? SO, THEY’RE KILLINGTHE O.C.This is not good. I say that as an emo-bashing rock fan.
I watched The O.C. from the beginning and have been consistently loyal to it — in sickness and in health, through the good shows and the bad, at 8 p.m. or 9; through every breakup and reunion and self-parody and dead-end subplot and cheeseball exploitation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I enjoyed its artifice because I could also recognize its moments of real humanness. I enjoyed its cheapness because I also glimpsed its earnest ambitions as quality pop art. I enjoyed its exploitative portrayal of Orange County because I knew its creators were natives who loved and understood the place at heart.
Mostly, though, I just liked it.
To my loved ones, The O.C. was known as “my program.”
“My program is on tonight.” “I’m going to watch my program.” “Can you tape my program for me?”
Every girl needs a program. But I wasn’t alone: Morning meetings at work were often interrupted by side debates on the latest events at Harbor High — and continual accusations from others, almost from the show’s inception, that The O.C. was jumping the shark. (To me, the show was one big perpetual shark-jump, and so the question was moot.) I was delighted to meet others who loved it, like This American Life host Ira Glass (who finally got his O.C. props in 2005 when Summer roasted Seth for listening to the NPR hit).
I loved the show truly — which meant I loved it blindly. I didn’t mind a bit when the lead girl, played by Mischa Barton, got killed off. If you ask me, this was The O.C.’s strongest season since season one. The writers were having fun again — and so were the actors.
And then there was the show’s musical life. It’s poignant to me that its stellar theme song, “California,” by local kids Phantom Planet, was that band’s only real hit; it’s as if it had been written specifically for that purpose, to give the show a spiritual framework. But theme song aside, watching The O.C. was the only way I could actually enjoy downing solid chunks of the sort of music it showcased: that twee-ass, whiny-boy, clammy-palm, watered-down-Elliott-Smith shit so widely tolerated these days by (mostly) white people. At moments watching the show, I could hear its soundtrack through the ears of its young characters. I liked those characters, and I liked the actors who had half-invented them, and I liked the way they genuinely, truly loved their emo music (and their Journey), even if I didn’t love the emo myself. Unlike rock critics, the show couldn’t just give lip service to the latest buzz band; it had to justify its love by playing that music and making it work, and making us feel something through it. And I did. (To be fair, The O.C. did feature a modicum of Indie-103-type guitar-rock — a station the show also winkingly referenced a few weeks back.)
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It’s true that every maudlin moment on The O.C. — especially the end-of-show montages — was slightly ham-fisted. You knew what they were doing: The mawkish mixing of acoustic pathos with usually implausible teen melodrama was so forced, you could actually feel someone’s hand tugging on your heartstrings. Nevertheless, they usually got me anyway. You see these music-video montages everywhere on TV dramas now — Grey’s Anatomy, Gilmore Girls, blah blah — but they worked better on The O.C. than anywhere because, more than any other show, The O.C. was at its core emotionally devoted to music. As much as it seemed to exploit music as mere set-dressing and fashion-flaunting, its intentions were better than that.
I can’t really think of a specific moment to prove this; it was something that I came to understand after a couple years of viewing. It wasn’t just Seth’s excitement whenever Bright Eyes released a new record, or Chuck Klosterman had a new book. It wasn’t just the way the show would play plenty of struggling local bands and tell you their names at the end (though that hardly guaranteed any sort of success). It was largely a feeling.
At a certain point, I came to understand that this indie-rock thing was no bandwagon for the O.C. people; it was a full-on lifestyle commitment. The O.C. was born emo, and The O.C. will die emo. The words almost catch in my fingertips, but I have to say, I respect that.
Thursday nights are going to be sad for a while, though. Baseball season can’t come soon enough, tell you what.