The OC: Revisited (Part 2)

(Ed. note: this is a random assortment of thoughts and observations from my second viewing of the hit Fox sitcom. Part 1 is here.)

1-The Cohens are insanely hot or cold on the whole “parenting” thing. They let Seth and Ryan go on whatever trips they want without providing any proof of where they’re going or parental contacts. This leads to one of the series’ darker episodes (“The Escape”, S.1E7), where Marissa overdoses on painkillers in Tijuana and is almost raped. But then it’s as if the writers have a “parenting quota” to hit every four or five episodes, and they force-feed stern lectures into scripts. They’re usually equal parts out of place for the plotlines and out of character for the otherwise-lax parents. But they’re also usually inspiring.

We see this in “The Truth” (S.1E.18) where Sandy gives Seth a pretty moving speech about being a man. Seth is dating Anna but still flirting with Summer, and Sandy calls him out on it. Sandy, as the show’s conscience, doesn’t define being a man as having big muscles, being into sports, or any other hyper-masculine qualities that his son clearly lacks; he’s telling Seth that being a man means treating women with respect. This really should hit home with any son who has had a good relationship with their dad.

So the speech is heartwarming, but it’s also totally contrived. I don’t think Sandy even enforced his grounding of Ryan and Seth when they went to TJ and totaled a Land Rover, but Sandy better not catch you giving eyes to another lady, apparently.

2-“Terrance and Phillip” was South Park‘s attempt to blatantly parody itself; it was a crudely-written comedy the boys watch that was rife with fart jokes and obvious punch lines. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were trying to show viewers that they didn’t take themselves very seriously, and didn’t view their show as high art. “The Telenovela” (S.1E.20)  toys with this concept: Ryan Atwood finds himself in an improbable love tryst, and Seth explains to Sandy and Kirsten that they’re living through a Spanish-language soap opera. In “The L.A.” (S.1E.22), the writers leave subtlety by the wayside and go full “Terrance and Philip”. The episode is full of blatant references to its self-parody, including lines by Ryan and Seth expressing amazement that such old actors can portray 16-year-olds.

3-Like any show, The OC relies on a few consistent tactics to advance the plot. One of these is how the parents are so involved in their kids’ romantic lives. Sandy, Jimmy, and to a lesser extent Kirsten are all basically part-time relationship therapists. They’re constantly breaking down the current dynamics about who likes who, how certain characters are feeling about their boyfriends/girlfriends, etc. (It literally happens in every episode, so listing the examples would be pointless.) As someone who grew up in a conservative household, this is super freaking weird to me. Sure, my lack of financial and mobile autonomy prevented me from hiding the existence of relationships when I was in high school. But if my mom or dad had opined about Brendan’s girlfriend flirting with the new guy, my head would have exploded. That said, I’m just a stodgy Ohio dude in a crazy modern world. So maybe I’m in the minority here.

4-The back third of Season 1 had its priorities all out of whack. The horrendous Oliver story line took up the bulk of five episodes. Theresa coming to Newport dragged on, then we thought it was over…and then it wasn’t.

5-Here in “The Goodbye Girl” (S.1E.22) we see an attorney from the DA’s office sharing inside info about a suit that Sandy’s father in law, and possibly wife, could be implicated in. This is a very public, important case about what he describes as “Orange County’s Enron”. And he tells Sandy the exact details of the DA office’s upcoming plea deal on a publicly-accessible, crowded driving range:

File Jun 20, 9 23 37 PM

Lawyer-friends: do attorneys actually do this? If so, can you maybe not? It seems like a very-super-terrible idea! At least wait for the actual golf course.

6-Another minor quibble with this scene: Sandy refers to it as “a re-election year”. I’d hope no lawyer would use this made-up phrase. Because sitting politicians generally do very well, an incumbent running is the norm. So you’d just call it an “election”. If there’s no incumbent, then you use a special term: “open election”.

7-Anna leaving Orange County for Pittsburgh shows me two things about the writers: one, they have never been to Pittsburgh, and two, they are TERRIBLE PEOPLE WHO RUINED THE SHOW ANNA IS AMAZING AND HOW DARE YOU TAKE HER FROM US I HATE YOU. Err, I mean…I didn’t fully agree with the decision.

8-Marissa being worried about Theresa stealing Ryan from her would be like Steph Curry being worried about Steve Kerr starting Shaun Livingston over him (“he’s familiar!”). But then Kerr actually considers doing it for eight-plus episodes.

9-Meanwhile, the show continues to bend over backwards to show us that Ryan Atwood only mildly cares about girls’ physical appearances. In “The New Era”‘s palpably awkward double-date scene, Alex asks Ryan if he likes live music. Ryan–at a Killers concert organized by Alex at a venue that she runs–emphatically says no. I don’t care if you truly don’t like live music (which is kinda like saying you don’t like laughter). Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I would claim if I thought Olivia Wilde would like me as a result:

  • “The Haslams are extremely competent owners…I love what they’ve done for the Browns!”
  • “House music is terrific!”
  • “Give Bernie Sanders the keys to the country! He has a tremendous understanding of economics.”
  • “I really respect a man who has the courage to wear weightlifting gloves. Gotta keep those hands fresh!”

CONCLUSION-I had originally intended on providing this sort of running analysis for the remaining 2+ seasons of the show, but a move from California to Chicago got in the way of that. Barring a third viewing of the show (not entirely out of the question), I’ll spare readers 3,000+ words and wrap this in a neat little bow.

Most hit shows today are consistently tragic and sad. They’re overwhelmingly negative in tone, and are obsessed with exploring moral gray-areas that don’t actually exist with such incredible frequency in real life. “There are no -real- good and bad guys,” the shows seem to claim, “It’s all about perspective!” This excessive focus on moral relativism and, in some cases, the meaningless of existence, is reflective of a generation that I believe is too clever by half.

Practically I’ve given up on countless hit shows because, while well-written, they bummed me out. That’s not why I watch television. Exploring the human condition is a worthwhile endeavor, but it is far better accomplished by reading philosophers and historians who are actually experts, rather than via Hollywood writers who maybe took an Intro to Philosophy class ten years ago.

I watch TV to relax; to put myself in a better mood than I was prior; to find characters that I can root for and in some ways emulate. For all its eccentricities and faults, The OC gave viewers all of these things and more. It was an absolute masterpiece, and I’m sad it’s done.

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