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.
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 bankruptcy issue isn't mentioned again, despite Kirsten taking over the Newport Group's accounting in Season Two. And thenthe reading of Caleb's will in Season Three, reveals he was bankrupt after all. Whilst one could read this as Caleb running his bank accounts dry to keep the Newport Group solvent, it's never referred to on-screen.
In Season One, Sandy & Kirsten were setting Jimmy up with Rachel, one of Sandy's co-workers, and then she just "went on vacation" & was never mentioned again.
Jimmy & Hailey's relationship, that began in late season one, was swiftly ended early the following season after Amanda Righetti was cast in the series North Shore.
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.
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.
Jess: Tell you what, why don't you stay awhile? Ryan: Look, Jess, we were never friends. Jess: Got it. [Beat] You can go if you want. Ryan turns to leave Jess: Did you know Trey's dealing? [Ryan turns around] Blackjack, off the strip.
Caleb Nichol almost pulls this off in Season One. This results in Jimmy punching him in the face and ruining his deal in a Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
Pulled off by Sandy, Seth, and Summer in Season 3 to get Ryan back to into Harbor. They pretend to have proof of the relationship between Dean Hess and Taylor to use as blackmail.
The Bechdel Test: Inverted, interestingly enough, in that the two lead teen guys spend at least a scene per episode commiserating over their girl problems.
Billing Displacement: Peter Gallagher & Kelly Rowan are billed first in the opening credits for all 4 seasons, despite their characters being less prominent than the teenagers. When Melissa Clark & Rachel Bilson were added as regulars, Clark was again billed ahead of Bilson despite the same applying.
Bus Crash: An on-screen example - at the end of season 3, Marissa is all set to be Put on a Bus after her father invites her to live with him in Maui, only to die in a car crash on the way to the airport.
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: OK, then take me with you. Ryan: No. 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.
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.
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.
Julie, to a greater degree than Kirsten. In Season One, she considered Ryan a Doom Magnet & wanted him away from Marissa, and was marrying Caleb Nichol for his money; by Season Four, she's warmed to Ryan & is the one who ultimately gets him to realise his father's not the man he remembers, and is willing to put her feelings for Frank aside for Kaitlin's personal preference for Bullit.
Demoted to Extra: Jimmy Cooper as of season two. Tate Donnovan still received an And Starring in the opening credits, but Jimmy didn't really do anything other than hang out on his boat.
In-universe, Ryan is accused of being one early in the show by Julie. She does so again at the start in season 3, only for Jimmy to lampshade how ludicrous it is to blame Ryan for things that he had no involvement in.
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.
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.
Everyone Has Standards: After Carson Ward comes out as gay in season one, the Newpsies all happily gossip about this & make snide comments about the family, aside from Kirsten & Julie, who both have looks of disgust at their "friends" actions; notably the later had yet to undergo any Character Development beyond "Marissa's bitchy mom."
Season 4 features an episode where 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.
An episode had a purposefully gratuitous close-up of the incredibly attractive cokewhore Jess' bikini-clad ass as she walked up the stairs.
And many scenes of men with their shirts off & women in bikinis. It is California.
For Want of a Nail: Marissa dies in a car accident at the end of season 3. In "The Chrismukk-huh?" the following season, it's revealed that if Ryan hadn't arrived in Newport, Marissa would have died of the overdose she suffered in season one. Taylor tells Ryan that he shouldn't be disheartened by this, as he gave Marissa 3 more years than she would've had otherwise.
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.
The Generic Guy: Zach Stephens, essentially because he's Seth minus any of the quirks.
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'. (doorbell rings) Seth: 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.
Insistent Terminology: Caleb calling Sandy by his given name of Sanford, and Kirsten & Julie by the nicknames KiKi & JuJu; when anyone else calls them by the names, Sandy & Kirsten outright say that only Caleb gets to use the name, because Caleb won't not.
Intelligence Equals Isolation - Seth in the beginning of the series, Taylor as well, though both have glaring social quirks that contribute as well.
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.
Summer goes through the five stages of grief within the span of a week, after Marissa's death, much like most TV characters. As in, we see a montage of her going through the five stages (Including anger a second time) that ends on the Student Councillor at Brown expressing surprise that she did it within a week.
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.
May-December Romance: Luke & Julie, Julie & Caleb. Considering there was a period of overlap, it could be described as a January-May-December Love Triangle.
Monochrome Casting: A constant joke about this show is its exceedingly white cast. 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.
Not So Different: Seth & Marissa, much to Seth's horror upon finding out the "Princess" shares his musical tastes.
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.
Pac Man Fever: The show had a habit (Especially in the first two seasons) of showing two people playing video games, then showing the TV screen & gameplay of only one person actually playing the game.
