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Series / The O.C.

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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 (Benjamin McKenzie), a troubled teenager from Chino, and the Cohens, the family that 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.

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.

In 2021 Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke started the podcast Welcome to the OC, Bitches!.


This series provides examples of:

  • 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 bankruptcy issue isn't mentioned again, despite Kirsten taking over the Newport Group's accounting in Season Two. And then the reading of Caleb's will in Season Three, reveals he was bankrupt after all, with the implication that he had run his bank accounts dry to keep the Newport Group solvent.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • All Girls Like Ponies
    • Summer and Princess Sparkle
    • Kaitlin's pony China who had alopecia.
    • Seth and Captain Oats is a male version
  • 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.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: "Ore to Omae no Atarashii Kisetsu" by B'z is used as the Japanese ending theme.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Brad & Eric Ward, younger brothers of Luke. They shave each other's chests, and have a strange obsession with talking about other guys' butts - Kaitlin actually points out to them that they do it far too much.
  • Anyone Can Die:
    • Marissa Cooper, especially surprising considering there was no real warning for it in the press, and the character dies on the way to a bus trip.
    • Caleb Nichol
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Ryan to Luke: "So, did you have sex with Julie Cooper today?". Luke promptly misses his pool shot.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Summer wasn't even a series regular until halfway through the first season, until it became apparent that audiences responded to her romance with Seth.
    • Kaitlin was pretty irrelevant in Season 1 before she was recast and returned in Season 3 and eventually promoted to main cast in Season 4.
    • Taylor is a literal example as Autumn Reeser was an actual extra in Season 1.
  • The Atoner: Frank Atwood, upon his arrival in Season 4.
  • Author Avatar: Seth Cohen is Josh Schwartz.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • In this example from 3.18
    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.
    • Season 4's "The Groundhog Day" features a subplot with Kirsten visiting a doctor after she begins to feel ill at her 40th birthday. The episode teases that Kirsten's going to be getting some bad news, only to reveal that she's pregnant.
  • Bash Brothers: Ryan and Luke, eventually.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Caleb Nichol almost pulls this off in Season One. This results in Jimmy punching him in the face and ruining his deal.
    • 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.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Two sets fits this:
    • The Cooper women: Marissa (blonde), Kaitlin (brunette) and Julie (redhead)
    • Also the three longest female characters : Kirsten (blonde), Summer (brunette) and Julie (redhead).
  • Big Damn Hero: Marissa saves Ryan from a beating in Chino in season 1. She helps her girlfriend get her belongings back from an ex in Season 2. She also shoots Trey to save Ryan. In Season 3, she saves her bully from being raped in the back of a van.
  • Big Fancy House: Julie and Caleb's mansion in season 2, which was given to Julie by Caleb as her wedding present.
    • The Cohen House is pretty fancy as well.
    • The model home where Ryan briefly stayed.
    • Summer's mansion where Marissa and Julie also live, after Julie is engaged to Summer's father.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: It's arguable whether Seth started as one or Took a Level in Jerkass. The trope is downplayed, though, as he's still a genuinely good person despite being a bit selfish and petty, thigs that get better through Character Development.
  • Bookends: The final scene in the series features Ryan asking a troubled kid if he needs any help, just as Sandy had offered Ryan in the pilot.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian:
    • Che, Summer's left-wing activist friend from Brown, actually comes from a wealthy family who owns a pharmaceutical company.
    • Summer since Season 4 during her transformation due to Marissa's death. She later transforms back to her old self, but also maintains her new environmentalist personality.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: As it turns out, Summer. It's discovered in season 3 that she has higher SAT scores than Seth, and Dr. Kim notes to Summer that every few years Harbor has a student with high aptitude & potential that remains untapped as they spent their time gossiping & shopping rather than studying.
  • Broken Bird:
    • Kirsten is a WASPy version. Marissa too.
    • Ryan is in the teen male subset.
