Can you believe it's been fifteen years since we first heard those opening bars of Phantom Planet's "California," which so perfectly captured everything about the show it was introducing. The O.C. premiered on August 5, 2003, and it put the lives of Orange County elite in the spotlight. It would pave the way for reality shows such as Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County (2004) and The Real Housewives of Orange County (2006). For a while, the TV airwaves were full of blonde highlights, Jeep Cherokees, and blessed California residents who surfed and sailed like everyone in America is sun-dappled, sea-faring, and possibly hiding a drinking white wine problem (poor Kirsten).
I originally wrote this story on November 3, 2015, but it holds as true today as it did in 2003. Seth Cohen is adorable and a dream. Please, come on this journey with me on the fifteenth anniversary of this seminal show.
The original article continues below.
I grew up in New Jersey. Not the part of New Jersey that's been made famous thanks to shows like Jersey Shore, The Sopranos, or even The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I grew up in the part of New Jersey with zero beaches and even less drama. By the time I was 18, I was over it. My teenage angst was further amplified by the fact that in the summer of 2003, I had just broken up with the first boy I had ever loved. I was getting ready to go to college, but I was only going to Pennsylvania. It wasn't far enough away from my humdrum formative years and recent heartbreak. The summer was progressing in a swirl of depression and monotony. I wanted to be far, far away, in someplace like...California.
Then, Seth Cohen appeared in my life.
On August 5, 2003, The O.C. premiered on FOX. It was everything I needed during that terrible summer. The trailer promised all the deliciously soapy hallmarks of a teen show set in a world that's traditionally kept behind closed doors. Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) is a smart guy from the wrong side of the tracks who gets caught stealing a car. His county-appointed lawyer, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), sees Ryan's potential and takes Ryan to live with his family in the affluent community of Newport Beach in Orange County, California. It's a classic fish-out-of-water story, and viewers are meant to have a voyeuristic view of the posh, upscale world of Newport through Ryan's eyes.
Back to the Cohens, though. Sandy Cohen is one of the best TV dads ever. He's a classic New York Jew (my people) who's been transplanted to California, so he's a bit of a fish out of water himself, and that's why he feels like Ryan is a kindred spirit. He's married to Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) — she of the later-season drinking problem, constant facial grimace, and introduction of yogalates to the masses.
They have a son named Seth (Adam Brody). I love him, and not just because of his adorable face and gangly body. He has the exact type of neurotic-yet-sure-of-himself personality that speaks directly to my soul. He doesn't fit in at all in Orange County, so he's spent most of his life developing his hobbies and creative pursuits. Seth is an avid sailor. He loves comic books. He has a horse named Captain Oats in whom he confides — and somehow this is cute, not childish. He's sarcastic and quick with the quips, but not in a mean or hurtful way. He invented Chrismukkah, the new holiday that's "sweeping the nation — or at least the living room."
Until Ryan arrives, Seth is a total loner, and I just want to shake all the obnoxious girls at his school who've been overlooking him for years. Have they seen him? Dude is adorable. Seth Cohen is just the beginning of the wave of TV characters who are clearly already great in high school, but the rest of the world won't truly recognize their awesomeness until much later in life. It's fine, Seth. I see you. I also wouldn't fit in among the Newport Beach elite (unless they secretly appreciate cynicism and skin so pale it's translucent), and I feel like my personality didn't really hit its stride until I hit 21 or so.
Many people credit Seth Cohen/Adam Brody with formulating the "adorkable" ideal long before Zooey Deschanel, but that's not at all why I love him. When I look at Seth Cohen, I see someone who's comfortable being alone — because he knows how to deal with sadness and anxiety — but also wants to use humor to make friends and connections. He's a kindred spirit, and not just because of the Jewish neuroses we share.
Sure, Seth Cohen makes mistakes. He's a teenager, after all. Once Ryan joins the Cohen family, Seth starts gaining confidence now that he finally has a friend. This leads him to having his first romantic encounters with not just one but two girls (Rachel Bilson and Samaire Armstrong). Sure, he kind of jerks them both around. But Seth Cohen was basically living my best life in the summer of 2003. He was experiencing the same heartbreak I was, for the very first time, but he wasn't letting it destroy him the way mine was. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to emulate him, date him, or both. Probably both, even though he'd probably leave me for his one true love, Summer Roberts (Bilson).
It's hard to separate Adam Brody from Seth Cohen. He recently starred in a Neil LaBute show called Billy & Billie (he played the first Billy), and I was kind of in love with the character he played on that show, too. Never mind that Billy is extremely self-centered, not particularly thoughtful, and isn't a good boyfriend. After finishing Billy & Billie, I needed to get back to Brody basics, so I decided to rewatch The O.C. to see if my feelings for Seth Cohen still ran nearly as deep 12 years later. They did.
And if you happen to know a real-life Seth Cohen, please have him email me. We could get together for bagels...or burritos.