We've been on the run, driving in the sun, looking out for number one — California, here we come, right back where we started from...
—Phantom Planet, "California", The O.C. theme song.
The O.C. is the story of Ryan Atwood, a troubled teenager from Chino, and The Cohens, the family who takes him in. Ryan and his brother are arrested for grand theft auto, but Ryan's idealistic public defender, Sandy Cohen, recognizes Ryan's intelligence and offers him a way out. When Ryan's alcoholic mother and her abusive boyfriend kick him out, Ryan has no choice but to call Sandy.Ryan is thrust into the glamorous world of Orange County, and into the lives of the Cohens and their neighbors. There's Kirsten Cohen, Sandy's kind, but slightly guarded wife; nerdy and isolated Seth Cohen, their son; Marissa Cooper, their beautiful but troubled neighbor; Julie Cooper, Marissa's scheming mother; and Summer Roberts, Marissa's best friend. Ryan's first meeting with Marissa sets off sparks—too bad she's dating a Jerk Jock. Seth has loved Summer for years—too bad she doesn't know he exists.With Ryan around, things are changing fast. Ryan, Marissa, Seth, and Summer are about to endure breaking up, breaking down, parties, proms... everything teenagers would normally be expected to go through, but with the added drama of living in the O.C.This is a show about references. When you hang a guy upside down in the rain for a kiss from his main babe, and you are not shooting the movie Spider-Man, you are up to your ass in Post Modernism.One official TV Tropes Wiki No Prize is up for grabs for each example of an other-media reference from this show.Not to be confused with an abbreviation for Original Character.
Aborted Arc - At the end of Season One, we learn that the Newport Group is virtually bankrupt; Sandy and Jimmy inadvertently foil Caleb's scheme to rescue it. While the DA keeps investigating Caleb in Season Two, the issue of, you know, bankruptcy is forgotten about. In fact Kirsten takes over the Newport Group's accounting in Season Two and never mentions a thing. Except, surprise! In Season Three, it turns out Caleb was bankrupt after all.
Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female on Male - A lot of Taylor's behavior towards Ryan would probably be condemned if she were a guy, but because she's a girl, it's played off as a cute quirk of character. She:
Breaks up with him, but then spends seven hours outside of his workplace with binoculars, spying on him. (She follows him in disguise later on.)
Applies to Berkeley, his college of choice, without telling him.
Tries to force him into saying he loves her so her applying to Berkeley is justified.
Gets him drunk in an effort to make him do the above.
Says (jokingly, but it's still cringeworthy) that she wants to tie him to a chair and inject him with sodium penthanol in order to make him admit his feelings.
Abusive Parents - Frank Atwood and many of Ryan's mother's boyfriends. Ryan gets hit in the face by one five minutes into the Pilot.
Alternate Universe - In one episode, Ryan and Taylor fall off a ladder and end up in one of these, where Ryan never came to the O.C. and Taylor was born a boy. Everyone has changed for the worse (like Kirsten who turned into her father, Sandy who became a Republican, Seth who never stopped being a wallflower and Summer became an even more vapid bimbo — though Marissa still died) except for Veronica, who is "still a bitch" as Taylor resignedly points out. Luckily, it was All Just a Dream.
Ryan finding Marissa standing alone outside of their prom (2x23, "The O.Sea") is a callback to when he found her after Cotillion (1x04, "The Debut"). Similarly, when he gives her his jacket a few episodes before (2x18, "The Risky Business"), it parallels when he gave her his suit jacket after Cotillion.
A more heartbreaking one for them is when he carries her away from the burning car shortly before her death (3x25, "The Graduates"). It parallels when he carried her to the pool house (1x01, "Pilot") and out of the alley in Tijuana (1x07, "The Escape").
Seth's coffee cart proclamation of love to Summer (1x20, "The Telenovela") is reprised by Summer two years later (3x21, "The Dawn Patrol"). It doesn't go nearly so well for her.
