It’s the 10th anniversary of Fox’s teen soap “The O.C.,” as has been triumphantly noted around the Internet. For many, it’s a celebration of the quirky series, which introduced us to Adam Brody, Rachel Bilson and the term “Chrismukkah,” while following the lives of absurdly wealthy and beautiful people in Orange County.
Though there’s lots of wistful nostalgia for “The O.C.,” which went on to become something of a pop culture icon (zeitgeist-wise, if not because of ratings), it’s worth noting the show wasn’t universally beloved. Many people were fans of the first two solid seasons, but quickly jumped ship when the show went off the rails in the third year; by the fourth and final season, no one was really paying attention.
In some instances, the distaste for the show started early. Here’s the original (and scathing) review of the pilot from The Post’s former TV critic, Tom Shales, from Aug. 5, 2003:
‘The O.C.': Land of The Brooding Teen
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Encumbered by a script that is nearly breathtaking in its imbecilic banality, “The O.C.” makes one long for the cold comforts of a sleazy-minded “reality” show. Fox is trying to pass off this moody, moon-faced trifle, a drama about rich young brats in Orange County, Calif., as the first series of the new fall season (in August?). But if there’s any justice left in television, “O.C.” will be canceled by the time the actual fall shows premiere.
Fashioned crudely to appeal to teenage masochism, the series plows old ground in the tritest possible way. In the premiere, at 9 tonight on Channel 5, we meet the show’s brooding slug of a hero, Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), who is supposed to be 16 but looks 25 and spends most of his time staring accusingly at those around him.
What’s his problem? He has a drunken mother and an abusive stepfather, but what’s really bothering him, according to an unlikely burst of dialogue early in the show, is that Social Security funds are going to run out in 2025, thereby forcing people to work into their eighties. Ah yes, the typical 16-year-old’s lament. After making that statement, he pretty much clams up for the rest of the hour.
One is tempted to call him mealy-mouthed, but he’s really just mealy all over. He’s mealy-headed.
The series is the invention of Josh Schwartz, who at 26 is “the youngest person ever to create his own one-hour drama for network television,” according to the Fox Web site. Schwartz certainly didn’t waste any time selling out. The show is formulaic and pandering in laughably obvious and palpably desperate ways.
One of its strangest conceits is that people in Orange County, Calif., are incredibly county-conscious and very snobbish about living between L.A. and San Diego. The drop-dead-stupidest dialogue erupts from a mean preppy jerk named Luke (Chris Carmack), who after punching and kicking poor Ryan, snarls, “Welcome to the O.C., bitch, ’cause this is how it’s done in Orange County.”
This oaf snarls insults at everyone — not always that hilariously, of course — and yet the show’s sweet leading lady, Mischa Barton as teen queen Marissa Cooper, is smitten with him; perhaps it’s the lure of his surly Orange Countiness. Others in the cast include Adam Brody as Seth Cohen, a neurotic adolescent who might be gay and who despises his parents for their affluence. “It’s great out here,” he tells his father with heavy sarcasm. “There’s so much to do, Dad.” Mind you, he lives in a mansion with a swimming pool and the Pacific Ocean barely five steps away.
Peter Gallagher plays the boy’s father, a public defender who takes pity on young Ryan and, much to his snobbish and superficial wife’s displeasure, brings him home for a weekend sleepover that will obviously turn into permanent residency. Gallagher plays the dad as a boobishly emasculated twit, oblivious to virtually everything. Near the end of the episode he bounces into view with a surfboard, exclaiming to the wife, “Oh, honey, you should’ve seen the waves comin’ in!”
At which point a TV critic who occasionally talks back to his television set felt a surging urge to growl, “Shut up, you fool.”
Schwartz tries to portray the abundance and wealth of the local gentry as both corrupt and glamorously desirable; he’s too much of a toady even to maintain a consistent point of view. He pads the show with a long music-video sequence that seems to drone on for five or six minutes, and then he drags us off to the inevitable teenage party scene so that the cuties, hotties, hunks and babes can shed their clothing and romp.
There’s a stab at satire earlier during a fashion-show sequence. We hear an irate mother chastising the show’s organizer backstage: “How dare you put my daughter in Calvin Klein!” At the beach party, many girls have cell phones that appear to be surgically affixed to their heads. And through this wearying wonderland, Our Hero wanders, roams, stumbles, mumbles and stares. Mostly stares and stares and stares.
These are empty, shallow people, the script seems to say, and yet wouldn’t it be wonderful to be one of them? The hypocrisy of the concept isn’t even worth condemning. It would waste energy, much as televising the show wastes precious electrons. “If it sucks, we can always bail,” Seth says en route to the party. The earlier you bail out of “The O.C.,” the richer your life — or at least your Tuesday night — will be.