The O.C. Sundays – Volume One – Season One: Episode One – Premiere
Recap by Holly Hill
Why Rewatch The O.C.?
The O.C. premiered on August 5, 2003 and ended on February 22, 2007. Or May 18, 2006 if you like to pretend that the fourth season never happened (a lot of people do, it’s okay). The O.C. not only introduced a lot of people to some fantastic music through its heavily bought mix tapes (this is before YouTube, Spotify, & Apple Music), it also created Chrismukkah, and inspired a decades worth of ‘THE REAL’ reality shows.
Not sure what I mean by that? Well The O.C. prompted the reality show Laguna Beach: The Real O.C., and a thousand other spinoffs to it. The catch phrase ‘The Real O.C.’ morphed into The Real Housewives of fill in the blank rich people cities.
Needless to say, despite its shortcomings, The O.C. had some great writing, a fantastic soundtrack, and truly inspired a generation worth of TV, for better or worse. The O.C. is the only TV show I own on box set. I haven’t watched it in awhile, so why don’t we watch it together? Whether you’re new to The O.C. (you can stream it on Hulu) or a long time fan, it’s a show anyone with a love for the dramatic can enjoy.
The first season of The O.C. is flawless. It is essentially a soap opera following the lives of white rich people and it’s constantly reminding you, “Hey! White rich people have problems too!” The audience is introduced to our main set of younger characters: Ryan, Seth, Marissa, and Summer (who was only supposed to be a minor character in the show, but who can say no to more Rachel Bilson?), and our older characters: Sandy & Kirsten (Seth’s parents), Julie Cooper-Nichol-Cooper-Atwood (stay with me on that one) & Jimmy (Marissa’s parents). Let’s begin.
“I’m your big brother and if I don’t teach you this who will?” says pilot episode Trey Atwood (the actor is replaced later in the series).
So begins the events that bring Ryan Atwood into The O.C. Ryan’s older brother breaks into a car, starts it, and pressures Ryan to getting in. The police catch them and Trey is given 3-5 years while Ryan, as a juvenile, is placed with public defender Sandy Cohen, played by the grand prize winner of eyebrows, Peter Gallagher.
“I’m gonna give you my card, my home number. If you need somebody,” he says, as Ryan’s shitty drunk Mom comes to pick him up and starts yelling at him. Ryan is taken back to his house where his drunk Mom kicks him out, and when he argues, her drunk boyfriend beats him up. Ryan grabs his stuff, hops on his BMX bike he uses for transportation (the mark of a truly poor man), and takes off.
This sparks the traditional open of California by Phantom Planet starting to play as Ryan starts to call all his ‘friends’ to see if he can stay with them. He calls everyone on a pay phone by the way, because this is fucking Chino and it’s 2003. Only rich kids have cell phones. When Ryan runs out of options, Sandy Cohen’s life changing decision to hand Ryan his number at the last minute is set in motion. Such a great opening to a show. After this episode we go straight into the classic opening of the rest of the episodes.
Sandy keeps Ryan outside his house while he talks his wife Kirsten into letting him stay with them. Ryan steps out to the curb to smoke a cigarette and we see the beginning of a relationship that can only end badly when Ryan and Marissa first meet. Josh Schwartz, creator of the show (you can also thank him for Gossip Girl), sets up this classic moment of ‘Who are you?’/’Whoever you want me to be’. Fateful melodic music plays in the background and we all know this isn’t going to end well.
Marissa bums a cigarette, invites him to her fashion show, and they both eye fuck each other while clearly not knowing how to smoke fake cigarettes. Who was the cigarette trainer on this show? He tells her the truth about why he’s staying at the Cohen’s but she doesn’t believe him and assumes he’s their cousin from Boston, and that rumor spreads. Luke pulls up, who as of the pilot, is just the bro boyfriend of Marissa who drives around in an overcompensating truck that’s way too big. Stay tuned on Luke, because he easily becomes a favorite as his character gains more background and complexity.
Wow, is it going be hard for Marissa to pick between these two guys: Luke with his pooka shell necklace, or Ryan with his tweed choker? Life is full of hard decisions. Early on and throughout this entire episode, we see Mischa Barton’s ‘acting’ on display. I wish I could say it gets better, but I’d be lying.
Ryan is set up in the pool house overnight and in the morning, he finds Sandy’s son Seth playing video games on the floor and being weird. He asks if Ryan wants to play and you think this is going to be awkward, but instead he and Ryan hit it off right away.
The boys go sailing, which is the weirdest part of this Pilot and feels completely out of place. Luckily they never do it again. Seth says he named his sailboat after a girl named Summer. Ryan says she must be thrilled and Seth has to admit he’s never talked to her before. Sandy meets them at the beach to remind them to get ready for the fashion show, to which Seth clearly believes his father to be joking. Sandy says Ryan has to go because Marissa invited him. Seth can’t believe that he’s got an invite as he’s lived next to Marissa Cooper his entire life, her father almost married his mother (Sandy speaks up and denies this), and Marissa has never spoken to him either.
The boys get ready and it’s clear Ryan doesn’t know how to tie a tie. In one of the most heartwarming scenes, setting us up to see Sandy as the father figure Ryan never had, Sandy admits he didn’t know how to do so either until he was 25, and he teachers Ryan. They all head to the fashion show, which Marissa says they throw every year to raise money for the battered women’s shelter. Marissa gushes on stage, “It’s such a great cause you guys!” OMG, thanks for that shit acting Mischa. Also, these rich people behind the scenes have clearly never ever set foot in a battered women’s shelter.