Seth intruding on Summer and Zack's TV time (2x12, "The Lonely Hearts Club") is a callback to Summer intruding on him and Anna (1x16, "The Links").
Kirsten finds Ryan with Lindsay (2x08, "The Power of Love") in almost the exact same position she found him with Marissa (1x10, "The Perfect Couple").
Seth: I won't get in the way, you know how stealth I can be.
Like father, like son: at a party early in season one, Seth walks in on some sexcapades in a bathroom, which prompts a line that Sandy later repeats upon walking in on a menage a trois atfter Hailey throws a party in their house:
Seth/Sandy: I should really learn to knock... in case there's a threesome going on in the bathroom/bedroom.
Various characters decry other characters for 'salting someone's game'. Nobody appears to know what it means.
Characterization Marches On: Compare Summer's personality in the first couple of episodes with the rest of the series: she comes across as a lot less likeable, a slutty , obnoxious, partygirl airhead who dumps her unconcious best friend in her driveway after a night out. Likewise original flavour Taylor is very different from the adorable Genki Girl she became, being a bitchy Smug Snake who is fooling around with a teacher (a Sadist Teacher at that). Neither character was originally intended to be a regular but the unexpected appeal of Rachel Bilson and Autumn Reeser meant they ended up staying on and developing into quite different characters.
Chick Magnet: Seth attracts the attention of Summer, Anna, Alex, and Taylor.
Chronic Hero Syndrome - Ryan Atwood. Lampshaded at seperate times by different characters in Season 1, 2, 3, and 4. One episode in Season 3 had Kirsten helping Ryan to figure out he doesn't need to help every Damsel in Distress anymore. One episode in Season 4 had Sandy helping Ryan to figure out he needs to help every Damsel in Distress because it's "his thing" and he "shouldn't turn his back on that".
Chronic Villainy - Julie Cooper switches between trying to be a good mom and being a gold-digging manipulative slut schizophrenically throughout the series.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome - Rachel in Season One. They were setting her up with Jimmy, and then she just... disappeared, never to be mentioned again, despite being Sandy's colleague.
Continuity Nod - Oh so very many. One notable one is the phrase 'salting your game' as an indication of cockblocking. Used first by Ryan to Seth, half a season later from Seth to his dad, and then in season 2 by Sandy to his wife.
Ryan also had some moments of this, thanks to Seth's influence.
Summer. She claimed once that she never used irony until she met Seth.
Alex as well
Hell, pretty much every recurring character is a deadpan snarker to some extent.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Kirsten, before Ryan joined the family and caused her to soften. Lampshaded in a touching scene in the fourth season premiere, "The Avengers", when Seth puts together a comic book illustrating the Cohens' lives before he joined the family.
Kirsten: The ice queen was surrounded by an impenetrable force field and her silver cell phone was her only link to the outside world.
Demoted to Extra: Jimmy was originally part of the main cast while Julie was not, but he was so bland that he eventually got removed and disappeared altogether.
Distaff Counterpart: Anna is in many ways, a female Seth. One fanfic had Summer trying to choose between the two of them only to state in frustration "They're the same person!"
Doom Magnet: In-universe, Ryan is accused of being one early in the show by Julie.
Marissa Cooper, especially in season 3. In fact, when you factor in that her death at the end of the third season was followed by the muchLighter and Softer fourth season - Everything literally got better for the characters after Marissa's death. Possibly lampshaded in a Freeze-Frame Bonus in the Alternate Universe/All Just a Dream episode.note There's briefly a shot of a poster advertising that "Pac West Surf Star" Johnny Harper would be making an appearance to advertise his new line of boards. Johnny died the previous season, and the implication is that if Ryan had never arrived in Newport & saved Marissa from an overdose in season one, Johnny would have never died.
Though, in an unusual example, "The Chrismukk-huh?" explores what world where Marissa died in Tijuana. Her death caused Summer to become best friends with Holly and an airhead, Jimmy and Julie to gravitate in different directions and wind up married to Kirsten and Sandy and Kaitlin to become an escapist who locked herself in her studies to the point where she graduated high school at 14
Drugs Are Bad - Chris Brown gets upset when Kaitlin offers him weed.
