Time to give thanks to the streaming gods: The complete series of The OC — a.k.a. one of the greatest gifts the early aughts ever gave us — is now available on Hulu.
Thanks to a new deal between the streaming platform and Warner Bros., all four seasons of The OC will be available for your viewing pleasure. (They've also been available on The CW's Seed platform since late 2015.)
A soapy teen drama from then-unknown producer Josh Schwartz (who would go on to create Gossip Girl), The OC hit the airwaves in August 2003, during what was something of a transition period for teen-focused primetime dramas. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek had both gone off the air that May, within a week of each other. Beverly Hills, 90210 had ended three years prior, but was in many ways still the yardstick by which primetime teen soaps were measured.
The OC seemed poised to fill 90210's shoes: It was also set in California (this time the uber-fancy Orange County) and told through the eyes of a newcomer — in this case, Chino troublemaker Ryan Atwood as a sort-of stand-in for Brenda or Brandon Walsh — and it promised to once again bring impossibly attractive young adults and their impossibly dramatic lives to the small screen.
But The OC proved to be something different. Yes, it featured the requisite stable of gorgeous actors and an endless supply of overwrought situations. But what made the show so special was a unique ability to have its cake and eat it, too. It trafficked in many of the same big moments and plot lines as other teen soaps, but added a knowing twist, merrily tipping its hat to its own implausibility while cranking the drama dial way past 11.
That winning combination of glossy, soapy glamour and wink-wink postmodern humor made The OC wildly addictive — and even though the show's quality fluctuated quite a bit after its near-perfect first season, it retains an important position in the teen-soap hierarchy, both a crash course in the rules of its genre and a hit in its own right.
So in honor of all 92 episodes of The OC coming to a major streaming platform for the first time, here are seven bananas episodes that encapsulate the series' legacy — and make a case for why you should visit (or revisit) Newport Beach ASAP.
The outsider lands in a hostile foreign world
"Pilot," season one, episode one
The OC's first episode does a great deal of scene-setting, introducing us to troubled Chino teen Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie). Ryan is busted trying to steal a car with his older brother and lands the world's kindliest defense attorney, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), who takes pity on Ryan and (for whatever reason) invites him to move into his gorgeous mansion in new-monied Newport Beach, California. There, Ryan meets Sandy's wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), and their son/Ryan's new brother Seth (Adam Brody); plus beautiful damsel in distress next door Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), her generally-terrible-at-life dad Jimmy (Tate Donovan), her calculating mother Julie (Melinda Clarke), her boyfriend Luke (Chris Carmack), and her best friend Summer (Rachel Bilson).
Schwartz's inspiration for The OC was his own culture shock and outsider status as an East Coast Jewish kid going to college in southern California, which shows in his framing of Newport Beach as a foreign country; with every element of the show, he takes pains to emphasize just how far removed Chino (and thus Ryan) is from Newport Beach, even though the two cities are literally less than an hour apart.
It also explains Schwartz's choice for that foreign country's king: the douchey, puka-shell-wearing, water-polo-playing Luke Ward, who is every bullying jock stereotype rolled into one muscled package and misted liberally with Sun-In.
Fittingly, it's Luke who delivers the most iconic line of the episode — nay, of the entire series — which treats that cultural shock as a literal punch in the face:
Everyday drama takes on a monumental feel
"The Countdown," season one, episode 14
Plenty of teen dramas alternate between paper-thin plots and Very Special Episodes; one of The OC's talents was its ability to combine the two, treating its trifling stories as epic, life-altering events. Consider season one's New Year's Eve episode, "The Countdown," in which the main action revolves around Ryan, a high school boy, working up the courage to tell Marissa, a high school girl, that he loves her.
On a regular show, this is the type of storyline that might resolve itself in a quiet moment between the two characters. Not so on The OC. Instead, it's filmed like an episode of 24, with Ryan risking life and limb as he races against the clock up a million flights of stairs to make it to Marissa's side before midnight (and Ryan's rival, the loathsome Oliver Trask) strikes. But the show doesn't stop there — it piles on slow motion and a shower of confetti and a swooningly romantic song.
Still, it somehow manages to fall on the charming side of ridiculous — which, when The OC was at its best, was basically the show's thesis statement.
Art imitates life (imitates art) — and then Paris Hilton shows up
"The LA" (season one, episode 22)
Schwartz loved to get meta, a tactic that can be genuinely funny at best and gratingly self-satisfied at worst. Perhaps his most audacious meta move was to spend an episode of The OC parodying his own show, in this season one jaunt that sees Ryan, Seth, Summer, and Marissa heading to LA for the birthday party of a Hollywood actor. The birthday boy is Grady Bridges, star of The Valley — the show-within-a-show that paralleled (and often parodied) The OC.
Grady (played by Colin Hanks) is a metafictional version of Adam Brody's character Seth who is said to improvise all his lines on the show (something Brody was often rumored to do in real life). Grady also hits on Seth's girlfriend, Summer (a fictional character played by Brody's real-life girlfriend Rachel Bilson).
This is all far too cute and mostly only works for those who have some background knowledge of the OC actors — but it also offers an interesting peek at how Schwartz, who was just 26 when he created the show, was trying to wrap his head around his sudden status as pop cultural icon.
