Until recently, one of the greatest and most shameful injustices in our current era of Peak TV was that The O.C. — the best show in history about a wealthy California family adopting a punch-happy juvenile delinquent who secretly yearns to be an architect — was not available to stream from any legal outlet. Not Netflix, not Hulu, nothing. This, to be very clear, was madness, and it raised a number of troubling questions, perhaps most notably, “How can we truly consider ourselves to be a modern society if we can’t pull up the first Chrismukkah episode anytime we want without feeling like a criminal or watching a physical DVD like some sort of savage?”
Luckily, finally, a solution to this problem just arrived from an unlikely source. CW Seed, The CW’s streaming service, which you probably didn’t know existed until this very sentence, has stepped up and made all four seasons of the show available. And it gets better: CW Seed is not a subscription service. It’s free. It’s free. It’s almost as if the universe overcorrected itself as an apology for wronging us for so long.
And so, to commemorate this overdue and important moment, two of our resident O.C. scholars, Danger Guerrero and Josh Kurp, decided to re-watch the pilot episode some 12 years after it first premiered, open up a Google doc, and engage in a lengthy discussion about everything from Summer’s transformation from monster to sweetheart, ill-advised Pacific sailing trips, and Sandy Cohen somehow being both a terrific TV dad and a total lunatic. This was, and is, important and necessary.
Danger Guerrero: So, first of all, this pilot is perfect, yes? I mean, it was great at the time, but now, looking back with the knowledge of the whole show, most of the main characters were basically fully-formed from the get go, and a lot of the action for the next few seasons was right there to run with. I had forgotten just how much takes place in the first 45 minutes. It’s really something.
Josh Kurp: This was only the second time I’ve watched the pilot. The first was in 2004, right after season two premiered and a friend lent me his copy of season one on DVD because he said the show was so good. He wasn’t lying. Like you mentioned, the pilot is perfect, with the exception of Seth. He’s too much of a nebbish here, but that’s quickly corrected. Otherwise, great; even Marissa isn’t awful (yet). What’s something from the first episode that you don’t remember?
DG: I think what happened here was actually two related things: One, I think a lot of the parties from season one blended together for me, so the fact that the pilot had the fashion show and the thing where Ryan ordered a 7 and 7 from the bar and the beach party and Marissa being a drunken wreck and the revelation that Kirsten used to be a former mail-truck-dwelling hippie all in a span of about 20 minutes just caught me off guard. For some reason, my brain had spread that out over the first three or four episodes. It’s a very special television episode that gives us “Welcome to the O.C., bitch” and…
And I think the second thing was that I had forgotten how quickly they get to Jimmy Cooper’s financial troubles. (Big shoutout to The O.C. for pulling off the Ponzi scheme plot five years before the market tanked and made them all the rage, BTW.) Couple that with the parties blending together, and for a split second — a fleeting instance — I smushed the “All around the world, HEY GIRL” fashion show together with Cotillion and I was like “Wait… Jimmy doesn’t get punched in the pilot, does he?” Lotta punching in season one.
JK: The pilot should feel overstuffed — and it does a little, with all the Jimmy Cooper stuff — but there’s enough goofiness to keep it from feeling bloated. That’s mostly thanks to Ryan doing his best Marlon Brando impression, and Sandy Cohen’s (always Sandy Cohen, never just Sandy) bathing suit, and Seth’s nerdy meekness, but not Summer. Oh god, Summer. You know that story about how Vince Gilligan was going to kill Jesse Pinkman in season one of Breaking Bad? That’s the vibe I get with Summer, minus the, um, Walter White locking her up in a basement thing. Summer’s a horrible person in the first episode, and billed way down in the credits. She’d quickly become one of the best characters on the show, but so far? Well: “Eww.”
One thing we need to talk about is Seth’s bedroom. The O.C. became synonymous with indie-approved bands like Death Cab for Cutie, but if you look around his room, you’ll see posters and stickers for The Ramones, The Misfits, The Sex Pistols, and Fear. I like Seth being a punk more than I do him being a Rooney fan.
DG: It’s fun to picture an alternate O.C. universe where Seth is a huge fan of hardcore early-to-mid-2000s rap music instead of indie and punk. Like Ryan walks in and is like “What’s up? I’m Ryan,” and Seth just goes into a 20-minute monologue about how Lloyd Banks is going to be the truth. It would have changed everything.
Speaking of Seth, I don’t think this fully dawned on me when I watched the pilot in 2003 because I was also a young dreamer back then (and I had no real sense of geography), but a 17-year-old dork trying to sail from California to Tahiti in a tiny little wind-powered boat is insane. One of the consequences of spending as much time online as I do now is that I see things like this and start to picture website headlines, so this led to me almost immediately thinking, like, “How A Lovesick California Teen Ended Up Stranded In The Pacific On A Sailboat” or the TMZ version, “Lonely Rich Nerd: ‘Screw It, I’m Sailing To Tahiti!’” The lesson, as always, is that teenagers should be chained to something sturdy for their own good.