Dumb Blonde - Holly Fischer. Not so much in the first season when she was unpleasant but not noticably dim but when Holly eventually returned after an absence of two whole seasons she'd enthusiastically embraced the vapidity within.
Summer in the Wonder Woman costume; Summer in the Little Miss Vixen costume; scenes of bikini clad women aplenty; one episode has Ryan continuously fantasizing about Taylor in what appears to be a bad 80s video involving her in skimpy clothing and at one point sliding her ass across a wet window. Another episode had a purposefully gratuitous close-up of the incredibly attractive cokewhore Jess' bikini-clad ass as she walked up the stairs. For the women, many scenes of men with their shirts off, including a rather porn-like shot of The Yard Guy watering the lawn.
Foreshadowing In "The SnowC", Alex kisses both a guy and a girl. This comes back in "The Ex-Factor" when it's revealed that she is bisexual
The Friends Who Never Hang: Ryan and Summer, and Seth and Marissa. This is largely due to the fact that their personalities clash, and they mostly have scenes with other people. Interestingly enough, the friendship of Seth/Summer/Ryan/Marissa works out pretty well.
Genre Savvy - Seth. Almost to the point of breaking the fourth wall sometimes. At the beginning of one episode he notes that everything has been going so well lately that something is bound to go wrong.
Seth: Ryan, don't ya see? Things are going way too well around here. Marissa got back into Harbor, you guys seemed to resolve your surf-tastic love triangle, my girlfriend got a near perfect score on her SATs but we've never been happier.
Ryan: It's senior year, it's meant to be the best one.
Seth: No, you should know better. Every time things are going well around here, that's when doom comes a-knockin'.
Or a-ringin'... Don't answer it, it's probably a flaming bag of crap.
Give Geeks a Chance: For somebody who is supposed to be a socially awkward geek and outcast, Seth seems to have little trouble attracting beautiful young women. See the Chick Magnet entry above.
Seth comments on Zach's return: "You came back!... People never leave and come back!"
"The LA" is an entire episode of lampshade hanging. Most episodes have a lampshade hanging. Part of the show's charm was it never took itself too seriously.
The unrealistically melodramatic nature of the show gets this when Sandy says "Life's gritty enough, comic books should be fun." Seth responds "Life's gritty? We live in Newport Beach."
In the 16th episode of Season 2, Seth complains that their year hasn't been as good as the first one, while Ryan defends the season saying that they can't simply rehash the first season. The conversation gets dangerously close to breaking the fourth wall.
A similar instance in the penultimate episode of the series, after learning that Seth gave his blood to save his life, Ryan jokes that he has the sudden urge to listen to emo music & read comic books; which Seth responds to with a comment that if they'd switched things up & became a body swap comedy, they probably could've stretched another two years out of it.
In the show's final episode, Summer comments that The Valley had just been renewed for several seasons and that "These teen dramas, they just run forever."
The Lost Lenore - Marissa becomes this for Ryan in Season 4. She's killed on their graduation day in a car accident caused by Volchok, Marissa's ex, and dies in Ryan's arms. He spends the first half of Season 4 mourning her, and even tries to go after Volchok and kill him. It's telling that when he and Taylor are in an alternate universe where Marissa might still be alive but wouldn't know him, he's willing to stay there, with a Marissa who doesn't know him and could come to love him, than he is to go back to the real world, where everyone else who loves him but Marissa is alive.
Love Triangle - A lot of them, but they're usually extremely polite. Anna and Summer hang out while fighting over Seth, Zack and Seth hang out (and start a comic book) while fighting over Summer, Marissa and Teresa help each other while fighting over Ryan, Ryan saves Johnny several times while fighting over Marissa...and those that aren't polite while part of the love triangle (for example, the first triangle of Ryan, Luke and Marissa) become friends when the love triangle is over.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl - Taylor Townsend saves Ryan Atwood from the soulless and brooding world of cage-fighting, el guapo taco, and insomnia.
