The O.C. was glorious, gluttonous trash. The paradigm of teen television, Josh Schwartz's summery series about four teens living in an affluent beach town on the Southern California coast was so popular that it inspired Laguna Beach: The Real O.C., thus giving the world Lauren Conrad and The Hills, redefining the teen soap genre for every series that came after it. We've been in love with Seth Cohen since we were SoCal teens, but some of The O.C.'s most ridiculous storylines would never fly in today's television landscape.
You know something is a ridiculous storyline when it births one of the most beloved SNL digital shorts of the aughts. Ryan Atwood was a bad boy with a heart of gold, but his brother Trey was just a bad one. After Trey attempts to sexually assault Marissa Cooper, Marissa tells her best friend Summer Roberts, so naturally, everyone else finds out within the hour. Ryan confronts Trey, and Marissa shoots Trey in the ensuing fight to save Ryan's life. This is all traumatic, but it stayed squarely within the confines of acceptable teen television until Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" started while Marissa pulled the trigger and became the meme heard around the world.
Every time The O.C. tried to sabotage Kirsten and Sandy Cohen's relationship, an angel lost its wings. We weren't thrilled when Sandy got close with Rachel Hoffman during season one despite her obvious attraction to him, but when he started helping an ex-girlfriend on season two to the detriment of his relationship with Kirsten, we'd officially had enough. You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and you're just a terrible husband. Our biggest issue with Rebecca, though, was her insane backstory. Rebecca was accused of starting a fire during her 20s that burned down a lab and killed a man inside. Rebecca's father asked Sandy to find her so he could say goodbye before passing away, and once she reappeared, Sandy became obsessed with clearing her name. Which he didn't even do! We wouldn't be surprised if Rebecca had been the arsonist all along.
During the series' second-ever episode, appropriately titled "The Model Home," Ryan chooses to squat in one of the Cohen's model homes instead of running away from Newport following his mother's disappearance. Being technically homeless in Newport Beach is apparently a better offer than being sent to a group home, showing a fundamental problem in how America deals with its orphans. Marissa's boyfriend, the poster child for toxic masculinity, tries to fight Ryan in the model home, which then catches on fire. Ryan would've died if Marissa's boyfriend didn't come back to save him from the burning building, but the main takeaway here is that Ryan committed multiple crimes and was still allowed to move in next door an episode later. Also, Marissa's boyfriend clearly has no follow-through.
Why were there so many fires on The O.C.? The show featured roughly as many life-altering fires on the show as there were seasons, but Seth's experiments with marijuana were the most ridiculous The O.C. storylines to go up in flames. During season three's "The Pot-Stirrer," Seth decides the best time to recreate Reefer Madness is the day of his college interview with Brown (AKA his only college interview) because he didn't have the foresight to apply to more than one school. The self-sabotaging tendencies displayed here make perfect sense with Seth's character. What doesn't make sense is that Seth spent three seasons whining about how he wants to leave the beautiful, affluent beachside city in which he was raised, then freaks out so much when he might actually have the opportunity to move that he buys pot from Marissa's little sister. Then, because this is The O.C., he accidentally burns down his father's office with a joint. We'd hope that by 2020, the Cohens would've learned to always have a fire extinguisher at the ready.
Speaking of natural disasters, The O.C. decided to shake up season four by replacing their regularly scheduled fire safety lesson with the massive earthquake everyone in California has been dreading since 1994. On "The Night Moves," Ryan gets severely injured due to the quake, the elder Cohens are trapped in a grocery store, and Summer gets distracted looking for a rabbit because she never got any good storylines. These are all plausible earthquake complications, as demonstrated by the seminal 2004 classic A Cinderella Story. Less plausible is the Cohen household being so damaged by the quake that it's entirely uninhabitable and the family has to move. Either every house in the neighborhood would be ruined, as would the rest of Orange County and most of Los Angeles, or retrofit laws established after the Northridge earthquake would've actually saved the house. If California is prepared for anything, it's the San Andreas Fault completely f*cking them over.
