“California, here we come.”
The refrain from the Phantom Planet tune “California” that served as the theme song for “The O.C.” welcomed viewers to Fox’s short-lived but much-loved prime-time soap that focused on a group of teenagers and parents navigating the emotional ups and downs of life in affluent Newport Beach.
Now, 20 years after the show’s debut, Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall is taking readers “right back where we started from” in a splendid retrospective that relies on the memories of those who brought the show’s 96 episodes to life.
“Welcome to The O.C.” — the title references a memorable line from the pilot (minus a not-so-friendly word that punctuates the sentiment) — features recollections from creator Josh Schwartz, executive producer Stephanie Savage, the show’s stars, Fox executives and many more.
The oral history serves as a definitive look-back at the four-season series that introduced “Chrismukkah” (a celebration of both Christmas and Hanukkah in the blended Cohen household) and a host of indie-rock bands whose songs played over some of “The O.C.”’s biggest moments.
None was more monumental than the controversial decision to kill off Mischa Barton’s Marissa Cooper, one of the show’s central characters, in season three’s finale in 2006.
The book devotes a chapter to the behind-the-scenes intrigue that led to Barton’s exit as well as the fallout. Spoiler alert: Those close to the show didn’t like it very much, starting with Barton herself, who called it “a little bit of a bummer.”
Others used stronger — and strikingly similar — language.
Kelly Rowan, who played Cooper’s neighbor, Kirsten Cohen, said the storyline was “a big mistake,” breaking up the characters who came to be known as “The Core Four” — Kirsten Cohen’s comic-book- and indie-music-loving son Seth, played by Adam Brody; Ben McKenzie’s Ryan Atwood, a troubled outsider who is taken in by the Cohens; Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson), Seth Cohen’s dream girl and classmate; and Cooper, the beautiful girl-next-door who is Ryan’s soulmate.
Savage acknowledged it was a “terrible, terrible mistake.”
And Schwartz, who at the time was one of the youngest EPs in the television industry, agreed.
“I very quickly realized, ‘Oh my God, what have we done? I think we made a terrible mistake,’” he said.
“The O.C.” lasted one more season. Schwartz and Savage went on to helm a multitude of other small-screen gems, including “Chuck” and “Gossip Girl.” The Core Four had become stars, and the show gave screen time to future headliners such as Chris Pratt,Olivia Wilde and Shailene Woodley.
“Welcome to The O.C.” is a must-read for viewers of the show’s original run, but it works, too, for those meeting the Cohens and their fellow Orange County residents for the first time via streaming services.
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