  • The Bus Came Back: Kaitlin
  • 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.
  • Byronic Hero: Ryan and Marissa qualify, being troubled individuals with a Dark and Troubled Past and conflicting emotions. Marissa is an even more straight example, as she's often self-destructive, while Ryan has a healthier lifestyle.
  • Call-Back: A few.
    • 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 being stealth(2x07) and tagging along with Ryan (4x02)
      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 after 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.
  • Cain and Abel: Trey and Ryan, Trey being the Cain to Ryan's Abel, particularly by the end of Season 2.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Hardly an episode goes by without the use of this trope.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Seth Cohen is stealth.
  • Casting Gag: Tate Donovan plays Jimmy Cooper (Father to Marissa & Kaitlin) and voiced the title character in Disney's Hercules. When the decision was made to finally introduce Frank Atwood (Ryan's father) in season 4, Kevin Sorbo got the role; Sorbo having played the title character in the unrelated Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Summer Roberts: "Eww!"
    • The Bullit: "Bang!"
  • Celebrity Paradox: Seth makes a reference to the vomiting little girl from The Sixth Sense... who was played by Mischa Barton, also known as Marissa.
    • In "The Secret", Luke was mocked for his father's homosexuality by his classmates, saying that his father's favorite shows were "Dawson's Crack" and "Everwoody". 3 seasons later, the actor who played a main character in Everwood (Chris Pratt) shows up as Summer's new friend at Brown, Che.
  • Character Development: Luke from a jerk jock to a good friend, Marissa from a normal schoolgirl to a tortured teen, Ryan from a hot-headed teenager to a calmer young man, Summer from a airheaded bimbo to... well, a nice airheaded bimbo and then to nice airheaded bimbo with a conscience. With good SAT scores. Who, despite having very high potential intelligence, is still at the age 18 entirely unaware what 'jihad' 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, party girl airhead who dumps her unconscious 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. Ryan too attracted the same girls plus Marissa, Theresa, Lindsay and Sadie but minus Anna and Alex.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Ryan Atwood. Lampshaded at separate 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Che.
  • Cock Fight: In Season 1, Ryan and Luke continuously fighting over Marissa until the mid-season. Seth and Zack over Summer as well but maybe it's better to say "Nerd Fight" in 2.22.
  • Color Motif: Chino is grainy & desaturated, whilst Newport is lush colours.
  • Conflict Ball: Carried by various characters. Often manifests itself in willfully misunderstanding the other person (see Cannot Spit It Out above).
  • 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.
  • Coolest Club Ever: The Bait Shop.
  • Cool Loser: Seth & Ryan. Eventually every character in the main cast.
  • Cool Ship: The Summer Breeze, an awesome Hobie mini-catamaran that Seth owned in season 1, and pawned for bus-fare in season 2.
  • Cunning Linguist: Taylor Townsend is fluent in French, Korean and Spanish and is able to use enough Latin to deliver her valedictorian speech in that language.
  • Dawson Casting: The teens are played by actors in their early-to-mid-20s.
  • Date Rape: In Season 3, while Marissa is at a party, she saves her bully, Heather from this.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Seth, Sandy, Ryan, Summer, Anna, Alex... 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 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.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Marissa, in Ryan's, in the Season 3 finale.
  • Diegetic Switch: Though not as often as Sorry, I Left the BGM On.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Anna is in many ways, a female Seth.
  • Doom Magnet:
    • 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 much Lighter 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 
  • Double Standard: Abuse, 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.
    • This is lightly acknowledged in series, she seeks therapeutic help for the way she acts with Ryan, and it's suggested that rather than a "cute quirk" it's a deep-seated issue resulting from her relationship to her parents and lack of peer group leaving her with undeveloped social skills.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Go-to coping mechanism for both Kirsten and Marissa, though they go about it very differently.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Chris Brown gets upset when Kaitlin offers him weed.
