We've been on the run, driving in the sun, looking out for number one -- California, here we come, right back where we started from...—Phantom Planet, "California", The O.C. theme song.
The O.C. is the story of Ryan Atwood, a troubled teenager from Chino, and the family who takes him in, the Cohens. Ryan and his brother are arrested for grand theft auto, but Ryan's idealistic public defender, Sandy Cohen, recognizes Ryan's intelligence and offers him a way out. When Ryan's alcoholic mother and her abusive boyfriend kick him out, Ryan has no choice but to call Sandy.
Ryan is thrust into the glamorous world of Orange County, and into the lives of the Cohens and their neighbors. There's Kirsten Cohen, Sandy's wife; nerdy Seth Cohen, their son; Marissa Cooper, their beautiful but troubled neighbor; Julie Cooper, Marissa's scheming mother; and Summer Roberts, Marissa's best friend. Ryan's first meeting with Marissa sets off sparks--too bad she's dating a Jerk Jock. Seth has loved Summer for years--too bad she doesn't know he exists.
With Ryan around, things are changing fast. Ryan, Marissa, Seth, and Summer are about to endure breaking up, breaking down, parties, proms... everything teenagers would normally be expected to go through, but with the added drama of living in the O.C.
One official All The Tropes Wiki No-Prize is up for grabs for each example of an other-media reference from this show.
Not to be confused with an abbreviation for Original Character.
- Aborted Arc: At the end of Season One, we learn that the Newport Group is virtually bankrupt; Sandy and Jimmy inadvertently foil Caleb's scheme to rescue it. While the DA keeps investigating Caleb in Season Two, the issue of, you know, bankruptcy is forgotten about. In fact Kirsten takes over the Newport Group's accounting in Season Two and never mentions a thing. Except, surprise! In Season Three, it turns out Caleb was bankrupt after all.
- Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female On Male: A lot of Taylor's behavior towards Ryan would probably be condemned if she were a guy, but because she's a girl, it's played off as a cute quirk of character. She:
- breaks up with him, but then spends seven hours outside of his workplace with binoculars, spying on him (she follows him in disguise later on).
- applies to Berkeley, his college of choice, without telling him.
- tries to force him into saying he loves her so her applying to Berkeley is justified.
- gets him drunk in an effort to make him do the above.
- says (jokingly, but it's still cringe-worthy) that she wants to tie him to a chair and inject him with sodium penthanol in order to make him admit his feelings.
- Abusive Parents: Frank Atwood and many of Ryan's mother's boyfriends. Ryan gets hit in the face by one five minutes into the Pilot.
- All Girls Like Ponies:
- Summer and Princess Sparkle.
- Kaitlin's pony China who had alopecia.
- Seth and Captain Oats.
- Alternative Foreign Theme Song: "Ore to Omae no Atarashii Kisetsu" by B'z is used as the Japanese ending theme.
- Alternate Universe: In one episode, Ryan and Taylor fall off a ladder and end up in one of these, where Ryan never came to the O.C. and Taylor was born a boy. Everyone has changed for the worse (like Kirsten who turned into her father, Sandy who became a Republican, Seth who never stopped being a wallflower and Summer became an even more vapid bimbo -- though Marissa still died) except for Veronica, who is "still a bitch" as Taylor resignedly points out. Luckily, it was All Just a Dream.
- Author Avatar: Seth Cohen is Josh Schwartz.
- Bait and Switch: In this example from 3.18:
Jess: Tell you what, why don't you stay awhile?
Ryan: Look, Jess, we were never friends.
Jess: Got it. (break) You can go if you want.
(Ryan turns to leave)
Jess: Did you know Trey's dealing? (Ryan turns around) Blackjack, off the strip.
- Batman Gambit: Caleb Nichols almost pulls this off in Season One. This results in Jimmy punching him in the face and ruining his deal in a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Its arguable whether Seth started as one or Took a Level in Jerkass.
- Bi the Way: Alex Kelly and Marissa Cooper.
- Book Ends
- The Bus Came Back: Kaitlin.
- Call Back: A few.
