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California, Here We Come! ‘The O.C.’ Season Two

June 21, 2015

Confession time. I didn’t actually begin watching The O.C. on air until the middle of the second season. If you’re familiar with season one of The O.C., then you know just how lost I might have been. Diving right into a tumultuous soap-style primetime drama midseason might seem foolhardy in the Netflix Binge Era we currently inhabit, but with The O.C., it just didn’t matter. The characters were so likable and the intermingling of storylines was intoxicating. Being in high school at the time myself, I hadn’t experienced such a show before. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that the first episode I caught on air was, “The Mallpisode,” or, the episode where the core four teen characters (Ryan, Marissa, Seth and Summer) got locked in the mall overnight.

Mall fantasies aside, The O.C.  has always been about wish fulfillment. A kid with a troubled past gets a second chance in posh Newport Beach. A high school outcast makes a new friend and finally experiences some adventure. A beauty queen finally finds someone who understands her. A divorcee transcends her checkered past to become the most powerful person in town. The list goes on and on, and each situation is a variation on the American Dream. That was the main thrust of the first season.

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The initial batch of 27 episodes ended in a shakeup, but the finale only set up a darker and more personal second season. Ryan was returning to Chino with his pregnant girlfriend, which directly or indirectly plunged almost everyone else into a state of deep depression. Seth was somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on his sailboat, presumably with sails set for Tahiti. Sandy and Kirsten were depressed about early onset empty-nest syndrome, and the Marissa/Summer combination was shellshocked after being left in the dust by Ryan and Seth.

I’m going to do my best not to dance around the fact that season two was bleak and generally less enjoyable than the first. There was a little relief, and it was always fleeting. There were enjoyable new characters to distract from the malaise, but it always felt like we were riding a conveyor belt into tragedy. By the end of the season, peaks and valleys considered, there’s no denying that there was a slight downward trend from season one.

Without further ado, here are the worst and best story lines of season two.

The Worst:

Rebecca Bloom

Season two proved to be loaded with lookalikes. Rebecca was posed to us as the female Sandy. For that reason, she was more interesting than Rachel from the first season, but only marginally so. Her story began as a missing persons case brought to Sandy by one of his old professors. The missing person was his daughter, Rebecca, to whom Sandy was once engaged. As it turned out, Rebecca turned up at Sandy’s new office, and the missing person cases became a case to clear her name. Recapping this subplot has me yawning already, and that is one of the worst charges a TV show can face. The O.C. always had enough going on that it was never boring on the whole, but to plunge Sandy, the show’s most vibrant character, into this ugly story was a lot to put audiences through.

Rebecca was a fiesty idealist, and Jewish, which made her catnip for Sandy, and a far cry from the WASPy Kirsten. None of this changes the fact that Kirsten is still Sandy’s angel. That tidy fact, along with the sense that Rebecca clearly did not have her “stuff” together, meant there was never really anything to root for. This was purely another marriage tester scenario, and one that was even more foisted upon us than Rachel was in the first season. Of course, Sandy pulled through in the end, but it was just enough of an obstacle to distract him from the demons Kirsten was battling around the same time. Remember, it is bad form when the show messes with Sandy and Kirsten (The O.C. Rule #4).

Carter Buckley

Another marriage tester. Billy Campbell had an extended guest role as Carter Buckley, Sandy’s gentile doppleganger. Carter is a magazine wunderkind with several popular publications to his name and he is shipped in to help get Newport Living, Julie’s vanity project, off the ground. He is also a handsome idealist who has the hots for Kirsten. Carter’s midlife crisis coalesced with the Rebecca Bloom Problem and Kirsten’s nascent alcoholism into another storm of disregard for Rule #4.

The Lindsay Adoption Saga

This was another head-scratcher. Lindsay Gardner (Shannon Lucio) was introduced as a Harbor transfer student. She was ambitious and hard working but abrasive, butting heads with Ryan a few times during their stint as lab partners. She never really fit in, failing to connect with Marissa and Summer. Her outcast status was intentional, and the show called attention to it, but maybe it also contributed to her character arc feeling like a sore thumb.

I think I’m OK with the Ryan/Lindsay relationship, but of course, she later got sucked into the great granddaddy of soap opera tropes. She unknowingly turned out to be Caleb Nichol’s illegitimate child. As juicy as it sounds, it just wasn’t that fun to watch. This development did spark some vindictive Julie moments, which were great, but Julie will always find a way to have moments. I think I liked Lindsay. She was sweet, and I definitely felt bad whenever she was treated poorly. But her adoption saga with Caleb was just sad and dour.

