Monday, May 29, 2006

The O.C. - Quick Reflections on Three Seasons

A few nights ago I finally got caught up on The O.C., although three seasons in five months can hardly be described as a leisurely pace.

The O.C. has been less successful this year, ratings-wise. And the general consensus among fans is that its quality stagnated this season. But it has tried some interesting things over the years, and certainly the first season is very instructive about how to make a teen series that resonates with adolescents and adults. And its portrayal of teens could certainly bear some scrutiny.

So, here are a couple of threads I find interesting:

1. Commentary on Gen X. I discussed this in an earlier post. References to the 80s abound. The show seems to be using contemporary teens to talk about the previous generation; not surprising as the show's creator, Josh Schwartz, is an X-er. One more example: in an episode titled "The O.C. Confidential," Seth and Summer attend a party at the house of an upwardly mobile thirty-something, and it's an effective parody of the neuvo-adult hipster scene. Summer's reaction is predictable: "Ew."

2. Seth Cohen: trickster. Like Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, hell, comic relief characters back through Shakespeare or even trickster mythology, Seth (and lately his girlfriend Summer, as well) has special powers. He has one foot in the fictional world and one foot in the real, and he manipulates the boundary at will. His comedy can reference pop culture, not-so-pop culture, the show's own formula, and even literary criticism (he refers to a plot device at one point as an "objective correlative"). What's novel is how this function is expressed through his adolescence. He can pull it off as an essentially liminal and cynical teen.

3. Heroic adolescence. Although it may seem a stretch, there's something of Catcher in the Rye in the show's characterization of adolescence. Ryan is impulsive and hot headed, but only as a result of his almost pathologically strong moral character. He always puts his own interests at risk for his friends, and is constantly attempting to "save" them, often from those Holden Caulfield might have described as adult "phonies." This protective impulse, Caulfield's saving grace, is itself questioned. Do Ryan's friends really need him to save them? Might his actions to save them actually imperil them? And does his concern prevent him from taking care of himself?

Seth, too, has a bit of that sarcastic reform school outsider in him. A half-Jewish, emo-loving comic book geek, the other kids tease and ostracize him such that he runs away at the end of the first season. Yet he does not question the importance of excelling in academics and he productively channels his angst into a comic book that is actually published. In a post-Catcher world, the "phonies" aren't necessarily the serious students, but the mock-disaffected drop-outs and hip partiers.

4. Dense intertext and self-reference. I actually wrote a paper about this during the semester, so I won't belabor the point, but The O.C. goes meta on several different levels. It has a show-within-a-show called "The Valley." When MTV launched Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, "The Valley" also got its own knock-off, "Sherman Oaks: The Real Valley." Seth, as I mentioned above, is often the vanguard character for this kind of material. The show became self-referential almost out of the gate, and responds quickly to the public discourse it generates inside the narrative. For example, a recent episode had Marissa meeting a girl whose father created "The Valley." Talking to the unseen doppleganger for Schwartz, the girl advises "you can't do this to yourself every time you get the ratings." In its reference to adolescent-themed material across media, the show positions itself as the teen media mothership.

I'm sure there's more to be said, but there are so many other shows out there to watch, and so little time. But look for my weekly reflections about the series when it starts up again in the fall.


Blogger Stake said...

Nice blog Dear!! thanks for sharing information about The OC. It's the BEST teen Comedy Drama I've ever watched.Season three of this show is really awesome.first time i have seen it on dvd but now i have a good source to watch oc online.

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