- Ryan finding Marissa standing alone outside of their prom (2x23, "The O.Sea") is a callback to when he found her after Cotillion (1x04, "The Debut"). Similarly, when he gives her his jacket a few episodes before (2x18, "The Risky Business"), it parallels when he gave her his suit jacket after Cotillion.
- A more heartbreaking one for them is when he carries her away from the burning car shortly before her death (3x25, "The Graduates"). It parallels when he carried her to the pool house (1x01, "Pilot") and out of the alley in Tijuana (1x07, "The Escape").
- Seth's coffee cart proclamation of love to Summer (1x20, "The Telenovela") is reprized by Summer two years later (3x21, "The Dawn Patrol"). It doesn't go nearly so well for her.
- Seth intruding on Summer and Zack's TV time (2x12, "The Lonely Hearts Club") is a callback to Summer intruding on him and Anna (1x16, "The Links").
- Kirsten finds Ryan with Lindsay (2x08, "The Power of Love") in almost the exact same position she found him with Marissa (1x10, "The Perfect Couple").
- Seth being stealth(2x07) and tagging along with Ryan (4x02).
Seth: OK, then take me with you.
Seth: I won't get in the way, you know how stealth I can be.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Hardly an episode goes by without the use of this trope.
- Can't Hold His Liquor: Seth Cohen is stealth.
- Catch Phrase: "Bang!"; "Eww!"
- Celebrity Paradox: Seth makes a reference to the vomiting little girl from The Sixth Sense... who was played by Mischa Barton, also known as Marissa.
- Character Development: Luke from a jerk jock to a good friend, Marissa from a normal schoolgirl to a tortured teen, Ryan from a hot-headed teenager to a calmer young man, Summer from a air-headed bimbo to... well, a nice air-headed bimbo and then to nice air-headed bimbo with a conscience. With good SAT scores. Who, despite having very high potential intelligence, is still at the age 18 entirely unaware what 'jihad' means.
- Characterization Marches On: Compare Summer's personality in the first couple of episodes with the rest of the series: she comes across as a lot less likeable, a slutty , obnoxious, party girl airhead who dumps her unconscious best friend in her driveway after a night out. Likewise original flavor Taylor is very different from the adorable Genki Girl she became, being a bitchy Smug Snake who is fooling around with a teacher (a Sadist Teacher at that). Neither character was originally intended to be a regular but the unexpected appeal of Rachel Bilson and Autumn Reeser meant they ended up staying on and developing into quite different characters.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Ryan Atwood. Lampshaded at separate times by different characters in Season 1, 2, 3, and 4. One episode in Season 3 had Kirsten helping Ryan to figure out he doesn't need to help every Damsel in Distress anymore. One episode in Season 4 had Sandy helping Ryan to figure out he needs to help every Damsel in Distress because it's "his thing" and he "shouldn't turn his back on that."
- Chronic Villainy: Julie Cooper switches between trying to be a good mom and being a gold-digging manipulative slut schizophrenically throughout the series.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Rachel in Season One. They were setting her up with Jimmy, and then she just... disappeared, never to be mentioned again, despite being Sandy's colleague.
- She "went on vacation."
- Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends
- Cloudcuckoolander - Taylor and Che.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Chino is CSI New York (grainy and desaturated). Orange County is Miami (lush colors).
- Conflict Ball: Carried by various characters. Often manifests itself in willfully misunderstanding the other person (see Cannot Spit It Out above).
- Continuity Nod: Oh so very many. One notable one is the phrase 'salting your game' as an indication of cock-blocking. Used first by Ryan to Seth, half a season later from Seth to his dad, and then in Season 2 by Sandy to his wife.
- Coolest Club Ever: The Bait Shop.
- Cool Loser: Seth Cohen. Then, eventually every character in the main cast.
- Cool Ship: The Summer Breeze, an awesome Hobie mini-catamaran that Seth owned in Season 1, and pawned for bus-fare in Season 2.
- Cunning Linguist: Taylor Townsend is fluent in French, Korean and Spanish and is able to use enough Latin to deliver her valedictorian speech in that language.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Seth Cohen.