The Best:

Julie’s Erotica Scandal

Julie went through a lot this season. She’s a survivor and has the fabulous leopard prints to prove it. In the middle of this season, an old boyfriend blackmails her with a porn tape she made in the eighties (it was the eighties…), looking to score some cash off of Caleb, Julie’s powerful husband. This was just good old fashioned soapy fun. Sandy had some nice moments, getting involved to do some lawyering. Caleb flexed his corrupt muscles. Most of all it’s always fun getting a little more of Julie’s backstory. She curates her public image so carefully, even Kris Jenner could learn a thing or two. Watching her scramble to cover up her less-than glamorous roots is always a treat.

Atomic County

Atomic County. What a great name for a comic book! Excuse me, it’s a graphic novel. Seth is a gifted artist with a talent for meta-commentary – of course he has stories to tell! He decided to go into the comic business with an unlikely partner in Zach Stevens. Zach was Seth’s water-polo playing doppleganger (again with the lookalikes!). Not only did he share Seth’s interest in the great American art form, he also has an eye for Summer. Perhaps the most impressive things about this subplot is that it somehow managed not to be particularly misogynistic toward Summer, who handled the competitive courtship with great aplomb. The romantic competition boiled over into the business. Because of the twists, turns, and treachery involved, this turned out to be one of the more entertaining arcs of the season. The story even wrapped up with the help of a George Lucas cameo!

Season Two By The Numbers

Sandy Cohen Bagel Count: 4

I was expecting more from Sandy in this category, but he did have a rough season.

Kaitlin Cooper Mentions: 8

Kaitlin Cooper was not in this season, even though she was frequently referred to almost as if she were just off-screen. In the first season, she was played by Shailene Woodley, who’s now a movie star.

Mentions of The Valley: 8

Summer loves The Valley. It’s a soap mostly about teens living near the beach in California, and seems to be characterized by frequent plot twists.

Mermaid Inn Visits: 2*

*I went with two here, though the number could be as high as four. There were a few more motel scenes that failed to establish a specific setting.

Visits to The Arches: 6

The Arches was a fine dining establishment introduced this season as a new location for adult characters to congregate. The Arches is not McDonald’s. Fancy, but not too fancy.

Guns Drawn: 4

Only two actual guns this year, though they were drawn by no fewer than four people. Maybe the gun wielded by Jess, Trey, and Marissa should have had its own power rankings consideration…

Ryan Punches: 9+

Ryan opened the season with a very long punch drought. He really rounded into form later in the season, walloping fools left and right.

  • Seth! (OK, it was only in the arm)
  • Bar Guy #1
  • Bar Guy #2
  • Guy Who Stole the Crystal Egg From Risky Business (don’t ask)
  • Kyle the Drug Dealer
  • Trey (no fewer than four times)

Formal Newport Events: 8

Some of these event names are made up by me, and some are not.

  • Semi-Impromptu Newport Group Client Schmoozefest
  • The SNO.C.
  • Jimmy Cooper’s Going Away Party
  • Lindsay’s Adoption/Newport Living Announcement Party
  • Newport Living Launch
  • The O.C. Pseudo Charity Non-Yard Sale
  • Harbor Prom
  • Caleb’s Funeral and Reception

Tom Cruise Movies Mentioned: 6

  • Risky Business
  • Cocktail
  • Top Gun
  • Days of Thunder
  • Vanilla Sky
  • Jerry Maguire

Music of The O.C.

Music took on an even larger role in this season. The Bait Shop employs several key characters in the second season and doubles as a hip concert venue.

Artist Cameos: 7

  • The Walkmen
  • The Killers
  • Modest Mouse
  • The Thrills
  • Rachael Yamagata
  • Death Cab for Cutie
  • T.I.

Top Five Soundtracks:

  1. Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap (Episode 24)
  2. Debaser, The Pixies (Episode 16)
  3. Love On a Real Train, Tangerine Dream (Episode 18)
  4. Miami, Will Smith (Episode 21)
  5. Fix You, Coldplay (Episode 23)

Honorables:

  1. End of the Road, Boyz II Men (Episode 14)
  2. Open Arms, Journey (Episode 8)
  3. Honest Mistake, The Bravery (Episode 24)
  4. Reason Why, Rachael Yamagata (Episode 11)
  5. No Rain, Blind Melon (Episode 14)
  6. Rock You Like A Hurricane, Scorpions (Episode 16)
  7. Here I Go Again, Whitesnake/Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Poison (Episode 19)

Hide and Seek was the showstopper bookending the finale, and nobody who has seen The O.C. will ever be able to disassociate that song from the episode.

