Trying to explain the cultural impact of The O.C. to somebody who was not alive and/or old enough to consume it during its fleetingly glorious run is like trying to explain death to an earthworm or Scott Disick to your great-grandfather. For the uninitiated, the unborn, or the unwoke, suffice it to say that The O.C. was a sweeping and universal pop-cultural phenomenon, a touchstone for the teens of the early aughts in the same way that Duck Dynasty is a touchstone for the profligate racists of today.
Back in the olden days of 2004-2007, The O.C. was what the pilgrims used to call Appointment Television. One did not ever DVR The O.C. Nay, one sat before one's TV each week at the Hour of Reckoning (9 p.m. Eastern, give or take a few time-slot swaps) and watched The O.C. in real-time. One sat silently on the phone with one's friends for the entire episode, speaking only during commercials or during the occasional bad concert at The Bait Shop. One went to school the next morning sporting one's best attempt at a Marissa Cooper side-bang and discussed the intricacies of the previous night's episode for the duration of lunch. One assigned oneself an O.C. avatar (I was a Summer; every single boy I knew delusionally believed himself to be an internal Seth and an external Ryan). One wept violently and for many hours at the end of the first and second seasons, because one could not imagine continuing to live without weekly visits to Josh Schwartz's beautiful, morally bankrupt universe. One's parents were like, "What is actually wrong with you, where have we failed you?"
Last week brought news that this April, The O.C. will stream in its entirety on Hulu. (Heretofore, The O.C. has streamed only on CW Seed, which I'd literally never heard of before typing this sentence, but is apparently some kind of digital platform and not an alien grocery store.) This means that The Next Generation will finally get to experience the show with their fresh, cataract-free eyes. A new crop of youths will lust after Ryan Atwood, who purports to be a teenager but appears to be a divorced 46-year-old father of two who's seen some hard living. A new set of burgeoning bros will learn that masculinity can be complex and multilayered, that both leather jackets and toy horses can be tokens of sexual virility. A new group of moms will remember that they, too, can fuck their daughter's boyfriends with little to no consequence. A new gaggle of hirsute men will learn to correctly cultivate their body hair.
Here are a few more reasons Generation Z should dive straight into the frothy, churning infinity pool that is The O.C. and never look back.
1. Each episode jams 16 pounds of plot into a one-pound bag.
Everything happens so much on The O.C. The series was, essentially, fan fiction of itself before fan fiction became a mainstream thing. The writers wrote each episode as if the world were ending imminently, as if tomorrow would 100 percent never come and they would not have to worry about writing an ensuing episode. The pilot episode alone includes a car theft, a brief juvie stint, a meditation on privilege, a meditation on teen homelessness and domestic abuse, teens getting hammered on a beach, a fundraiser that devolves into parent-on-parent violence, a high school party that devolves into fuckboi-on-lesser-fuckboi violence, underage threesomes, and Mischa Barton passed out on a driveway. As such, the stakes had to be upped exponentially with each subsequent hour-long installment: Implausible romances were forged and flew with frequency into the faces of logic, time, and space; everyone was either kidnapped or nearly felled by a secret vice; everyone enjoyed sexual congress with each other's relatives. By the end of their first-season binge-watch, today's content-monster teens will have seen so many climaxes, so many denouements, and so many love octagons in such rapid-fire succession that even the most virulent of Vines and salient of Snapchats will no longer satisfy them.
2. There are no vampires in it.
The O.C. existed in that brief but blissful window prior to Twilight, or The Vampire Diaries, or MTV's own Teen Wolf, or that thing where people made WikiHow articles on How To Act Like A Vampire. It was a simpler time, a time when being alive was considered attractive. Seth is in love with Summer despite the fact that she does not consume human blood or have drawers filled with daguerreotype photos of herself. Marissa wants to get it with Ryan even though he is not consumed by an unholy desire to insert his teeth into her fragile veins until she, too, becomes an immortal ghoul. It's hard to imagine now — were we ever so innocent? so easily sated? — but The O.C. was devoid of all manner of extra-human species: No werewolves, teen or otherwise; no zombies; no aliens; no witches (insert Julie Cooper joke here); no Real Housewives. The O.C. trafficked in fantasy, to be sure, but it was a fantasy of wealth and beauty, and one that was frequently undercut and exposed as false. Edward Cullen would've been broken down and sold for parts if he'd even stepped one pale-ass thigh onto Newport Beach.
3. It's responsible for a large chunk of modern popular culture.
Speaking of Real Housewives, those of the Actual O.C. and their innumerable spawn would not exist were it not for The O.C. For that matter, neither would Laguna Beach, or The Hills, or the fact that we still say "Death Cab for Cutie" with a straight face. For today's generation, tuning into The O.C. would be the cinematic equivalent of respecting your elders, of remembering where you came from. Seth Cohen marked the beginning of comic-book cool, of nerds inheriting the Earth, of early-onset Jewish neuroticism reading as a sexually desirable quality. Marissa Cooper was one of the first populist protagonists to embark upon a casual lesbian fling. Trey Atwood was the original Dear Sister. Ryan Atwood was the original Emo Justin Bieber. Oh, you think you invented Emo Justin Bieber, Emo Justin Bieber? Here is your receipt.
4. It's an object lesson in abstract concepts like "meta" and "sad rich people."
Going to school is bad. Watching TV is good. These are sociological constants we can all agree upon. The O.C. was meta before the majority of its viewership had even heard the term "meta," and thus, it taught a generation of teens about a relatively complex and abstract concept. Why not do it again for Generation Z? Tune into The O.C., youths of the Americas, and learn about postmodernity and post-irony from a show that's fully self-aware and regularly self-referential and self-deprecating. It's got The Valley, The O.C.-within-The-O.C. soap opera that regularly skewers its source material. It's got Sherman Oaks: The Real Valley, The O.C.'s way of addressing Laguna Beach, which, as we've established, came about solely because of The O.C. It's got Chrismukkah, a made-up holiday that takes (... loose) aim at American consumerism and the claustrophobic confines of groupthink-y religions. It's got rich, beautiful people who hate their lives and demonstrate this by staring into fancy pools while drinking surreptitiously. And it's got a young man very earnestly and solemnly wearing leather bracelets, which has to be a statement about something.
5. It starts out wonderfully, and it ends so badly, which is instructive.
More than anything else, The O.C. is a cautionary tale, a modern-day fable about flying too close to the blazing California sun, driving down the 101, and looking out for number one. The first season of The O.C. is a fucking masterpiece. It should be savored and revered as such. The second season of The O.C. is just okay, if you watch it with one eye closed while drinking Ambien crushed up into apple juice. The third season of The O.C. is trash. The fourth season of The O.C. is like if trash became animate and rose up from its can and tried to destroy you. The O.C. blew its entire load in its first season, and spent the next three seasons frantically trying to clean it up (even creator Schwartz admitted as much, telling Alan Sepinwall, "The very things that made the show so fun to watch in that first season became problematic later on 'cause we burned through so much story"). It shone too hard and too bright. It loved itself so much that it ate itself whole. It drank too much Chardonnay and it died alone. It wanted too much. Don't want too much, kids. Want just enough, just this: to watch The O.C. on Hulu.