- Ryan also had some moments of this, thanks to Seth's influence.
- Summer. She claimed once that she never used irony until she met Seth.
- Alex as well.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Kirsten, before Ryan joined the family and caused her to soften. Lampshaded in a touching scene in the fourth season premiere "The Avengers", when Seth puts together a comic book illustrating the Cohens' lives before he joined the family.
Kirsten: The ice queen was surrounded by an impenetrable force field and her silver cell phone was her only link to the outside world.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Marissa, in Ryan's, in the Season 3 finale.
- Diegetic Switch: Though not as often as Sorry I Left the BGM On.
- Doom Magnet: In-universe, Ryan is accused of being one early in the show by Julie.
- Marissa Cooper, especially in Season 3. In fact, when you factor in that her death at the end of the third season was followed by the much Lighter and Softer fourth season - Everything literally got better for the characters after Marissa's death. Possibly lampshaded in a Freeze-Frame Bonus in the Alternate Universe/All Just a Dream episode.
- Drugs Are Bad: Chris Brown gets upset when Kaitlin offers him weed.
- Dumb Blonde: Holly Fischer. Not so much in the first season when she was unpleasant but not noticeably dim but when Holly eventually returned after an absence of two whole seasons she'd enthusiastically embraced the vapidity within.
- Expy: Casey, Dennis and Chili at Newport union were pretty blatant expy's of Ryan, Summer and Seth, with the flip that the Summer-analogue was dating the Ryan analogue
- Fallen Princess: Marissa. Luke is the male version.
- Fan Service:
- Summer in the Wonder Woman costume; Summer in the Little Miss Vixen costume; scenes of bikini clad women aplenty; one episode has Ryan continuously fantasizing about Taylor in what appears to be a bad 80s video involving her in skimpy clothing and at one point sliding her ass across a wet window. Another episode had a purposefully gratuitous close-up of the incredibly attractive cokewhore Jess' bikini-clad ass as she walked up the stairs. For the women, many scenes of men with their shirts off, including a rather porn-like shot of The Yard Guy watering the lawn.
- Marissa in the naughty schoolgirl outfit.
- Fish Out of Water: Ryan (at least, in early seasons).
- Five-Man Band: They're all outcasts.
- Five Stages of Grief: Summer goes through these after Marissa's death. She goes through Anger twice. The therapist is amazed she got through it all in a week. She then drops some of her Granola Girl act, though she keeps part of the activism.
- Foreshadowing In "The Snow C", Alex kisses both a guy and a girl. This comes back in "The Ex-Factor" when it's revealed that she is bisexual.
- The Generic Guy: Zach Stephens.
- Genki Girl: Taylor Townsend.
- Genre Savvy: Seth. Almost to the point of breaking the fourth wall sometimes. At the beginning of one episode he notes that everything has been going so well lately that something is bound to go wrong.
Seth: Ryan, don't ya see? Things are going way too well around here. Marissa got back into Harbor, you guys seemed to resolve your surf-tastic love triangle, my girlfriend got a near perfect score on her SATs but we've never been happier.
Ryan: It's senior year, it's meant to be the best one.
Seth: No, you should know better. Every time things are going well around here, that's when doom comes a-knockin'.
Or a-ringin'... Don't answer it, it's probably a flaming bag of crap.
- Gold Digger: Julie Cooper.
- Granola Girl: Summer in Season 4. Che, as well, who at one point plays the guitar naked and also 'jams on the didge'.
- Happily Ever After: Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts. They got married.
- Happily Married: Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts. Sandy and Kirsten Cohen.
- Heel Face Turn: Luke. In the early episodes, he was pretty much your typical Jerk Jock, but by the end of the first season, he had turned into a sympathetic, likable character.
- Also applies to Summer. In the first few episodes, she came across as a shallow, spoiled bitch. But then became more of a somewhat ditzy, but likable girlfriend for Seth.
- Hidden Depths: See Character Development for Summer, just above.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Marissa when it comes to Oliver in Season One.
- Not just Marissa, everyone except for Ryan and Luke failed to see the type of person that Oliver was.