Carter Buckley gets a signature song, when Kirsten visits him and witnesses him in full-on midlife crisis mode, blasting The Pixies’ Debaser. Could there be a more perfect song for a man worried that he might have peaked in college?

I admit, I had to look this one up but I’m glad a nice atmospheric track from Tangerine Dream made it into The O.C. Miami, Will Smith’s magnum opus was put to good use, providing comedic contrast to Seth’s geriatric inclinations. I think every show that on air in the mid-aughts had at least one Coldplay song, and many of those shows used Fix You, as The O.C. did here. Even if it’s a pretty cliched choice in hindsight (it may have been cliche in the moment too, but memory has been proven unreliable), it was still a striking song to lay over a dramatic montage.

As for the honorable mentions, we get the token Journey track for Ryan’s sake, and Julie is properly styled with some good hair metal moments from Poison and Whitesnake. Speaking of hair metal, Lance gets his a Rock You Like A Hurricane all to himself when Sandy pays him a visit. Could the be a more perfect song for an eighties porn producer reliving his glory days than Rock You Like A Hurricane?

Power Rankings

Season two saw a major shakeup in the O.C. power rankings. Read on for the statistically rendered list of the best characters from episodes 28-52 of The O.C.

1. Ryan Atwood

Ryan punched his way to the top in season two, narrowly edging out Sandy and claiming alpha-dog status for now. Once again, pretty much any time one character was wrong about something, that meant Ryan was right. He’s always keeping it 100%. Why can’t he find happiness? Everyone is always letting him down. It’s OK though, because Ryan expects them to let him down. No harm, no foul. Keep on punchin’.

2. Sandy Cohen

Sandy went through ordeals this season. He managed to stay strong for his family, but after getting a little too swept by Rebecca Bloom Problem, you can’t help but wonder if Sandy might be human after all. In an interesting twist, the biggest reason for Sandy’s downfall was his own female doppleganger! Sandy got over it, but looses points for tardiness and letting Kirsten pay the price. Really, we all paid the price here.

3. Julie Cooper-Nichol

Julie had a monster season. Last season, she dumped her white-collar criminal husband, Jimmy, and married the wealthiest man in town, Caleb (Kirsten’s father… ick!). This season, she had an affair with her ex-husband, hatched a murder plot that she very nearly saw through to the end, took stewardship of The Newport Group, swindled a rightful heir of her birthright, survived an adult film scandal, and intimidated a blackmailer. Even though there’s probably a better-than-50% chance that The Porn Identity doesn’t actually fit properly into The O.C.’s continuity, this was one of the juiciest subplots all season. Julie was on fire in season two. She had the kind of television season that dreams of soap opera greatness are made of.

4. Summer Roberts

Summer made a huge leap. She was vibrating at a higher frequency this year, and it paid major dividends. Vapid Summer was gone without a trace. New Summer took agency over her actions, and wouldn’t let Seth drag her down in his mire of narcissism and poor decision making. Summer fielded courtship not only from Seth, but Zach (a.k.a. Seth’s gentile doppleganger), the water-polo-playing, comic-book-reading, son of a politician, and she took crap from neither. She was empowered, not unlike Anna last season, and proved over a full season that she was worthy of having a sailboat named after her.

5. Seth Cohen

Seth was at his narcissistic best this year. He was almost fatally self-absorbed, and very nearly lost Summer for it. But Seth also created Atomic County, the graphic novel that introduced us to immortal characters like Little Miss Vixen and Kid Chino. Seth was All-Camp Capture the Flag at Camp Tacahoe, and didn’t care who knew. Enough said.

Jump to about the 2:35 mark in this clip if you don’t watch it from the beginning.

6. Marissa Cooper

Marissa, like Summer, made a sizable leap in season two. She wasn’t nearly as wishy washy as last season. Her timing never really worked out with Ryan until later in the season, but instead of wallowing, she got busy. She dated D.J. the lawn guy, told her irresponsible father to hit the road, experimented with her sexuality, and last but not least, capped Trey in the closing moments of the season. A very impressive body of work – Marissa obviously takes after her mother.