Sandy points out Summer to Seth and Ryan, much to Seth’s eternal embarrassment. This evokes the great line from Ryan, “Way to salt his game, Mr. Cohen.” Marissa and her best friend Summer, who Seth is obsessed with, are stealing champagne and liquor bottles backstage. It’s Marissa’s turn to go out on the runway and instead of finding Luke and smiling at him, she finds Ryan and smiles at him. Obviously this sends Luke’s tiny dick into a rage.
We meet Julie Cooper, and Marissa’s younger sister Kaitlin (we’ll call her ‘Pilot Kaitlin’, because she disappears for a bit, then comes back somehow 10 years older and hotter in the third season). Julie is awful at first, and actually continues to be awful for some time, but also somewhat lovable as the show progresses. She is oblivious to the fact that her husband is obviously having a some financial difficulties, something that is obvious to everyone, especially long time friend and almost wife, Kirsten Cohen. Later in the bathroom, Ryan is washing his hands when Jimmy comes in visibly shaken, gets in a stall and has a mental breakdown, further reinforcing that white rich people have problems too.
Summer spots Ryan and wants to know more about what’s under his wife beater. She invites him to a party at Holly’s beach house that they get to use for all their hard work for charity. Such hard work you guys. Ryan convinces Seth to go saying that Summer invited them both. Marissa starts her drinking problem early, while Luke openly cheats on her down at the beach. Summer, who is completely wasted, comes onto Ryan, and Seth sees it happening. He loudly tells Ryan to, “Go back Chino!” Oh snap the jig is up, and now everyone knows Ryan is from Chino.
As a side note from someone who grew up in Orange County, and is familiar with the surrounding area, Chino is not that bad of a town. Yes it’s inland, hot as shit, and the cost of living isn’t as high as Newport Beach, but plenty of places in Orange County don’t have the same cost of living as Newport. It’s not like you cross the county line from San Bernardino and suddenly rich white people are everywhere driving Hummers. You have to stick to the coast, and stay south of Huntington to really see these types of rich assholes (and unfortunately they do exist).
Some of Luke’s gang start kicking Seth’s ass, which prompts Ryan to step in a save the day. It’s two against seven so they get their asses kicked, but this inspires the friendship between Ryan and Seth to continue, despite Summer being awful (one dimensional character at the moment, but she gets better).
Ryan and Seth head home and Seth promptly passes out on the floor of the pool house. Ryan goes out to smoke a cigarette and sees Marissa’s friends drop her off on the porch of her house completely blacked out. Why not? It’s not like alcohol poisoning is a thing. She’ll be fine. Ryan adorably holds Marissa’s purse trying to find her keys and wake her up, but to no avail. He ends up carrying her back to the pool house, tucking her in, and joining Seth on the floor. In the morning Marissa is gone, and Kirsten is pissed. Seth is drunk and has a black eye and Ryan has to go.
“This is what happens when you let our son hang out with criminals.”
“At least he’s hanging out with someone. Don’t salt his game honey.”
Kirsten kicks Ryan out because it turns out she’s scared of Chino, too. Laying on the guilt and regret, Ryan makes breakfast for everyone and Kristin doesn’t realize this until after she’s told him he has to leave.
“You have a really nice family,” Ryan says, just digging into that guilt.
Ryan goes up to say goodbye to Seth and there is this beautiful moment where Seth tries to set up a play date where maybe they meet up in Chino sometime. It will never work and Ryan is the only one who knows it, but it’s a really great moment anyway. Ryan goes for a handshake and Seth goes in for a hug. Best bromance of the mid-2000s.
Ryan leaves Orange County to head home as the sun sets on Marissa Cooper’s face. She watches him go as she waits outside to be picked up. Joseph Arthur’s Honey and the Moon plays, which easily becomes Ryan and Marissa’s theme song for when YouTube comes along, and people start putting together weird mash ups of their relationship set to music. Luke shows up and picks her up and it seems for a moment as if everything is going to be as it was.
Sandy drops Ryan back off in front of his house and there’s a bunch of junk out in front of it because Chino is gross, remember? Suddenly it’s daytime again, because I guess the sun sets under dramatic circumstances in Orange County, but everywhere else we have to rely on the Earth’s orbit.
Ryan waves Sandy off, thanking him for the ride. He clearly doesn’t want Sandy to see the inside of his home. It seems as if Sandy agrees and lets Ryan make his way inside, presumably taking off back to his mansion. Sadly, Ryan walks into an empty house, furniture gone, all his possessions gone, and a note of apology on the table. Then Sandy walks in and it only takes him a second to be the best human being ever as he whispers, “Come on, let’s go.” So, The O.C. really begins.
Best Song of the Episode:
“California” by Phantom Planet
California is the theme song for the entire series, and its opening immediately captivated everyone. It has to mentioned because it’s the first episode and it really encapsulates the feeling of the show.
“Honey and the Moon” By Joseph Arthur
However, I can’t not mention the beauty that is Joseph Arthur (who I am only now a huge fan of because this show and this exact episode. I bought the guy’s entire discography because of this episode when I was a teenager).
“Welcome to The OC, Bitch!” – Luke
Weird 2003 thing:
“Do you like my hair this straight, or is it too Avril Lavigne?” – Julie Cooper
Number of Non-White People with Actual Lines in This Episode:
Zero. There is a Mexican maid at one point that Kristin points to and says, “Ask Rosa if you need anything,” but Rosa can’t be bothered to be given a speaking line. She’s too busy making the bed.
Best Fashion Statement:
Ryan’s wife beater. Because duh.
Come back next Sunday for the next episode!