- Ho Yay: Seth and Ryan.
- The Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: ...correct grammar optional.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Kaitlin and The Bullit.
- Ivy League for Everyone
- Jewish Mother: The Nana.
- Killed Off for Real: Caleb Nichol and Marissa Cooper.
- Lampshade Hanging:
- Seth comments on Zach's return: "You came back!... People never leave and come back!"
- "The L.A." is an entire episode of lampshade hanging. Most episodes have a lampshade hanging. Part of the show's charm was it never took itself too seriously.
- The unrealistically melodramatic nature of the show gets this when Sandy says "Life's gritty enough, comic books should be fun." Seth responds "Life's gritty? We live in Newport Beach."
- In the 16th episode of Season 2, Seth complains that their year hasn't been as good as the first one, while Ryan defends the season saying that they can't simply rehash the first season. The conversation gets dangerously close to breaking the fourth wall.
- A similar instance in the penultimate episode of the series, after learning that Seth gave his blood to save his life, Ryan jokes that he has the sudden urge to listen to emo music & read comic books; which Seth responds to with a comment that if they'd switched things up & became a body swap comedy, they probably could've stretched another two years out of it.
- In the show's final episode, Summer comments that The Valley had just been renewed for several seasons and that "These teen dramas, they just run forever."
- Lonely Rich Kid: Seth Cohen, before Ryan's arrival.
- Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: The Nana. She even lampshades this in complaining her family never writes, calls or visits.
- The Lost Lenore: Marissa becomes this for Ryan in Season 4. She's killed on their graduation day in a car accident caused by Volchok, Marissa's ex, and dies in Ryan's arms. He spends the first half of Season 4 mourning her, and even tries to go after Volchok and kill him. It's telling that when he and Taylor are in an alternate universe where Marissa might still be alive but wouldn't know him, he's willing to stay there, with a Marissa who doesn't know him and could come to love him, than he is to go back to the real world, where everyone else who loves him but Marissa is alive.
- Love Triangle: A lot of them, but they're usually extremely polite. Anna and Summer hang out while fighting over Seth, Zack and Seth hang out (and start a comic book) while fighting over Summer, Marissa and Teresa help each other while fighting over Ryan, Ryan saves Johnny several times while fighting over Marissa...and those that aren't polite while part of the love triangle (for example, the first triangle of Ryan, Luke and Marissa) become friends when the love triangle is over.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Taylor Townsend saves Ryan Atwood from the soulless and brooding world of cage-fighting, el guapo taco, and insomnia.
- May-December Romance: Luke and Julie.
- Meaningful Name: Anna Stern likes to sail.
- Monochrome Casting: A constant joke about this show is its exceedingly white cast.
- Sorta justified in that L.A.'s rich upper class elite would mostly be white. Why everyone in Chino is also white is a mystery though.
- Montage Out: The final scenes of the series show brief snippets of what the future holds for the characters, such as Sandy becoming a lecturer, Seth & Summer's wedding, Julie getting a degree, and a Book End to Ryan's story.
- Mr. Fanservice: Ryan, Luke, but a lot of girls seem to enjoy Seth. This isn't true for geeks in Real Life.
- Mrs. Robinson: Julie Cooper.
- Mushroom Samba: In Season 4, Seth takes hallucinogenic berries in an attempt to "heal his animus". He then has a vision of walking through a tripped-out version of the Cohen house until he walks into his room. His room now has a pool in it, where Seth's spirit animal, an otter, flops out of the pool. Seth begins to talk to him. When the vision ends, Seth has been renewed spiritually by 'saving his spirit animal', and is thus ready to love again.
- Old Shame: Julie Cooper's sex-tape
- One Episode Wonder: Alex's ex-girlfriend Jodie is quite popular in fanfiction despite only being in one episode (with a cameo in the previous episode).
- Opposites Attract: Nearly every major relationship: Sandy/Kirsten (geeky Jewish liberal lawyer + WASP princess), Ryan/Marissa (wrong side of the tracks + (seemingly) perfect debutante), Seth/Summer (nerd + popular party girl), Ryan/Taylor (Book Dumb introvert + intellectual Genki Girl) etc. The few Birds of a Feather couplings like Seth/Anna or Ryan/Theresa are conspicuous by their lack of success.
