There was something in the air in the early 2000s, and whatever that something was – we suspect a hormone fuelled airborne parasite with a love of Gucci bags and an inability to handle its emotions – It apparently made us all go mad for teen drama, especially when it involved bratty American rich kids, wallowing in the sunshine of Orange County.
Seriously, if you want a YA drama about high school kids who are constantly shagging and scrapping, you need a good noughties watch. There was One Tree Hill, 90210, Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl, Skins… and this belter, which is (arguably) the best of them all. It follows bad boy Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks – aka Chino – in a broken home, and who is then adopted by the mega wealthy, philanthropic power couple, Sandy and Kristen Cohen. These two are such do-gooders, that this isn’t the only kid they’ve helped escape a difficult childhood – they’ve also adopted the awkward, nerdy Seth (Adam Brody). And though their parents may try their best to integrate them into the high society of Newport Beach, their angsty teenaged school mates aren’t as committed to the cause.
Throughout the four seasons we watch Seth and Ryan try and navigate their way through a tumultuous life, with Ryan’s love interest, the literal girl-next-door, Marissa (Mischa Barton), and Seth’s crush, Summer (Rachel Bilson). Whilst it may deal with a slightly complex theme around wealth and privilege and the culture clashes between the classes, this is inherently a teen skewing soap opera. The plotlines are ridiculous, including running away to Mexico, a coma which turns into a fever dream about what his life might be à la It’s a Wonderful Life, and one character having about eight near-death experiences.
But we love it. Maybe it’s the nostalgia, but this show is soapy brilliance, and though you may try to resist it, we reckon if you give it a go, you’ll soon end up two seasons deep, singing “Californiaaaaaaa,” in the opening credits and egging Seth on to finally win Summer over. We reckon that’s because, although it is ridiculous, it knows it is, and it’s ok with it. It just wants to give escapism and entertainment, and that it does pretty darn well.
The Guardian’s Sarah Hughes says: “The OC was television as Schadenfreude. These people might wallow in wealth, have fabulous clothes and live in ever-sunny California but they still suffered. On a daily basis. Usually because of their own stupid decisions. You just can’t beat escapist TV like that – small wonder that British teenagers took to watching it communally and propelled the bands featured on its soundtrack (including Death Cab for Cutie and Super Furry Animals) towards the top ends of the charts.”
First shown August 2003. You can watch a clip of the show by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.