  • Dude Magnet : Marissa attracts the attention of Ryan, Luke, Oliver, DJ, Johnny and Volchok. Summer as well, just watch all of boys waiting to kiss her during "The Kissing Booth" event in 1x20.
  • Dumb Blonde: Holly Fischer. Not so much in the first season when she was unpleasant but not noticeably dim but when Holly eventually returned after an absence of two whole seasons she'd enthusiastically embraced the vapidity within.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Che is short for Winchester.
  • 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."
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: When Anna returns in Season 3, her hair is much longer
  • Expy: Johnny, Casey and Chili at Newport union were pretty blatant expy's of Ryan, Summer and Seth, with the flip that the Summer-analogue was dating the Ryan analogue
  • Fallen Princess: Marissa. Luke is the male version.
  • Fanservice
    • Summer in the Wonder Woman costume & Little Miss Vixen costume.
    • Marissa in the naughty schoolgirl outfit.
    • 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.
  • First Girl Wins: Summer is Seth's First Love and she becomes his wife in the finale.
  • Fish out of Water: Ryan, but he eventually grows out of it.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Summer goes through these after Marissa's death. She goes through Anger twice. The therapist is amazed she got through it all in a week. She then drops some of her Granola Girl act, though she keeps part of the activism.
  • Foil: Oliver served as one to Ryan.
    • In Season 3, Marissa start hanging out with 3 students (Johnny,Casey and Chili) of Newport Union who are foils to Ryan,Summer and Seth respectively:
      • Johnny is one to Ryan for his Dark and Troubled Past and having a violent dad. Interestingly Johnny fall in love with Marissa when she starts her studies at Newport Union in contrast with Ryan who had a crush on her during his first day at Orange County.
      • Casey is one to Summer being the first (and only) girl who helped Marissa during her first day and having a protective nature. She often mocks of the group's Cool Loser (like Summer with Seth). However she dating with the more popular guy but she cheated on him while Summer is with the Cool Loser and never cheated on Seth.
      • Chili is one to Seth. Both are loyal, funny and often mocked Cool Loser with a streak of The Friend Nobody Likes. But if Chili is often mocked by his female friend Casey , Seth is with Summer even when she continues to tease him.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • Invoked by Seth in the season one finale - Seth points out that if Marissa hadn't been suckered in by Oliver, then Ryan & Marissa would have still been together when Theresa turned up in Newport & that subsequently Ryan wouldn't have slept with her, so there would be no debate over who the father of her unborn child would be, and subsequently Ryan wouldn't be about to leave Newport.
      • In fact, the majority of the second season would have played out very differently if not for Oliver - for example, if Ryan didn't leave Newport then Seth wouldn't have run away to Portland, and Summer wouldn't have broken up with him because of it & started dating Zack, who wouldn't have befriended Seth after his return to Newport, which would mean that they wouldn't have created the Atomic County comic book together.
    • 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.
  • Foreign Remake: The series has been remade in Turkey and Thailand.
  • 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
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: The Fab Four: Deadpan Snarker Seth is the Apathetic, Plucky Girl Summer is the Optimist, Only Sane Man Ryan is the Realist and Troubled, but Cute Marissa is the Conflicted.
    • The main adults: Sandy is the Optimist (but also the Realist, as he's surprisingly the most balanced and grounded in reality despite his idealism), Kirsten is the Conflicted, Julie is the Cynic and Jimmy is the Apathetic.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • The four main teens: Ryan and Marissa are melancholic with some choleric tendencies, Summer is pure sanguine, and Seth is either sanguine or phlegmatic.
    • Luke, who later befriends them, is choleric.
    • Ryan's major love interests throughout the series also form one. Namely, Marissa (choleric), Lindsey (phlegmatic), Sadie (melancholic), and Taylor (sanguine).
    • The four main adults: Sandy is sanguine, Kirsten is melancholic, Julie is choleric and Jimmy is phlegmatic.
