'The OC' turns 15! A look back to the time when the iconic show was teen TV at its best
Rachel Bilson reminded us that 15 years have elapsed since the time 'The OC' first premiered, but the truth is, we think about the show more often than not
On August 6, Rachel Bilson reminded us that 15 years have elapsed since the time 'The OC' first premiered on our tv sets. Not that the reminder was necessary, we remember 'The OC' almost everytime we think about the 2000s, teen dramas, music or even the most influential show in history. 'The OC' paved the way for today's teen dramas by simply understanding a story from a youngster's point of view rather than 50-something producers narrating how a teenager should be or feel. Maybe this is one of the reasons why so many teenagers related to it and loved the show. For a TV series that ran for only four seasons, 'The OC' is an epitome of the coming-of-age teen drama, unlike anything witnessed before. The legacy has lived and hence, I pen this.
The show about troubled teenagers premiered in 2003 before social media was a big thing. It was a time in history when TV was in fierce competition by the sheer number of options that one could turn to, advertisements weren't skyrocketing and nerds were honestly considered uncool. Then came Seth Cohen, who loved comics, video games and Interpol and there was a bad-boy protagonist, Ryan Atwood, a misunderstood outsider who in fact had a heart of gold. The nerds, the bad boys, and the girl next door weren't the typical sort we had been seeing on teen dramas till then. Summer Roberts, who could've been mistaken for another high school mean girl, turned out to be a loyal and an empathetic character.
The premiere of this Fox teen drama was a landmark in television's history with a viewership of 12.72 million viewers; the highest-rated new drama in the 2003-2004 TV season, averaging 9.7 million viewers per episode, and I am reemphasizing, this was before the hashtag era. The real and the relatable characters were also part of a real American town, unlike how teen shows predecessors including 'Dawson's Creek,' 'Gilmore Girls,' or even 'One Tree Hill' were set in a backdrop of some idyllic fictional town. The dawn of reality TVs, GTA and the evolving teen culture of emo-indie music also got decent screen time, reflecting the ethos it was set in. The show followed Ryan's story; a troubled teenager from the wrong side of the Los Angeles, who finds home in the Cohens wealthy community of Newport Beach. The O.C. (Orange County), California, then, is a reflection of reality and life in the face of adversity. The narrative interwoven with bands and teenage drama, needless to say, had millions hooked on TV, and if not for 'The OC,' there wouldn't be many inclined to follow the kind of shows that came afterward. There’s even a belief that Cohen normalized the nerd subculture with video games and comic books.
Creating airwaves of its own among the teens, the effect was also seen in other age-groups, who equally loved the show. Why? Because of the way family dynamics was portrayed. Until then, teen-related stories had been given the treatment similar to being a kids show, but with 'The OC' it was redefined. The teens' relationship with each other as well as with their families mattered the most in the show. 'The Gossip Girl,' later followed the same route and it only made the show better. Besides the 'Simpsons,' Cohens are arguably the most self-aware family on television because they are genuinely funny and warm.
The iconic show is so ingrained in our minds that when we think about 'The OC' the tune of "Californiaaaaaaa" immediately starts playing in our heads. The cover by Phantom Planet is as immortalized as the show, so no wonder its soundtrack is another defining aspect of its success. It isn't uncommon to hear how the show jumpstarted the careers of so many artists from Imogen Heap to the Subways, Rooney to Youth Group, The Thrills to The Killers. Even the cover renditions are hailed, not to forget 'Wonderwall' and Jeff Buckley's 'Hallelujah.' The music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, went on to work on teen shows that followed including 'Gossip Girl' and 'The Twilight Saga.' She was also the visionary who introduced 'The OC' fans first to bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Alexi Murdoch and the show is credited for bringing indie rock bands into prominence.
Besides the music and a fresh insight on teen dramas, 'The OC' made a long-lasting effect on television by creating this entirely new genre of reality TV shows such as 'Laguna Beach' and 'The Real Housewives franchise,' inspired by the Orange County. Added to that, a lot of names associated with the show are now famous stars including Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Lucy Hale, Paul Wesley, Amber Heard, Shailene Woodley, Nikki Reed, Willa Holland and Melinda Clarke. The creator of the show, Josh Schwartz, himself was in his mid-20s when he created his first show 'The OC' and went on to create 'Gossip Girl' and 'Chuck' later.
Fifteen years down the line, there is still no way the evolution of TV drama can be complete without mentioning 'The OC.' The series ultimately ended as viewership declined, but here's the thing, it was short and sweet for us to cherish and rewatch it time and again when nostalgia hits. And rest assured, its durable legacy is enough proof that no matter how bad or good our current teen dramas may get, we will always have 'The OC.'