California, Here We Come

Tuesday, 29 April, 2014

Harvard mathematicians recently discovered three key questions that, if answered correctly by a prospective love interest, ensure your eternal compatibility. For me, however, there has only ever been one such question.

“Summer or Marissa?”

Oh, you said Marissa? Then forget it. It’s not going to work between us. I am just never going to be compatible with a Ryan guy, however great he may look in a grey hoodie and a wife-beater.

I have never been so heavily invested in a fictional TV universe as I was in The OC’s Orange County. Did I keep watching after Marissa died? Of course. When I get drunk do I make my friends carry me in their arms like Ryan carried Marissa out of an alleyway in Tijuana? Yes. Do I still get teary upon hearing “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap? Absolutely. I do realise that it was a teen drama-soapie on the CW. But the OC knew what it was, too. It was funny, touching and sometimes totally ridiculous.

The OC sets up delinquent-with-a-heart-of-gold Ryan Atwood as the love interest for troubled-rich-girl-next-door Marissa Cooper. Their first encounter, in which they simultaneous and ineptly smoke cigarettes, and Ryan throws Marissa some serious side eye and utters the classic ‘whoever you want me to be’ line, was definitely cool. But they weren’t my kind of people. My kind of person was Seth Cohen.

Seth was resolutely uncool (but so cute!). He was an outsider who liked comic books, toy horses and Death Cab for Cutie. In 2003, this qualified him as ‘emo’. He was Jewish in one of the most un-Jewish places in America. One of the overarching themes of The OC was being an outsider, and this particularly resonated with me during my teens. When the show’s first episode aired in 2003, my thirteen-year-old self had just moved from a small Jewish school to a huge girls’ school in a fancy neighbourhood. I totally related to Seth’s brand of different. I also have Seth (and creator Josh Schwartz) to thank for their invention of Chrismukkah, which has made my own end of year festivities a lot easier to explain to my friends.

Summer is introduced as Marissa’s bitchy but popular best friend (her reaction upon finding out where Ryan is from: ‘Chino? Ew!’), but evolves into someone who is smart, funny and compassionate. Summer and Seth were social opposites, but when they finally got together it made complete sense. To teenage (and let’s be real, 23-year-old) me, they were the greatest love story of our generation. So many of the moments that I remember from the show, which last year had its 10 year anniversary (why are we so old all of a sudden?), are romantic moments between Summer and Seth—their­ ­upside-down Spiderman kiss in the rain obviously being the best. I even stayed behind their relationship through some very stiff competition from the likeable, quirky, chunky-earring wearing Anna. Recently, when I heard the news that Adam Brody (Seth Cohen) had married Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl), my first thought was ‘poor Summer’.

My adolescent brain was also shaped by the gospel of TV’s best dad, Sandy Cohen. His advice, and his eyebrows, really speak for themselves: “Love is crazy, it’s always challenging, its never easy”; “You either focus on what separates you, or you focus on what holds you together”; and my personal favourite “Foreplay: the appetiser is as good as the main course”.

The OC taught me about love, but it also taught me about what the soundtrack to love should be. Remember that The OC was pre-social media and iTunes. It was my first introduction into what I would call actual music. Pre-OC, I was listening to a lot of Avril Lavigne and Ja Rule. By 2004 I was plastering my walls with Death Cab posters and burning Modest Mouse CDs for my friends. The music of The OC was like a really great indie mix tape Seth would have made for Summer, and played a huge role in the show’s important moments. It also introduced a whole generation of teens to music they may not have heard otherwise, at least until YouTube was invented.

Now, ten years since Sandy Cohen first brought Ryan home to the pool-house, what has stuck with me the most is the relationships between the four main characters. In later iterations of CW teen soapies, Gossip Girl for example, all the characters are kind of awful to each other. The OC was a show not only about love, but about friendship. There is an argument to be made (I certainly won’t be making it, but it could be made) that the best relationship in the show is the bromance between Seth and Ryan. I tearily re-watched the final episode of The OC during my extensive research for this article. During their final farewell, Seth says to Ryan ‘at least I leave you funnier than when I found you’. Ryan replies with his signature smouldering look, ‘I’m a lot better off than when you found me’. Me too, Ryan, me too.