So, where do we go next? More Seth/Summer; Sandy Cohen: Public Defender and Collector of Wayward Youths; or Crazy Beach House Party? Your call. I have opinions about literally everything here.
JK: As always, the correct answer is, Sandy Cohen: Public Defender and Collector of Wayward Youths. The only reason any of this — and by “any of this,” I mean the entire show — happens is because Sandy was impressed by Ryan’s SAT score. Imagine if he hadn’t scored in the 98th percentile. Let’s say he’s in the mid-70s. Would Sandy, and by proxy, all of America, have accepted Ryan? Poor Ryan, with his puppy dog eyes and “guys want to be him, girls want to fix him” demeanor. He’s basically Tim Riggins, but on the beach. Beach Riggins.
Ryan was never my favorite character, but of all the teens, he’s by far the best actor. (Benjamin McKenzie was actually 25 when this episode filmed, but you know what I mean.) It’s hard to play wounded without coming across as needy or horrible to be around. But McKenzie nails every scene he’s in, because, although this would change in seasons to come, Ryan’s our POV character into this world of gated communities, fancy cars, and crazy drug orgy beach house parties.
Who would you most want to be friends with? The correct answer is, this guy.
An OC reboot starring him, eh?
DG: In, obvs. Maybe we can get Che the naked hippie from the later seasons in there, too. Whatever happened to that guy? Really thought he had potential.
But yes, Sandy Cohen. My favorite thing about Sandy in the pilot is how super jazzed he was about Ryan getting Seth in trouble. Like, Kirsten is portrayed kind of like a wet blanket here, but look at the facts: Her husband brought home a juvenile delinquent car thief without asking, she caught said teenage thief trying to sneak drinks at the fancy party they invited him to, and then that night Seth — quiet, bookish Seth, her sweet son who likes sailboats and girls he’s afraid to talk to — got very drunk at a drug-fueled orgy beach party and woke up with a bruised face from the fight he got in. That’s day one of the Ryan Atwood Experience for her. And when she goes to tell Sandy all of this, once she can finally get him to stop yammering about the sick waves that morning, he’s like “Yesssssss.” The man is a total maniac. I love him dearly.
Okay, lightning round:
- Scale of 1-10, how weird is it that they took the 9- or 10-year-old Kaitlin Cooper from the pilot and aged her up into a troublemaking teen sex bomb a few seasons later?
- Do you think Ryan was super warm wearing a hoodie and leather jacket all the time even though it was also warm enough for a SoCal bikini beach party?
- Do you think it’s rude that we never let Rachel Bilson have a career beyond a CW show and an ice-cream commercial?
- 10. She’s Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s characters from Full House and True Blood, all in one.
- When you’re that cool, you don’t worry about being hot.
- I would like to remind you she played Aubrey Plaza’s sister in a movie that was originally called The Handjob and also the Zach Braff film that isn’t the Zach Braff film you’re thinking of. Plus, hey, she turned out better than Mischa Barton, who in the past two years has starred in Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard, L.A. Slasher, and American Beach House. #range
I have a question for you. Better musical moment: “Swing, Swing” by The All-American Rejects, or that Avril Lavigne reference? Trick question. They’re both perfect. Any final thoughts?
DG: Oh, many. Too many. This could easily go on for another 5,000 words. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to two from the post-fashion-show cocktail hour. One, I know Ryan looked older because, again, Ben McKenzie was 25 at the time, but in the show, he was like 16 and there was a solid 30-second montage of tipsy drunken middle-aged women hitting on him while holding glasses of champagne. Really, really hitting on him. That was weird.
Two, I love that the first two real lines Luke gets in the pilot are “Lock it up, Norland” and “Suck it, queer.” He came into this sucker fully-formed. I mean, those two sentences alone provided more character development and background than we got from episodes of Johnny the Troubled Surfer. Keep it simple. That’s the lesson here.
What about you? Any final thoughts to add?
JK: Here’s a fun fact. According to IMDb, “In contrast to Seth Cohen, Adam Brody actually hates sailing. After they shot his sailing scene in this episode, Adam asked to have no more scenes where he would have to sail.” Such commitment. Also, the guy who directed this episode, Doug Liman, also directed Edge of Tomorrow. That’s an excellent film; this is a better episode of television. I only wish I had watched it from the beginning… bitch.
DG: I’m so proud of us for not mentioning Oliver. Play us out, piano and acoustic guitar strumming gentle melody.