Of course, Ryan got a girl pregnant. This is The O.C., not Saved By The Bell. During season one, Ryan's childhood friend Theresa from the dreaded Chino — which, for the record, was named one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People by America's Promise during the run of the show and is one of the safest cities in San Bernadino County — reappears in his life. By the end of the season, she gets pregnant with what may or may not be Ryan's baby, and pretends to have a miscarriage. This would've been fine if she hadn't reappeared during season three with a baby that looked a lot more like Ryan than the man she claimed was its actual father. Theresa then proceeded to date Ryan, who of course didn't notice this was obviously his child. Theresa's pregnancy became one of the most ridiculous The O.C. storylines because anyone with eyes should've known her child was Ryan's kid, especially Ryan himself. Did DNA tests not exist in 2007?
Love her or hate her, Taylor Townsend was that b*tch. She went to France for a few months and came back with a whole *ss French husband, which must have taken some strong chaotic neutral energy. She's then told by her new hubby that the only way he'll consent to a divorce is if she's been unfaithful, because the French are traditionally sticklers about monogamy, and she pretends she's having an affair with Ryan without letting him in on the bit. Her ex-husband returns a few episodes later on "The French Connection" to promote an erotic novel about their short-lived romance that has already been published in multiple languages. Maybe it's just harder to get a book published these days, but Henri-Michel went from "unpublished" to "worldwide book tour" at lightning speed.
Marissa Cooper never made a single good decision. Not one. Her relationship with the Michael Corleone of the Newport surf scene, Volchok, was by far the worst in an escalating series of ridiculous The O.C. storylines clearly designed to see how far their adoring audience's suspension of disbelief could take them. Volchock — whose given name is "Kevin," in case you needed a laugh — kidnaps Marissa to blackmail Ryan into a fight, which seems harder than taking a page out of Luke's book and just fighting him. Afterward, Marissa decides to date her former kidnapper and convinces him to watch The Sound of Music with her.
Social media would render this ridiculous The O.C. storyline virtually impossible, but after Lindsay discovers that Caleb Nichols is her biological father and yeets off to Chicago, she is never heard from again. She doesn't attend her father's funeral or her nephew's wedding, and the characters don't mention her once after she leaves Newport. The Nichols use "family first" as justification for a lot of iffy decisions, but apparently, that only extends to non-bastard children and random ex-felons Sandy picks up off of the street. Television was also way more chill about pseudo-incest back then with no one caring that Lindsay was technically dating her adopted nephew, Ryan, as this all went down.
It doesn't *really* check out that Seth thought that by pooling together some money from their friends, Ryan would be able to stay in Newport instead of joining Theresa and his baby at the end of season one. Like, was this a subtle way of The O.C. implying everyone was chipping in for a trip to Planned Parenthood? Probably not. Ryan gives Seth a sea map to Tahiti as a parting gift, and everyone continues to act like Ryan is moving to Kansas and not a middle-class city roughly forty minutes from them. Seth responds by running away from home on his boat, presumably to Tahiti, leaving behind the girl he's been obsessed with since elementary school who (against all odds) finally agreed to date him. We're not sure what's less believable: Seth leaving Summer, his parents ever letting him leave the house without child LoJack again, or Seth only making it to Portland and deciding to spend the summer hanging out with Luke.
We might be biased because Oliver's existence is generally upsetting, but no television series today would keep a character this universally hated around for as long as The O.C. did back in the '00s. Marissa's terrible choice to trust Oliver instead of everyone she's ever loved aligns pretty squarely with her characterization, but the series continuously teased Oliver's return during the following seasons, despite literally no one wanting him around. Either let us forget Oliver ever existed, or let him return so Marissa can redeem herself for once.
Marissa was expelled from The Harbor School for shooting someone, which is fair. Ryan was then also expelled from The Harbor School for punching the dean in the face after Marissa was rightfully expelled for shooting someone, which is also fair. How the students of Harbor thought a candlelight vigil to #FreeMarissa would be appropriate or effective shows that Harbor might not have the high-quality education their perfectly manicured grounds suggest. There's a slight possibility that apathetic students would choose to rally around their would-be homecoming queen in her time of need, but "Free Marissa" makes it sound like she's a rapper who got thrown in jail, not a newly-minted public school student. Maybe save the vigils for people like A$AP Rocky who could actually use the help.