- Product Placement: In the weeks leading up to the Revenge of the Sith theatrical release date. The full-length trailer aired after an episode with a short introduction by Adam Brody in character. Then, Summer walked by a life-size Obi-Wan cut-out. Then, George Lucas guest starred on the show. Then, the characters were all shown playing the Revenge of the Sith video game with Seth saying, "I didn't know you could throw your lightsaber", with Ryan replying, "New Game, who knew?"
- Put on a Bus: Numerous characters. Lampshaded by Seth.
- Applies especially to Luke, who became one of the main characters in the latter half of Season One. But after the Season Two premiere was never seen or heard from again.
- Reformed but Rejected: Luke in "The Proposal".
- Redemption in the Rain: Although mostly a parody of Spider-Man.
- Remember the New Guy?: Taylor Townsend first appeared at the start of the third season, but apparently had been going to the same school as the main characters for the entire time. Indeed a later flashback revealed she had been friends (or at least on name terms) with Summer since they had been in elementary school. The weird thing is, watching the first two seasons again on DVD, it really does appear that her actress may have been an extra in earlier school scenes. Or maybe it's just someone who looks similar.
Lampshaded at one point when Taylor is talking to Summer about Seth's declaration of love in the first season: "Oh, you didn't see me, but I was here"
- Retool: The first half of Season 2 had the writers slow down all the storylines (Josh called it My So-Called OC), not have Ryan punch anyone, not have any wild teen parties, and split up all the couples. Viewers weren't very receptive, and this era ended at Episode 14. Season 4, however, can be considered a genuine Retool as it became more of a lighthearted comedy without many soap opera plotlines. Aside from one Prostitution Ring, most storylines revolved around quirky plotlines like slutty aliens, offbeat french authors, sleep therapists, and freeing bunnies.
- Rich Bitch: Julie Cooper.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Ryan goes on one against Volchok after Marissa's death.
- Running Gag: Nothing good ever happens at a Cohen party.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Julie. Caleb too, although arguably to a lesser extent.
- Second Love: Ryan actually had three true loves. Theresa The First, Marissa The Second, and Taylor The Third.
- Shirtless Scene: Half of Ryan's wardrobe consists of tank tops, especially in the earlier seasons. Later on, they finally give the poor guy some sleeves. Tight sleeves.
- Shoo Out the New Guy: Several characters:
- Jimmy Cooper: The character had run his course at the beginning of Season Two, so he was Put on a Bus with a rather... unconvincing excuse. Marissa even called him on it.
- The unlikely excuse just about worked the first time around, but then they had to bring him back for Caleb's funeral, only to remember why they got rid of him in the first place. In the end, he leaves for almost the same reason as before, and Marissa flat-out tells him that he can't come back this time, just so the writers wouldn't encounter the same problem again.
- Lindsay Gardner: Caleb's illegitimate daughter who occupied the first half of Season Two amid much Angst. Ryan, supposedly deeply in love with her, forgot her during the episode after her departure. She never returned; not for her father's funeral, not when her sister went into rehab.
- Jimmy Cooper: The character had run his course at the beginning of Season Two, so he was Put on a Bus with a rather... unconvincing excuse. Marissa even called him on it.
- Shout-Out: Jimmy Cooper mentions "the North Shore" to Hailey - Amanda Righetti was on the short-lived show North Shore.
- Show Within a Show: The Valley, a parody of The O.C. itself, featuring parodies of the real-life versions of the actors in the roles.
- Not to mention "Sherman Oaks: The Real Valley".
- In Season 2 Episode 3, Summer is watching The Valley in her bedroom, and you can hear dialogue from the first season of The O.C. being repeated verbatim except the names, about a character dating his ex's mother (i.e. Luke and Julie).
- In the commentary track, the creator explicitly mentions that all dialogue heard on The Valley are snippets from earlier O.C. episodes.
- "Shut Up" Kiss: Notably Seth and Summer's first. Ryan and Lindsay too.