  • 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.
  • Genki Girl: Taylor and Summer.
  • 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.
  • Gold Digger: Julie Cooper
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted, a late episode reveals that Kirsten was pregnant with Jimmy's child before she went to Berkeley, before getting an abortion & meeting Sandy a month later.
  • Good Parents: Sandy and Kirsten
  • Granola Girl: Summer in Season 4. Che, as well, who at one point plays the guitar naked and also 'jams on the didge'.
  • Hanukkah Episode: "The Best Chrismukka Ever" blends both Hanukkah and Christmas (hence "Chrismukka"), and involves the characters celebrating both holidays.
  • Happily Ever After: Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts.
  • Happily Married: Sandy and Kirsten Cohen. Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts, eventually.
  • Has a Type: Several characters seems to target a kind of people:
    • Ryan has a thing for girls with complicated family/love relationships (Marissa is in a Dysfunctional Family, Theresa becomes pregnant with a physically abusive guy, Lindsay is the illegitimate daughter of Caleb and Taylor lives with an abusive mom ). Only Sadie averts this being a ordinary girl. Kirsten lampshades the contrast saying Ryan haves a "Saving the girl" attitude.
    • Julie targets almost only rich and wealthy men (Jimmy, Caleb, Dr Roberts and Bullit)
    • In Season 2, Summer is torn between two geeky comics lovers (Seth and Zach) creating a Opposites Attract dynamic. In a friendship variation, Summer tends to get along with blondes: Marissa, Holly (at first) Anna, and Taylor.
    • Inverted with Marissa who seems to be the type to Dark and Troubled Past guys or bad boys (Ryan, Oliver, Johnny, Trey and Volchok especially).
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Luke. In the early episodes he was pretty much your typical Jerk Jock, but by the end of the first season he had turned into a sympathetic, likable character.
    • Taylor. She started out as a Smug Snake, before developing into a lovable Genki Girl.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ryan and Seth, Marissa and Summer, eventually Kirsten and Julie, and Summer and Taylor.
  • Hidden Depths: See Character Development for Summer, just above.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Everyone, except for Ryan and Luke, failed to see the type of person that Oliver was.
  • House Squatting: In the first season of The O.C., Seth and Marissa try to hide Ryan in one of Kirsten's under construction mega-home housing developments to keep him from being sent back to juvenile detention. They light his temporary quarters with open-flame candles resulting in the home he's squatting in burning to the ground.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode title starts with The.
  • 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.
  • Interclass Friendship: Working class Ryan is best friends (albeit adoptive brothers) with the rich Seth and also on good terms with Seth's wealthy girlfriend, Summer.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Kaitlin and The Bullit.
  • It's Popular, Now It Sucks!: In-Universe, Kaitlin has this reaction in season 3 with "Death Cab's playing on The Valley now? Never listening to them again.", which also doubles as a Fandom Nod, as both the show & Death Cab's fandoms voiced similar complaints when they appeared on The OC.
  • I Was Young and Needed the Money: Julie made an adult film during the '80s.
  • Ivy League for Everyone
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Seth: while he may be self-absorbed and slightly petty at times, he's otherwise a genuinely Nice Guy who loves Summer more than anything, and most of his selfless and sweet moments occur when he's with her, or when the situation involves her. When he wasn't accepted to his preferred university, and she refused to go without him, he broke up with her and told her didn't love her any more just so she would go. And he clearly did still love her. And how can we forget all the times where he looked after her and his mother while they were drunk?
    • And then there's Luke. He started out as a complete Jerkass, and eventually became a pretty good friend to the main cast. He genuinely evolves from a Jerk Jock to a Lovable Jock.
    • Summer. She started out as a spoiled, slightly rude Alpha Bitch, but, like Luke, she evolved into a much more likable, sympathetic character. To be fair that was mostly an act, since despite her vain streak, she still was a good person at heart, but she Took a Level in Kindness when she became friends with Ryan and Seth.