Sorta justified in that LA's rich upper class elite would mostly be white. Why everyone in Chino is also white is a mystery though.
Montage Out: The final scenes of the series show brief snippets of what the future holds for the characters, such as Sandy becoming a lecturer, Seth & Summer's wedding, Julie getting a degree, and a Book End to Ryan's story.
Mushroom Samba - In Season 4, Seth takes hallucinogenic berries in an attempt to "heal his animus". He then has a vision of walking through a tripped-out version of the Cohen house until he walks into his room. His room now has a pool in it, where Seth's spirit animal, an otter, flops out of the pool. Seth begins to talk to him. When the vision ends, Seth has been renewed spiritually by 'saving his spirit animal', and is thus ready to love again.
Opposites Attract - Nearly every major relationship: Sandy/Kirsten (geeky Jewish liberal lawyer + WASP princess), Ryan/Marissa (wrong side of the tracks + (seemingly) perfect debutante), Seth/Summer (nerd + popular party girl), Ryan/Taylor (Book Dumb introvert + intellectual Genki Girl) etc,. The few Birds of a Feather couplings like Seth/Anna or Ryan/Theresa are conspicuous by their lack of success.
Preppy Name: Surprisingly, the only person with one is Sandy, whose first name is Sanford and he grew up poor.
Product Placement - In the weeks leading up to the Revenge of the Sith theatrical release date. The full-length trailer aired after an episode with a short introduction by Adam Brody in character. Then, Summer walked by a life-size Obi-Wan cut-out. Then, George Lucas guest starred on the show. Then, the characters were all shown playing the Revenge of the Sith videogame with Seth saying, "I didn't know you could throw your lightsaber.", with Ryan replying, "New Game, who knew?"
Applies especially to Luke, who became one of the main characters in the latter half of season one. But after the season two premiere was never seen or heard from again.
If a guest star dates one of The Fantastic Four, you can be pretty certain that the relationship will end with the guest star moving out of Newport Beach, very often out of California entirely or even across the country. Ex. Luke, Anna, Alex, Lindsey.
Remember the New Guy - Taylor Townsend first appeared at the start of the third season, but apparently had been going to the same school as the main characters for the entire time. Indeed a later flashback revealed she had been friends (or at least on name terms) with Summer since they had been in elementary school. The weird thing is, watching the first two seasons again on DVD, it really does appear that her actress may have been an extra in earlier school scenes. Or maybe it's just someone who looks similar.
Lampshaded at one point when Taylor is talking to Summer about Seth's declaration of love in the first season: "Oh, you didn't see me, but I was here"
Re Tool - The first half of Season 2 had the writers slow down all the storylines (Josh called it My So-Called OC), not have Ryan punch anyone, not have any wild teen parties, and split up all the couples. Viewers weren't very receptive, and this era ended at Episode 14. Season 4, however, can be considered a genuine Re Tool as it became more of a lighthearted comedy without many soap opera plotlines. Aside from one Prostitution Ring, most storylines revolved around quirky plotlines like slutty aliens, offbeat french authors, sleep therapists, and freeing bunnies.
The unlikely excuse just about worked the first time around, but then they had to bring him back for Caleb's funeral, only to remember why they got rid of him in the first place. In the end, he leaves for almost the same reason as before, and Marissa flat-out tells him that he can't come back this time, just so the writers wouldn't encounter the same problem again.
Lindsay Gardner: Caleb's illegitimate daughter who occupied the first half of Season Two amid much angst. Ryan, supposedly deeply in love with her, forgot her during the episode after her departure. She never returned; not for her father's funeral, not when her sister went into rehab.
Shout-Out - Jimmy Cooper mentions "the North Shore" to Hailey - Amanda Righetti was on the short-lived show North Shore.
