Lessons from: ‘The OC’ – Part III, More drama does not equal better television
‘The OC’ was not the first show to pull into town with a ridiculous amount of baggage it didn’t know what to do with. But much like ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ before it, ‘The OC’ quickly went through the normal teenage drama – the underage drinking, the bad boy with a heart of gold who falls for the rich princess, the arrival of unwanted and drunk negligent mothers – and soon found itself experimenting with lesbians, fight clubs, surfers falling from cliffs and some dude name Volchok, played by some other dude name Cam Gigandet.
The writers and producers clearly thought the best course of action once the normal teenage drama ran out, was to quadruple the crazy and add a side of OMGWTFBBQ.
But as viewers quickly found out, adding more outlandish drama to an already stuffed-to-the-gills show does not make for good television. And it probably didn’t help matters that nearly all of the truly outrageous drama plagued Mischa Barton’s character, Marissa Cooper, exclusively.
The show started out well, balancing the drama with the comedy and pulling in viewers from every corner, but where do you go when your star overdoses on pain medication and alcohol in an alley in Tijuana in only the seventh episode of the show? And let’s not forget this happened after finding out her father has been stealing from his clients, after finding out her parents were getting divorced, and after finding out her golden boy boyfriend had been cheating on her with one of her closest friends. Clearly, the only way to go from there is down the rabbit hole.
The show had Marissa experiment with Oliva Wilde’s character during the show’s successful second season, and while exploring a character’s sexuality is not a new concept for TV, most shows go down this path in order for a character to grow and develop and mature into their future selves. ‘The OC’ used it as a publicity stunt.
After Marissa shot Ryan’s brother, Trey, in the second season finale, (he was attempting to strangle Ryan, if I remember correctly), her character was expelled from the private school she’d attended all her life, and was forced to go to *gasp* public school where she was ridiculed for being a snobby rich girl (which, let’s face it, she was). Eventually she was befriended by some local surfers, but following the death of one of the surfers (see the aforementioned cliff), Marissa spun out of control as she dove head first into the world of drugs and alcohol and Volchok.
But the show didn’t just stop at Marissa herself being involved in ridiculous situations. No, the writers also tortured her by having her father skip town, her mother becoming involved in relationships with younger men who happened to be her ex-boyfriend, older men who happened to be the grandfather of her boyfriend (via adoption), men who happened to be her best friend’s father, and although she was already dead at this point, the birth father of her one-time boyfriend. I imagine the writers room of ‘The OC’ was a giant whiteboard with a “What Hell Can We Put Marissa Through This Week?” where the winning writer got to pick Julie Cooper Nichol’s new love interest.
The writers, realizing they literally had nothing left in their bag of tricks for Marissa Cooper, wrote the character off by dying in a car crash at the end of the third season. The death of Marissa Cooper meant the death of the incredibly far-fetched antics that the show had become known for – and not in a good way. And although there were still some outlandish plots in the show’s fourth and final season (fight club, Ryan?), the show made a valiant attempt to return to its roots.
The fourth season of the show saw the full integration of Autumn Reeser’s Taylor Townsend as a real relationship for Ryan. It also saw some ridiculous story about Seth not going to college because he bailed on his admissions interview at the end of the third season in favor of smoking some marijuana. But despite the silly little things that annoyed probably only the most dedicated Seth Cohen worshiper (me), the show saw a resurgence in popularity and quality. But by then the harsh light of Marissa Cooper had cast a horrible shadow on the show and the ratings, and it was canceled after only four seasons.
This lesson is probably the most important lesson of all. More drama does not make better television. You can make quality television with a small amount of well-placed and realistic drama. Shows like ‘The Vampire Diaries’ have dedicated followers who put up with the drama because it makes sense and it feels appropriate. Shows like ‘Glee’ must have been absent the day this lesson was taught in TV school.
There’s always hope for the new class, I suppose.
Note: Photo courtesy of Fox.
Missed Part I and II of this series? You can check them out by clicking here and here.