    • And finally Taylor. Initially she was annoying, conniving, self-serving, manipulative and Summer's Arch-Enemy. Eventually she had a Heel–Face Turn and became a good friend to Summer and the other main characters (as well as Ryan's Love Interest).
    • Subverted with Ryan. He's a genuinely Nice Guy and is not a natural jerk, but his past turned him into a rather cynical and brooding boy, with a short temper that gets better through Character Development.
    • If you think about it, almost everyone in this show could be considered a Jerk with a Heart of Gold at one point in the series.
  • Jewish Mother: The Nana.
  • Lady Drunk:
    • Kirsten. Played for laughs in the first season but builds to drama by the end of the second.
    • Julie Cooper has elements of this, as do any of the stock "Newpsies".
    "This is Newport Beach. Everyone here's a borderline alcoholic."
  • Lampshade Hanging
    • 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."
  • Left Hanging: Whilst the Grand Finale makes it very clear that Seth & Summer get married, it's intentionally left up to the viewer's interpretation if Taylor & Ryan wind up together again after college, and if Julie gets back together with Frank or Bullit.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Seth Cohen, before Ryan's arrival.
  • Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: The Nana. She even lampshades this in complaining her family never writes, calls or visits.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Anna Stern likes to sail.
  • Monochrome Casting: A constant joke about this show is its exceedingly white cast. Sorta justified in that Orange County's rich upper class elite would mostly be white (Newport Beach is over 80 percent white with the rest of being made up by Asian and Hispanic). 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 Bookend to Ryan's story.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Ryan, Luke, but a lot of girls seem to enjoy Seth. This isn't true for geeks in Real Life.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Julie Cooper to Luke (and other young men later on, such as 25 year-old tennis teacher Bullit).
  • 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.
  • Old Shame: In-Universe, Julie making a porno at 18.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten:
    • People still treat Ryan's wifebeater from early season one as synonymous with his character in season 4.
    • At Caleb's funeral in season two, Ryan comments that everyone who comes up to him either asks if he's the one who burnt down the Model Home or asks if he's the one who gave Caleb his first heart attack.
  • New Year's Kiss: In the season one episode "The Countdown," after Ryan's awkward response to Marissa telling him she loves him, Marissa goes to a New Year's party alone. During the countdown to 2004, Ryan rushes through the crowd to find her, and they share a kiss as soon as the new year begins.
  • 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.
  • Pair the Spares: Averted.
  • Paying It Forward: In the last episode, we see Ryan working as a professional architect. He notices a rundown street kid watching him work and asks if the kid needs help, a callback to how lawyer Sandy Cohen offered Ryan help in the first episode of the series.
  • Postmodernism: Seth Cohen in particular has become a bit of a postmodern pop culture icon.
  • 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?"
  • Put on a Bus:
    • 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.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Luke in "The Proposal".
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Defrosting Ice Queen Kirsten is the blue oni to Drama Queen Julie. Also Light Feminineand Dark Feminine (guess which one is Julie).
  • Redemption in the Rain: Although mostly a parody of Spider-Man.
  • 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"
  • Retool: 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 Retool 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.
  • Revisiting the Roots: Season four was an attempt recapture the feel of season one following the darker and more dramatic seasons two and three. The show's focus returned to the characters of Ryan, Seth, and Summer, and the overall tone of the show became more upbeat and funny. However, by that point the show's popularity had declined dramatically from its first season, and season four was cut short due to low ratings.
  • Rich Bitch: Julie Cooper
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Ryan goes on one against Volchok after Marissa's death.
  • Romantic False Lead:
    • Anna & Alex for Seth.
    • Theresa & Lindsay for Ryan.
    • Zach for Summer.
    • Luke, D.J. & Johnny for Marissa.
  • Running Gag: Nothing good ever happens at a Cohen party.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money! - Julie. Caleb too, although arguably to a lesser extent.