(That fall also saw the premiere of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, a real-life reality show inspired by the fictional OC. Naturally, Schwartz eventually sent up Laguna Beach on his own show with Sherman Oaks: The Real Valley. The mind fairly boggles.)
Plus, let's not forget that "The LA" features the Paris Hilton cameo required of all early-2000s TV shows — she plays "Paris Hilton," a socialite/secret brainiac grad student who digs both Seth and Gravity's Rainbow, which might be the hardest aspect of this episode to parse.
A fake holiday takes the world by storm
"The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn't," season two, episode six
Much like Seinfeld introduced the world to the anti-commercial winter celebration known as Festivus, The OC brought us its own made-up holiday, albeit with the exact opposite theme: Chrismukkah, a capitalist fever dream that inventor Seth explains as "eight days of presents followed by one day of many presents." It was just one of several neologisms The OC introduced to the lexicon over the years (minty and yogalates are among my other favorites), and just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer had done with its Halloween episodes, The OC made an annual tradition out of the Chrismukkah holiday, using it as an opportunity to do something big.
Season two's Chrismukkah episode is the best example of this. Shows often use holiday-themed episodes as an opportunity to bring all their characters together under one roof, and The OC ups the ante by using the Chrismukkah setting to reveal a long-buried family secret. The expected dramatics ensue (a secret love child is revealed! Kirsten locks herself in a closet! Marissa thinks about eating a latke!), but The OC lampshades the whole situation by having Marissa and Summer engage in a frank conversation about just how convoluted the show's interpersonal relationships have become.
The soundtrack takes on a life of its own
"The Dearly Beloved," season two, episode 24
Schwartz wanted the music on The OC to be a character in its own right. He enlisted music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas to curate the (back then) painfully hip soundtrack, introducing viewers to the joys of Death Cab for Cutie via superfan Seth Cohen. Eventually, Newport Beach even got its very own version of the Peach Pit After Dark: Called the Bait Shop, it featured in-episode performances from acts like the Walkmen and Modest Mouse.
Meanwhile, the show monetized its taste, releasing compilation albums of music it had featured. As Schwartz explained in a Vulture conversation with Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, "Television actually became important at that time: MTV was over, radio was pretty much consolidated, iTunes hadn't yet been created, or Spotify — TV stepped in and filled the void."
While there was no shortage of memorable musical moments, the soundtrack really stole the show in the season two finale, when Trey, Ryan's criminally inclined older brother, attacks Ryan, and Marissa shoots him in the back as the mournful autotune of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" swells in the speakers.
It was such an indelible event that Saturday Night Live parodied it nearly two years after the episode first aired, in the digital short "Dear Sister":
Even Andy Samberg, who created and starred in the SNL sketch, was surprised by its popularity. He told IGN:
we were really surprised with how much people liked that one. Pleasantly surprised, because I feel like people who knew it from The OC loved it for that, but also people who didn’t just kind of liked it because they knew the cinematic moment that we were kind of referencing.
Everything leads up to prom ... or not
"The Party Favor," season three, episode 23
Any high school show worth its salt has a prom episode (or in Veronica Mars's case, an alterna-prom episode), and The OC was no exception. But where prom is sometimes framed as a signifier of impending adulthood or a chance to rocket the action forward with grand romantic gestures, "The Party Favor" flips the script by having the show's characters backslide into the worst versions of themselves.
It's obvious that something's off during the photo session by the Cohens' pool, where everyone is gorgeously dressed up but paired with the wrong date: Seth with Anna (Samaire Armstrong), Marissa with Volchok (Cam Gigandet), Summer with a random Korean pop star.
Things get worse from there: What would normally be the climactic moment — a main character being crowned prom queen — instead becomes a punchline, with a wasted Summer falling off the stage, sending Seth running in search of a towelette.
And Ryan, ironically, falls right back into trying to protect Marissa from her penchant for damaged men, relying on his old habit of punching people (this time, Volchok) to try to fix things.
The characters plunge into an alternate reality
"The Chrismukk-Huh?" season four, episode seven
The OC killed off Marissa in its season three finale, and the show sank into a dark stretch of episodes before attempting to course-correct with its final Chrismukkah episode. In "The Chrismukk-Huh?" it dusts off the hoary "it was all a dream" trope to do it, stranding Ryan and Taylor Townsend (Autumn Reeser), the show's new female lead and Ryan's potential love interest, in a dream/alternate reality where Ryan had never come to Newport Beach.
It's not the most original strategy, but at least The OC embraces the plot's inherent silliness, turning all of its characters into nightmare versions of themselves and pairing up various odd couples to terrifying results (Sandy Cohen and Julie Cooper together — yikes!). And it isn't just a one-off; Ryan's time in bizarro-world lets him absolve himself of his guilt over Marissa's death, allowing the show to return to its lighthearted, soapy vibe in a way that feels at least somewhat organic.
By this point The OC's ratings had declined sharply, and the show's fourth and final season was cut to just 16 episodes (from 22). The series wrapped up its run with happy endings for its characters and an appropriately bittersweet song, and though Schwartz has gone on to many other successful projects, Newport Beach lives eternal in fans' hearts and minds — and now also in their Hulu queues.