7. Alex

Alex overachieved in big way. She was not a great character, both under-written and plot-servicey. She was filler. Good thing Olivia Wilde didn’t get the memo, as she turned a bland character into a more dynamic one. Character development aside, Alex was involved in many of this season’s mini-arcs. She went on a blind date with Ryan, dated Seth, dated Marissa, and then vacated the apartment that Trey, fresh from prison, would later move into. She also gets points managing Newport’s dopest concert venue and having a crazy ex named Jodie (Emmanuelle Chriqui).

8. Kirsten Cohen (TIE)

Kirsten had a devastating year, getting swallowed up by her own downward spiral. Dealing with the simultaneous departure of Seth and Ryan did not get her off to a good start. The boys came back, of course, but with her continued battles with Caleb and multiple interlopers trying to invade her marriage, it’s no surprise Kirsten succumbed to the ravages of alcoholism. Any time your family stages a professional intervention for you, you should just anticipate a sharp tumble in the power rankings.

8. Zach (TIE)

Bizarro Seth made a big impression in his time on the show. Zach (Michael Cassidy) was dorky and lovable, but if there is something this show has trained us to do, it’s to be suspicious of water polo players. They are not to be trusted. Sure enough, Zach and Seth entered into a season-long duel for Summer’s affections. For Zach, it just wasn’t meant to be. We’re not worried about Zach though, he has great hair, he knows how to ride a moped, and he can pronounce gnocchi. He’ll be fine.

10. Caleb Nichol

Caleb’s reckoning was teased in the first season, and he was under siege for most of the second. Between the continued legal struggles with the Newport Group, the ongoing emotional torture of his daughter Kirsten, the clashes with her husband Sandy, it was amazing Caleb maintained strength as long as he did. He was suspicious of everyone in his life, and because of it, he indirectly denied one of his heirs her birthright. He repeatedly scoffed at the chance to get to know Ryan, even during an emotional billiards match that may as well have been for Lindsay’s allegiance. Caleb was, once again, a real bastard. Intriguingly, that’s what makes him Caleb, and the power rankings look fondly on knowing oneself.

Also Receiving Votes:

11. Lindsay

I have complicated feelings about Lindsay. As covered earlier in this recap, Lindsay was a sympathetic character. She had some nice moments with Ryan. But Lindsay was one of those characters to whom things happen without her ever really being the agent of change. Not unlike Season One Marissa Cooper, Lindsay generally faded in these situations rather than taking charge. That has to be the main reason why an otherwise likable character just missed out on the top ten.

12. Trey Atwood

I guess it was just never in the cards for Ryan’s older bro Trey (Logan Marshal-Green). We already knew from the first season that we didn’t like Trey. When he showed up in the last stretch of season two, we were still skeptical. Of course, Trey said all the right things, bought Ryan a gift rather than stealing one, and maintained a low profile while staying at the Cohen house. Trey was getting along just fine. He might even have opened up some options for himself. But that was before he attacked Marissa and instigated one of the all-time great season finale climaxes. Mostly, Trey was fun to have around, and the producers did well to re-cast with Marshall-Green.

Here’s the ending.

And here’s the SNL parody.

13. Reed

14. Carter Buckley

15. Mary Sue

16. Lance/The Porn Identity

17. Jimmy Cooper

18. Jess Sathers

19. D.J. (TIE)

19. Rebecca Bloom (TIE)

20. Hailey Nichol

Not Receiving Votes:

Luke & Carson Ward

Theresa Diaz

Lindsay’s Mom

Professor Bloom

The Nana

The Nana’s fiancee

Jodie

Dr. Neil Roberts

Top Ten Sandy Quotes (Season Two Edition)

  1. “He was a caring father, a wonderful grandfather, a truly terrible father-in-law. […] So, he may be gone, but he won’t soon be forgotten. Rest in peace, Caleb. And if you can’t do that, I’m sure heaven could use a few more McMansions.”
  2. “Nothing like a little Julie Cooper to strike fear in the hearts of children everywhere.”
  3. “We cannot fight a war on multiple fronts. Have we learned nothing from the Nazis?”
  4. “Well, I tried to talk to Phyllis earlier, but I left my Ouija Board at home.”
  5. “Gather round Marissa, I’m going to teach you how to schmear.”
  6. “Hey. No bar nuts? What kind of joint is this?”
  7. “Never underestimate a parent’s ability to mortify his child.”
  8. “I have this thing about sauces. Less is more.”
  9. “This place is a first-class dump. And I like it!”
  10. “You ready to rip off some Newpsies?”
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