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, Seth & Ryan were all shown playing the tie-in videogame with Seth saying, "I didn't know you could throw your lightsaber.", with Ryan replying, "New Game, who knew?"
Luke Ward, who moved to Portland with his father after it emerged that he'd been sleeping with Julie Cooper. In reality, Chris Carmack left as the producers couldn't guarantee him screentime in the second season.
Hailey Nichol took a job in Japan after Amanda Righetti was cast on North Shore & couldn't reprise the role in the second season.
Jimmy Cooper, despite being important enough that he received an And Starring in the opening titles. With his relationship with Hailey ending early in the second season (See above), he kinda just floated around (Literally, he was living on a boat) for the first half of the season as the character had run his course. The writers figured this out towards the middle of the season, so he was written out of with the explanation he was worried, since he was restarting his relationship with Julie, that he was just repeating the cycle that cost him his marriage & reputation so he was going to move to Maui.
Kaitlin Cooper was shipped off to boarding school off-screen between seasons one & two, after becoming The Ghost during season one.
Put on a Bus to Hell: After leaving Newport to avoid falling into the same cycle that led to his bankruptcy & divorce, Jimmy was brought back for Caleb's funeral at the end of the second season. Early in the following season, it was revealed that he had done the same things over again. This subsequently made his original reason for leaving somewhat pointless, and gave him a whole new reason for leaving that removed any reason for Jimmy to come back again by sinking his relationship with Julie & having Marissa tell not to come back again.
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.
Second Love: Ryan actually had three true loves. Theresa The First, Marissa The Second, and Taylor The Third.
Ship-to-Ship Combat: Occurs in-universe in Season 4 - after it becomes apparent that Bullit & Frank Atwood are both in love with Julie, the show gives us Team Bullit (Kaitlin) & Team Frank (Ryan & Taylor). Julie initially chooses Bullit, but Kaitlin encourages her to go to Frank instead after realising that Julie was only choosing Bullit because of Kaitlin's fondness for him, when she was really in love with Frank. Then the Time Skip occurs, during which Julie gets pregnant & Frank freaks out, leading to Julie to get together with Bullit, who doesn't care she's pregnant. Frank then makes a anguished declaration of love during Julie & Bullit's wedding. Julie chooses to be single instead of date either man, and it's unclear what her final decision is - the last time that the three are seen, Frank & Bullit are cheering for Julie as she collects her college degree in the closing montage. And this all takes place over the last few episodes ofvthe series.
Shoo Out the New Guy: 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.
The Valley'', a parody of The OC itself, featuring parodies of the real-life versions of the actors.
Sherman Oaks: The Real Valley, the in-universe equivalent of Laguna Beach, the show marketed as "The Real OC".
"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 Chilli as Bizarro Seth, which is also a SupermanShout-Out.
Ryan, Seth, Marissa, Summer, Ryan & Anna in season one.
Ryan, Seth, Marissa, Summer, Zach & Linsay in season two.
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 - hence Sandy telling Ryan "No smoking" a minute or so later.
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.
Spiritual Successor: Josh Schwartz's subsequent series both served as such - Chuck in terms of dialogue, characters, and humor; whilst Gossip Girl is the spiritual successor plot and settingwise.
Spoiled Brat: Marissa, for much of Season 2 & the end of Season 3. 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, who Marissa manages to make look sympathetic in the process.
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.
Caleb Nichol, father of Kirsten and Hailey, had an affair with Renee Wheeler while his wife was dying and fathered Lindsay Gardner; Kirsten marries Sandy Cohen & they have a son, Seth before adopting Ryan Atwood. Caleb eventually marries Julie Cooper. This subsequently makes Julie stepmother to Caleb's daughters, stepmother-in-law to Sandy and stepgrandmother to Seth and Ryan; and this means that Julie's daughters Marissa & Kaitlin are stepsisters to Caleb's daughters and aunts to Seth and Ryan, the later of whom dates both Marissa & Lindsay during Julie's marriage to Caleb; on top of that, Jimmy Cooper dated Kirsten in high school, married Julie, and eventually dated Hailey. After Caleb's death, Julie becomes engaged to Neil Roberts, who's daughter Summer is Seth's long-time girlfriend and eventual wife, and eventually Julie has a baby with Frank Atwood, Ryan's father.
The AU in "Chrimukk-huh" would have only worsened things, as Sandy & Julie and Kirsten & 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 by 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.
Trash the Set: The penultimate episode ends on the revelation that the inside of the Cohen's home has been destroyed by the earthquake that ended the previous episode.
Unexplained Recovery: In Season One, the Nana has 4 to 6 months left to live due to terminal lung cancer. A year later in Season Two, she's alive and well again (and has mysteriously moved to Miami).
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.