Dr. Roberts moves to Seattle Grace, though unfortunately the character never appeared on the show
Show Within a Show (The Valley, a parody of The OC itself, featuring parodies of the real-life versions of the actors in the roles)
In Season 2 Episode 3, Summer is watching The Valley in her bedroom, and you can hear dialogue from the first season of The OC being repeated verbatim except the names, about a character dating his ex's mother (i.e. Luke and Julie).
In the commentary track, the creator explicitly mentions that all dialogue heard on The Valley are snippets from earlier O.C. episodes.
"Shut Up" Kiss - Notably Seth and Summer's first. Ryan and Lindsay too.
Similar Squad - Johnny and the public high school gang Marissa starts hanging out with once she's forced to change schools are supposed to be counterparts to Ryan, Seth, and Summer. Lampshaded when Ryan refers to one of them as Bizarro Seth, which is also a Seinfeld shout-out.
Except that Ryan's counterpart is dating Summer's. It could be a coincidence but Summer does actually hit on Ryan in the pilot.
Smoking Is Cool - Ryan and Marissa share a smoke in the Pilot. An agreement between Fox and the writers said they could have this scene, so long as the characters never smoke again.
Smug Snake - The Dean of Discipline. Also Taylor Townsend in her first few episodes (who got better) and Holly Fischer (who didn't).
Left the Background Music On: Played with in that you can usually hear the switch in volume when it goes from soundtrack music to scene music, and characters may or may not draw attention to it by lowering the radio/changing the channel/telling X to turn it off.
Spoiled Brat: Marissa, for much of Season 2. Made especially bad when Lindsey, who lives in a tiny bungalow and grew up without a father, shows up to contrast with her. And yet the audience is still meant to have sympathy for Marissa simply because she doesn't like her mother.
And again towards the end of Season 3. In one episode she becomes so bratty that she walks out on her (recently very sympathetic) mother's engagement party, and later Summer finally calls her on her Wangsty nonsense, telling her to grow up. Yet a few scenes later, Ryan tells Volchok to treat her right "because she deserves it".
In fact, you can tell whenever she's being a bitch because she makes Julie Cooper seem sympathetic.
Spotlight-Stealing Squad - When Oliver and Johnny were on the show, it seemed like all of the plots started revolving around them. Even Christmukkah was taken over by Johnny's issues.
You know what, let's take a whack at this: Caleb Nichol, father of Kirsten and Hailey, had an affair with Renee Wheeler while his wife was dying and fathered Lindsay Gardner. Caleb eventually marries Julie Cooper (mother of Marissa and Kaitlin), making Julie stepmother to Kirsten, Hailey, and Lindsay, stepmother-in-law to Sandy and stepgrandmother to Seth and Ryan, though by adoption for the latter. So Marissa and Kaitlin are stepsisters to Kirsten and her siblings, and aunts to Seth and Ryan. Much of tree-tangling stems from Julie, who nearly marries Summer's father and has a baby with Ryan's. Surely there's more, but this troper is worn out.
The AU in "Chrimukk-huh" would have only worsened things, as [[Sandy and Julie]] and [[Kirsten and Jimmy]] have married.
Teens Are Short: Hilariously inverted with the girls. While Summer (5'1") and Anna (5'4") both short, the ones actually played teens Marissa and Kaitlin are 5'8" and 5'7" respectively.
There Are No Therapists - Subverted a bit. Marissa does attend a therapist and seems to be getting better... until life crashes on pretty much everyone after Oliver appears. Then psychotherapy is pretty much dismissed, although Lord knows it would have done her (and most of the other characters) some good.
Uptown Girl: Ryan and Marissa. This is the primary storyline for the first half of the show
Viewers Are Geniuses - During Season Four, when it was clear the show was being cancelled and the writers were done with writing for ratings, "The French Connection" featured long drawn-out conversations among three characters revolving around David Hume, and a variety of french poets and philosophers. Some of this conversation is in unsubtitled French.