It’s September 19 and I am on episode 14 in the third season. If my calculations are correct, that’s 64 episodes in about 3 and a half weeks. That’s not bad, but I can do better.

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