The O.C. had too many random side characters with major storylines. Most of them only existed to further exploit Marissa's weird fetish for poor guys with violent tendencies, like the third season distraction Johnny Harper. After this pro-surfer falls for Marissa "The Curse" Cooper, who's too busy dating OG bad boy Ryan to notice, Johnny happens to get into a career-ending car crash. He copes with his personal and professional losses by being creepy and hanging out with Marissa's little sister in the middle of the night where he gets drunk, starts climbing rocks, and anticlimactically falls off a cliff to his death.
Seth Cohen spent most of his life dreaming about leaving Newport, then undermines himself and only applies to one college during his senior year of high school. This ridiculous The O.C. storyline is echoed on Gossip Girl when Blair Waldorf only applies to Yale, but it would never actually happen. Not only should Seth and his future IRL bride Blair be smarter than this, but private schools have guidance counselors whose only job is to make sure their students get into college. Speaking as a former private school student myself, the thought process here is that more parents will send their children to uber-expensive schools if its students statistically *all* go to college, so there are rules in place to ensure students apply to at least one safety school.
Seth didn't get into his dream school, but his dream girl did. Of course, Summer then manages to get expelled from Brown for releasing rabbits from a science lab as part of her new hippie phase. Weirdly, she was only expelled for one year, which is the biggest cop-out we've ever heard. We know The O.C. showrunners needed an excuse to get Summer back to Newport for its final season, but this was the least plausible way to do it. First, we believe the accurate term here would be "suspension," since expelled students can't just come back like nothing ever happened, but looking at Brown's Student Conduct FAQs, expulsion is a long, dramatic process where the Dean would realize Chris Pratt had wrongly thrown Summer under the bus for crimes he had actually committed. If you're going to ruin a character's life, at least do it with a modicum of accuracy.
This particular ridiculous The O.C. storyline could never be repeated because Chris Brown is the worst. Two years before Chris was arrested for domestic abuse, he played Kaitlin Cooper's band geek beau during The O.C.'s fourth season. We can't think of a rapper that would willingly agree to appear on a teen soap as a well-intentioned band geek — Drake shed his Aubrey Graham persona a long time ago — especially opposite some random kid sister character who's supposed to be a drug-dealing troublemaker. Clout, this is not.
Julie Cooper was not the president of Ryan Atwood's fan club. For most of the series, she hated Ryan with a fervor rarely seen outside of Congress, but after Marissa's untimely passing, Julie and Ryan were bound together by a common enemy. Julie Cooper has no chill, so she tried to hire Ryan to kill Volchok as revenge for her daughter's death. This is after she tried to frame Ryan for a *different* attempted murder when she offered Trey $20,000 to say Ryan was the person who shot him. Ironically, if she had just asked Ryan nicely, he probably would've done that himself.
Julie isn't just in the murder-for-hire business, she's also dabbled in attempted homicide herself. You know what they say, if you want something done right, do it yourself. Julie tried to force her then-husband to overdose, but everything worked out for her when he died of a heart attack after she got cold feet. This isn't even the weirdest sh*t Julie got up to on the series. She was casually exposed as a former adult film star on the first season, opened a brothel during the third, and once prioritized a case of pony alopecia over her husband's obvious financial difficulties. Penelope Blossom is quaking.
The O.C. and Riverdale have more in common than most people realize, probably because both showrunners ran out of ideas some time during their second seasons and had to improvise. Much like Archie Andrews, The O.C.'s plucky hero Ryan found himself mixed up in a cage fighting enterprise during season four's "The Avengers." Instead of having a nice family dinner with the Cohens, Ryan participates in an illegal boxing match, smiling through the pain. These are the healthy coping mechanisms we're teaching teenage boys.
Marissa Cooper sucked, but she didn't deserve to die. Creator Josh Schwartz told MTV he's still haunted by the decision to kill off Mischa Barton's character, even if that's what Mischa wanted. Josh admitted part of the problem were fans on message boards who hated the character, who Josh didn't realize were part of a vocal minority at the time. In today's era of live-tweeting television, showrunners have a better idea of which characters should get the boot and which plotlines they need to handle with care.