Lessons from: ‘The OC’ – Part II, It’s possible to have a show that is about the adults as much as the teenagers
There was a time in television where show creators had to decide who exactly the show was going to be about. Was it a show that focused solely on teenagers so much that viewers questioned whether or not they even had adult figures in their lives? Was it a show starring mostly teens where adults were in the background existing only to give the teens something to complain about? Or was it an adult show that focused on adult problems? Those days are slowly becoming the past as more shows are finding ways to balance the story lines of both the children and the parents. And I like to think that ‘The OC’ was one of the first shows to successfully do this.
Back in the 90s when the original ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ premiered, Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda’s (Shannon Doherty) parents Jim and Cindy Walsh (James Eckhouse and Carol Potter), were originally part of the show, but existed simply to give advise to their children. Eventually they simply reacted to the things Brandon and Brenda did. As the show progressed and the main characters grew older, the need for parental guidance grew smaller and so the writers shipped them off to another country.
Towards the end of the 90s ‘Dawson’s Creek’ premiered on the WB and had a healthy set of parental figures for the four main characters to interact with. Dawson’s (James van der Beek) parents, Gail and Mitch Leery (Mary-Margaret Humes and John Wesley Shipp, respectively) were more involved in the show than that of Jim and Cindy Walsh, but they were not in any way central characters that would carry their own episodes. They had their own storylines, but those stories existed to affect the four main characters – like Gail’s affair or Mitch’s death, or Joey’s absent father. They mostly still existed as a sounding board for advise and to tell Dawson when he was an idiot. They weren’t really fully-fledged characters themselves.
Around the time our favorite kids from the Creek were leaving us, those fancy-pants rich kids from Orange county were entering our lives. And they brought their parents – and all of their own drama – with them. Viewers found themselves invested, even if it was only slightly, in the lives of Kirsten and Sandy Cohen, and my personal favorite, Julie Cooper-Nichol. They had storylines that affected their children, but they also had enough screentime that they became more than just parental figures to guide the main teenage cast. They didn’t exist simply to pop up when the main cast of Ryan, Seth, Marissa and Summer needed them to. They existed much like the lives of real parents; they’re there with advice, but they also have their own lives to live.
In more recent years shows like ‘Friday Night Lights’ and ‘Parenthood’, both created by Jason Katims for NBC, have perfected the balance of parental stories with the stories of the children and young adults in the cast. While Eric and Tami Taylor are no doubt the lead characters on ‘FNL’, the show spent equal time on the lives of the teenagers who lived in Dillon, Texas. There were times it could be argued that the Taylors weren’t the main characters, but the children were. And I think that’s a testament to how amazing the writing and the storytelling was that viewers didn’t even know – or care – about the changing dynamic. As a viewer you found yourself caring about everyone on that show.
The same can be said for Katim’s ‘Parenthood.’ From the title it’s clear the parents are the lead characters, but the show balances out the parental drama with that of the lives of their children, because the two groups are not independent of one another. Where there is a parent, there is a child. And while many shows still struggle with finding an adequate balance, we’ve now seen that it can, in fact, be done.
So even if creators don’t want to have a show where the children and the adults are equal players in the game, we at least know that it can be done. And we have ‘The OC’ to thank for paving the way and making it a possibility.
Note: Photo courtesy of Fox.
Missed Part I of this series ? You can check it out by clicking here. And don’t forget to read the next article in this series by clicking here.