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'The O.C.' nostalgia recap: Smile like you mean it

Season 2 | Episode 4 | “The New Era” | Aired Dec, 2 2004

Who wants to play a drinking game? When Seth whines about Summer or not having a girlfriend, sip your drink. Whenever there is an awkward moment, take two sips. Every time of the The O.C.‘s characters says the words “new era” during the episode titled “The New Era,” chug.

Yes, it’s a new era for the residents of The O.C. The Core Four is crumbling like a dry pastry and the Newport Group is its own brand of natural disaster. So far, this supposed “new era” doesn’t seem so great. But like most abrupt life changes, all it takes is some getting used to and some good news.

Seth, still on a journey of self-improvement, can’t seem to commit to the whole “selfless” thing. But hey, haven’t we all dropped the ball on a resolution or two? He rattles on to Ryan about the struggles of singledom, and it’s a song Ryan doesn’t want to hear. They scan the school to check out Seth’s prospects, judging solely on appearance … until Lindsay enters their field of vision and calls them out. She teaches them a thing or two about feminism, and her brazen, strong-willed personality sends Seth’s heart all aflutter. He asks Ryan to set them up.

A funny thing happens when Ryan later extends the date invitation to Lindsay: He clarifies that it’s for a date with Seth after she’s already accepted. What was that twinkle in Lindsay’s eye? Could her love-to-hate relationship with Ryan be growing into a love-to-love relationship? It’s no matter; she’s got a date set with Seth.

Marissa subscribes to the idea of the new era as well. (Maybe this recap is a drinking game too?) She celebrates her lack of boy drama, since DJ is missing in action and she and Ryan are “friends.” The matchmaker bug is biting everyone as Summer and Zach try to set up Marissa, but she’s not having it. She visits DJ at his job landscaping for a different family and invites him to the Bait Shop later. They argue, but it’s not nearly as tragic as her 2004 style choices.


Julie, who is now the CEO of the Newport Group, brings a ficus into the office for no apparent reason other than to make Kirsten’s life a living hell. And to have Julie as a boss and office mate is as hellish as it gets. She offers to help Kirsten with business, and when she declines, Julie commandeers the reins of an important meeting. She kicks Kirsten out, leaving herself to her own devices when the opposing forces ask her an esoteric business question. Needless to say, Julie has a Romy and Michele moment.

Sometime between homeroom and math class, Seth’s date with Lindsay turned into a “group hang” with Ryan and Alex. It doesn’t take but a second for Seth to announce to Summer that he has a date. She doesn’t care, but we all know that deep down she does. Marissa isn’t thrilled that Ryan has a date, making this the first uncomfortable Core Four reunion of the episode. (Drink!)

“Being CEO is a b-tch,” Julie bemoans to Jimmy, to which he retorts, “You’d think you’d be a natural.” Julie bribes her ex with a lobster roll in exchange for business advice. Asking Jimmy Cooper for business advice is like asking Liz Lemon for love advice—take it with a multiple grains of salt. But alas, she walks off his boat with a fresh idea.

Back at the Cohen compound, Sandy binges on Cheetos and Court TV while in pajamas, surely a welcome sabbatical from dealing with Caleb’s legal woes day in and day out. The Cohens are being dragged down by Caleb and Julie, but they vow not to allow the “Gruesome Twosome” destroy their careers/sanity. Unfortunately, you can’t predict the emotional climate, just as you can’t predict the weather. Julie shows up at the Cohens’ door, catering crew in tow, ready to throw a ravishing cocktail party.

Ryan and Alex

But here’s where the new era gets dicey: The group hang is instantly tense. No one has anything in common, and Seth won’t shut up about Summer. As if the double date wasn’t bad enough, they run into Summer and Marissa. Not even the jam-worthy performance from The Killers can prevent this date from hitting rock-bottom.

Before long, the group hang implodes. Lindsay is tired of hearing about Summer, Alex can tell that Ryan likes Lindsay, and Seth yet again chases after Summer. (Listen, I’m the biggest Seth-and-Summer shipper out there, and seeing them apart is traumatizing. But it’s painful to watch Seth act out in desperation.) The Killers soundtrack the moment with “Smile Like You Mean It,” but no one is smiling like they mean it. They’re grinning and barely bearing it.

Shockingly, Julie’s unauthorized party at the Cohens’ does not implode. She schmoozes with fellow developers while Kirsten and Jimmy booze it by the bar. Kirsten, all business, doesn’t see how Julie’s methods of madness could work in their favor. To her begrudging delight, they do. Julie got the deal back on the table. Smile like you mean it, Kirsten.

Maybe the new era is a success after all. The Newport Group hasn’t totally capsized. Summer and Zach put their Seth problems to bed. Marissa and DJ reconcile. Ryan asks Lindsay out. And Seth and Alex kiss before going out for an ice cream nightcap. It’s the dawn of a new, entertaining day in The O.C.

But you know what they say: Don’t get too cozy. Winter (formal) is coming.

Episode Mixtape:

  • “Fortress” by Pinback
  • “On Your Way” by The Album Leaf
  • “Primitive (The Way I Treat You)” by Ambulance LTD
  • “Silence” by Gomez
  • “The Love Goes” by Trent Dabbs
  • “The New Face of Zero and One” by The New Pornographers
  • “Smile Like You Mean It” by The Killers
  • “Everything Will Be Alright” by The Killers
  • “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” by U2

All four seasons of The O.C. are available to stream on CW Seed.