The OC wasn't just a teen drama – it made being an outsider cool

It has been 16 years since The OC began, and 12 since it ended – but when I found out that the iconic teen series had dropped on Amazon Prime, it was like it was the early noughties again.

Yes, all four series of The OC are available to stream on Prime, and you bet your bottom dollar I have spent every spare moment of the past week bingeing the first season, gleefully inserting myself into the world of California’s most privileged teens.

If you haven’t been blessed with Josh Schwartz’s seminal teen drama – and for that, I am so, so sorry – here’s a recap: Ryan Atwood is the heartthrob from the wrong side of the tracks who ends up living with the super-rich Cohen family in Newport Beach, Orange County (hence the title) after he gets arrested for stealing a car. In Newport, Ryan meets quick-witted yet nerdy Seth Cohen, the beautiful yet troubled Marissa Cooper and little miss popular Summer Roberts as he navigates his new life.

Yes, it may sound melodramatic. That’s because it is. But amongst the unrealistic plot and teen angst, The OC managed to become the most impactful teen show ever.

Sorry, Dawson’s Creek lover and Gossip Girl stans, it’s true. As I settled in to watch the pilot, which somehow features Ryan’s entire backstory, a fashion show, a beach party and a punch-up with Luke, I realised how much The OC influenced teenage me.

In this very first episode, I was introduced to Mazzy Star’s Into Dust as Ryan carried a drunk Marissa to safety. This was the first time I heard Mazzy Star as a teenager – and if it was good enough for Ryan and Marissa, it was good enough for me. It’s no secret that The OC’s soundtrack has been incredibly influential not just for viewers, but for bands.

As a music venue came to Newport Beach, bands like The Subways, The Walkmen and notably The Killers played the Bait Shop and brought indie music into the living rooms of young teens. Rooney reportedly had a 200% increase in sales after appearing on the show, while Death Cab For Cutie – Seth Cohen’s favourite band – cited their exposure in the show as helping them get signed to Atlantic Records.

Such a player in music was The OC that established artists began premiering their songs on the show – Beastie Boys’ Ch-Check It Out, U2’s Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, Gwen Stefani’s Cool, Coldplay’s Fix You (set to Caleb Nichol’s heart attack) and five of Beck’s songs were all debuted on the show.

But as influential as it was for artists, it was even more influential for my mp3 player. I was a teenage girl in Ireland who was just getting into indie music, and now basically had a big brother beamed onto her television every week telling her what was cool.

This has stuck with me. Bands I discovered on The OC are among my favourites today. When I hear Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap I see Trey being shot, and when I hear Dice by Finley Quaye, I see Ryan running up the stairs on New Year’s Eve to get Marissa away from Oliver (who, by the way, remains one of the worst characters in the history of television).

And it’s not just music that The OC has influenced. Back in 2003, a cool geek wasn’t really a thing. While in 2019, Avengers: Endgame is the highest grossing film of all time and Comic-Con is an extravaganza that attracts the biggest names in cinema, comic books just weren’t that cool then, and liking comic books made you a nerd and, in The OC, a loser.

But Seth Cohen made being a geek cool. He was the one with all of the witty lines, it was his relationship with Summer we all cared about (sorry, Ryan and Marissa), and he was the one we all had a crush on. Before Seth, a character who set up a comic book club to talk about the new issue of Legion would never have been considered the true heartthrob – but The OC switched that trope on its head. Now, comic books are as mainstream as it gets, and while I’m not saying that Seth and The OC are responsible for the success of the MCU, the show should be given credit for what it did for geekdom.

Sure, on face value, The OC is just another trashy teen show. There’s rich people at parties, there’s Chanel, there’s a kid from Chino living in a poolhouse, there’s roughly 18 storylines in season one and all of the kids at Harbour High are impossibly good-looking.

But look deeper, and you will realise that show not only influenced our viewing habits, but our entire teen lives. For someone shaping who they are, The OC made indie the cool thing to listen to and sarcasm the humour to aim for. For how mainstream it was, The OC actually made it cool to be the outsider – and for that, I salute it.

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