DOOMED TV -- 'The O.C.' takes a long look at itself
By MARTIN MULKEEN
What makes us who we are?
Is it an untouchable essence at our core that guides our actions, or does our environment sculpt our character?
Nature versus nurture—an age-old question, indeed.
Wrestling with it, and often punching it in the face, was Ryan of "The O.C."—a smart, respectful kid who just needed a change of scenery and some wealthy benefactors to fulfill his potential.
Likewise, the once-beloved, soon-to-be-deceased "O.C." is a charity case— a winner at heart, but not making many new friends while stuck in a Thursday night ratings war (read: massacre) with "Grey's Anatomy."
If surroundings killed "The O.C.," then its introspection made it what it was.
Despite its notorious attention to all things pop, the program remained even more fascinated by its own reflection, brimming with self-referentiality both vainglorious and self-deprecating. To eulogize this cannibalistic impulse, we offer a list of the show's most memorable moments in self-awareness.
While not the first show given to navel-gazing (lest we forget Seinfeld's "show about nothing"), never before has a mainstream television program so thoroughly borrowed from its own cultural impact to develop new material. Come the last episode, don't be surprised to see the whole Newport gang mourning over its own grave, the program finally having swallowed itself whole.
These are the great meta moments in "O.C." history.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
1. Ryan Atwood, Russell Crowe doppelganger: Coming back from a date, Ryan and Marissa stop to chat in front of the Cohen house. They have just seen "Master and Commander," and Marissa says: "I don't know, Russell Crowe—he just doesn't do anything for me. I mean, people say he's good looking ... but I don't see it." Despite Mischa Barton's less-than-convincing acting, she speaks volumes with a side-of-the-mouth smirk.
2. Big Korea takes on Big Japan: Summer's revenge prom date is the hottest pop star in Korea. The front man for Big Korea may not speak a word of English, but he is fluent in the insider nod. Adam Brody plays drums for a band by the name of Big Japan.
3. Mischa Barton salutes the Union Jack: British-born Mischa Barton helps steal back her sister's Montecito school crest with her feminine wiles, posing as a British stripper, and summoning a suspiciously authentic British accent.
4. On the ongoing, now-moribund relationship between Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson:
Seth: "Over-exposure Ryan, it's a major source of conflict in new relationships. Summerith, Sethimer? You understand what I'm saying?"
Ryan: "No no, but that's normal."
5. "I'm not reading that, that's like 'The Ring.' I don't want to die," says Seth, getting all intertextual on us. (Adam Brody was in "The Ring"!)
A SHOW WITHIN A SHOW, WITH ITS OWN SPIN-OFF SHOW
1. Ryan and Seth discuss Grady, from "The Valley":
Ryan: "He's kinda like you."
Seth: "What, handsome and charming?"
Ryan: "No. Geeky and sarcastic."
Seth: "Oh god, he is like me ... except with his own TV show."
2. "I wish I was from the Valley." - Summer.
3. "The Real Valley," the "O.C.'s" scathing riposte to MTV's "Laguna Beach."
FINGER ON THE PULSE OF ITS OWN CULTURAL BACKLASH
1. "Ooooh god, what if its starting ... the Chrismukkah backlash ... what if its getting too big and commercial. ... Dude, I knew this would happen, it's like it starts out as this really cool, cult holiday, you know, flying beneath the cultural radar—and then all of a sudden it crosses over and then there’s too much pressure. I mean truthfully, can it really be the next Thanksgiving—can it top Halloween?" - Seth, talking about something larger than fake holidays. Perhaps he is referring to the show's very own unique propensity toward blowing up indie rock acts? To wit:
2. The politics of listening: "Ugh! They're playing Death Cab on 'The Valley'? (I'm) never listening to them again." - Kaitlin Cooper echoes the sentiments of all those "underground" music fans at home.
IS THAT SETH ON THE COUCH NEXT TO ME?
1. Upon Zach's return from Italy, Seth characteristically drops a fourth-wall shattering line to make you wonder if he isn't watching the show with you. "Hey man, you came back ... people never leave and come back!"
California, there you go.