- Similar Squad: Johnny and the public high school gang Marissa starts hanging out with once she's forced to change schools are supposed to be counterparts to Ryan, Seth, and Summer. Lampshaded when Ryan refers to one of them as Bizarro Seth, which is also a Seinfeld shout-out.
- Except that Ryan's counterpart is dating Summer's. It could be a coincidence but Summer does actually hit on Ryan in the pilot.
- A Simple Plan: These never ever go right.
- Six-Student Clique
- Smoking Is Cool: Ryan and Marissa share a smoke in the Pilot. An agreement between Fox and the writers said they could have this scene, so long as the characters never smoke again.
- Smug Snake: The Dean of Discipline. Also Taylor Townsend in her first few episodes (who got better) and Holly Fischer (who didn't).
- Sorry I Left the BGM On: Played with in that you can usually hear the switch in volume when it goes from soundtrack music to scene music, and characters may or may not draw attention to it by lowering the radio/changing the channel/telling X to turn it off.
- Spiritual Successor: The O.C.'s spiritual successor is Chuck in terms of dialogue, characters, and humor. Gossip Girl is the spiritual successor plot and setting-wise.
- Stalking Is Love: Oliver to Marissa.
- A lot of Taylor's behavior towards Ryan early in their relationship qualifies as stalking, but it's portrayed as being cute and funny rather than scary.
- Stealth Parody: The show wasn't self-aware enough to qualify as a Deconstruction of the Teen Drama, but someone in the writer's room was at least content to flirt with the possibility.
- The Stoner: Seth Cohen in Season 3. Kaitlin Cooper. Early Luke Ward and Early Summer Roberts.
- Stoners Are Funny: Seeing Seth Cohen under the influence of drugs was a highlight.
- Suicide as Comedy: Oliver fakes a suicide attempt, and after making the phone call, dances around flinging pills everywhere.
- Survivor Guilt: Marissa's constant moping after Johnny's death.
- Take That: Josh Schwartz doesn't seem to be very fond of his time slot competitor Grey's Anatomy.
- Tangled Family Tree: Sweet Jesus.
- Teen Drama
- Their First Time: Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts. They lost their virginity together.
- Theme Tune: "California" by Phantom Planet.
- There Are No Therapists: Subverted a bit. Marissa does attend a therapist and seems to be getting better... until life crashes on pretty much everyone after Oliver appears. Then psychotherapy is pretty much dismissed, although Lord knows it would have done her (and most of the other characters) some good.
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch: "Welcome to the O.C., bitch!" - #83 on a TV Land's Best TV Quotes list. Lampshaded when Luke moves. "Welcome to Portland, bitch!"
- Time Skip: Of around six months between show's penultimate and final episodes.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: As mentioned above, its arguable whether Seth did this or started as a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
- Trash the Set: The penultimate episode ends on the revelation that the inside of the Cohen's home has been destroyed by the earthquake that ended the previous episode.
- Unexplained Recovery: In Season One, the Nana has terminal cancer. In Season Two, she's alive and well again (and has mysteriously moved to Miami). Television Without Pity had a field day with that one.
- Uptown Girl: Ryan and Marissa. This is the primary storyline for the first half of the show.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: During Season Four, when it was clear the show was being cancelled and the writers were done with writing for ratings, "The French Connection" featured long drawn-out conversations among three characters revolving around David Hume, and a variety of french poets and philosophers. Some of this conversation is in unsubtitled French.
- Wild Teen Party: Many. Almost once an episode in Season One, Season 2's "The Rager" and Season 4's "The Summer Bummer".
- World of Snark: Virtually every major character (and many minor characters) is a Deadpan Snarker.
- Yiddish as a Second Language: Sandy Cohen is fond of "schmeering" bagels.
- You Mean "Xmas": Chrismukkah.
- There's briefly a shot of a poster advertising that "Pac West Surf Star" Johnny Harper would be making an appearance to advertise his new line of boards. Johnny died the previous season, and the implication is that if Ryan had never arrived in Newport & saved Marissa from an overdose in Season One, Johnny would have never died.