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'The O.C.' nostalgia recap: 'California, here we come'

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Aug 3, 2003

Sage, here—one half of the blogging team Head Over Feels. With Benjamin McKenzie back on our televisions as young Commissioner Gordon, it’s the perfect time to revisit his breakthrough series, The O.C. We’re going right back where he started from.

The pilot opens on McKenzie’s Ryan Atwood and brother Trey (an actor who’s definitely not Logan Marshall Green) about to steal a car. Ryan seems hesitant, but here come the cops, and there isn’t a un-stolen car to be found, so he jumps in. The Atwoods aren’t great at crime; they get caught. Trey is over 18 with priors; he’s on his own. Ryan, meanwhile, is sent a bushy-eyebrowed angel straight from the public defender’s office. Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) has a new project.

Ryan is released into the care of his mother. Concerned by her explosive rage and general messiness, Sandy slips Ryan his card. Ryan will need it later, when he gets into a fight with Mom’s straight-from-central-casting deadbeat boyfriend and she throws him out. With no friends in sight, it’s Sandy to the rescue. The problem is, Sandy offered his home before getting the okay from his wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), who’s hemming over the well-being of their only child and her husband’s propensity to champion lost causes.

Meanwhile, Ryan waits outside the Cohens’ McMansion, smoking a cigarette and brooding. Neighbor Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) spots him and asks him who he is. “Whoever you want me to be,” Ryan answers in a line that’s always felt totally out of character, but also sexy, so it’s fine. She can tell he doesn’t belong there, and we can almost see her salivating over the danger of it all, but the spell is broken when her jock boyfriend Luke (Chris Carmack) roars up in his ridiculous SUV.

With Kirsten’s tentative approval, Sandy shows Ryan to the family’s swank poolhouse. And Ryan must be thanking his lucky stars that he got matched with the one public defender with a sugar mama bankrolling his life as a surfer dude who saves the world, one mixed-up kid at a time. Wandering the big house, Ryan runs into another mixed-up kid. Seth (Adam Brody) takes stock of the stranger and wastes no time inviting him to play video games. The instant rapport between the odd pair of Seth and Ryan is one of the choices that makes this series special. They’re bonded instantly, because neither of them is exactly dripping with friends, and because why the hell not?

We get a taste of life in Orange County for the Cohens and the Coopers. Seth plans to sail to Tahiti one day with his boat’s namesake, a girl he never speaks to. Marissa’s dad Jimmy (Tate Donovan) is in trouble with the SEC, and he’s unconvincingly minimizing it like the dad in Say Anything. Meanwhile, her mother, Julie (Melinda Clarke), is the queen of backhanded compliments, and her sister Kaitlin is (for now) a young Shailene Woodley. And everybody who’s anybody is heading to that night’s charity fashion show.

Parties are a lifestyle and an obligation for these characters, and they almost always set the stage for public drama. “Welcome to the dark side,” Seth whispers to Ryan, as Ryan is immediately swept up by the purring cougars of the neighborhood. We meet Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson), all icy blue eyeshadow and questionable slang, and seemingly not worthy of Seth’s worship. Luke notices the eyes Marissa is making at Ryan from the runway, and his roid rage starts to flare up. The stress from the Feds is getting to Jimmy, whom Ryan overhears crying in the bathroom. And this is all before the teenage beach-house rager of an afterparty.

Seth rides into the party on the coattails of Ryan’s mystique, though Ryan is enough of a bro to claim that Summer actually asked for him. Here we see the children of the rich and bored in their natural habitat. There’s coke on the coffee table and a threesome in the master bath. Remember when we thought Dawson’s Creek was racy?

Ryan wanders from room to room. Along with the audience, he’s the observer peeking into this gated community. “I think you could get in less trouble where I’m from,” he remarks to Marissa. “You’ve no idea,” she counters, and that’s one for the promos. He misses seeing Marissa diluting her vodka with vodka, but he does catch Luke escorting one of the young and willing down to the beach. Intercepted by a drunken Summer, Ryan tries to brush her off. But Seth gets the wrong idea. “Why don’t you just go back to Chino?” he throws out in anger, and suddenly the mysterious and handsome Boston cousin of the Cohens is just some poor kid. Or, in Summer-speak: “Ew.”

Exposure aside, Ryan still gets Seth’s back when Luke and his water polo goons come after him for all his book-readin’ and Bright Eyes T-shirts. Ryan just can’t stay out of things, as we’ll continue to find out. Even his wrong-side-of-the-tracks scrappiness is no match for the entire team. Seth and Ryan have their asses handed to them, and Luke gets to use the catchphrase he’s been working on in front of the mirror for weeks: “Welcome to the O.C., bitch.”

Seth couldn’t care less that they lost; he’s never been a champion before. Ryan watches with an indulgent smile as Seth babbles and then drifts off. But he isn’t the only denizen of Orange County who needs saving. Outside, Ryan watches as Summer and party hostess Holly carry a near-comatose Marissa onto her driveway. They can’t find her keys in her purse, though they have no problem finding her drinking problem hilarious. They leave her. Like a shining knight in an off-brand undershirt, Ryan carries the lady to safety and tucks her in at Chez Atwood.

Know who’s totally uninterested in teenage chivalry? Kirsten. One look at Seth’s bruised face and she decrees that Ryan has to go. To her credit, she breaks the news to him herself, though she seems in serious danger of backing down when she sees the breakfast spread he’s cooked for them. He’d decided long ago that this setup was too good to be true. “You have a really nice family,” Ryan says to her, without malice or sarcasm. He knows what the other kind looks like.

He gets into the car with Sandy; Seth’s gift of his sailing map is in Ryan’s backpack, with all his other earthly belongings. They roll down the street past Marissa, alive but still restless, and she and Ryan exchange another loaded stare. Back in Chino, Ryan opens his mother’s door to find that she’s pulled up stakes without leaving word for him. Sandy watches from the doorway as Ryan looks around in silent shock. “Come on,” he says, kindly. “Let’s go.”

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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