  • Second Love: Ryan actually had three true loves. Theresa The First, Marissa The Second, and Taylor The Third.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Seth and Ryan.
  • 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 of the series.
  • Shirtless Scene: Several. It is set in California.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Dr. Roberts moves to Seattle Grace, though unfortunately the character never appeared on the show
    • Luke refers to Oliver as The Great Gatsby, which fits very well.
    • Marissa calls Summer as Veronica Mars in an episode of Season 3. The show's theme song is played in season 1 episode "The Secret".
  • Show Within a Show:
    • 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 Superman Shout-Out.
  • 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.
  • Smug Snake:
  • Sorry, I Left the BGM 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 setting-wise.
  • 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.
  • Stalking Is Funny If It Is Female After Male: Taylor stalks Ryan early in their relationship. But it's played for laughs rather than being depicted as creepy.
  • Stalking Is Love:
    • Oliver to Marissa.
    • Taylor to Ryan, albeit Played for Laughs due to Taylor's adorableness.
  • Staging an Intervention: A by-the-book version for Kirsten in the season two finale.
  • Stealth Parody: The show wasn't self-aware enough to qualify as a deconstruction of the teen drama, but someone in the writer's room was at least content to flirt with the possibility.
    • A bit more than a flirtation, as the show is widely credited with ushering Postmodernism into the teen drama mainstream.
  • The Stoner:
    • Luke Ward & Summer Roberts in the first few episodes of the series. It was quickly dropped & never mentioned again.
    • Trey Atwood.
    • Seth Cohen in Season 3, after failing to get into Brown.
    • Kaitlin Cooper in Season 4.
  • Stoners Are Funny: Seeing Seth Cohen under the influence of drugs was a highlight.
  • Suicide as Comedy: Oliver fakes a suicide attempt, and after making the phone call, dances around flinging pills everywhere.
  • Survivor Guilt: Marissa's constant moping after Johnny's death.
  • Take That!: Josh Schwartz doesn't seem to be very fond of his time slot competitor Grey's Anatomy.
  • Tangled Family Tree: Oh, Sweet Jesus
    • 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 step-grandmother 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") are both pretty short, the ones actually played by teens Marissa and Kaitlin are 5'8" and 5'7" respectively.
  • Teen Drama
  • Their First Time: Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts. They lost their virginity together.
  • Theme Tune: "California" by Phantom Planet
  • 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.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: "Welcome to the O.C., bitch!" - #83 on a TV Land's Best TV Quotes list.
  • Time Skip: Of around six months between show's penultimate & final episodes.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: As mentioned above, its arguable whether Seth did this or started as a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Summer. In the first few episodes she came across as a shallow, spoiled bitch. But then became more of a somewhat ditzy, but likable girlfriend for Seth.
  • 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.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Ryan.
  • 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).
  • Ungrateful Bastard: After Ryan saves Marissa's life, Julie, instead of thanking him, unfairly blames him for Marissa's suicide attempt, and threatens to have him sent back to Juvey if he so much as tries to go near Marissa again.
  • 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.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Frenemies Julie and Kirsten. They tend to bicker over Julie's Alpha Bitch behavior, not to mention her goldigging ways, especially after Julie's marriage to Kirsten's father. Julie is often mocking Kirsten for being such an Ice Queen. However, they are best friends, and often describe each other as "my only friend in Newport".
  • Wham Episode: "The Graduates"
  • Wham Line: In "The Earth Girls Are Easy" Frank delivers " I'm Ryan's father"
  • Wild Teen Party: Many. Almost once an episode in early Season One, Season 2's "The Rager" and Season 4's "The Summer Bummer"
  • World of Snark: Virtually every major character (and many minor characters) is a Deadpan Snarker.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Sandy Cohen is fond of "schmeering" bagels.
  • You Mean "Xmas": Chrismukkah, due to Seth growing up with a Jewish father & Presbyterian mother.