T.V. shows are funny things. You watch them and you fall in love with the characters. You cry when they get married, when they die, and when the show inevitably ends following a ratings drop before you move on and watch something else. Recently, however, I decided to turn my attention back to an old favorite: The O.C. Surprisingly, I found it to be a cathartic and revealing experience.
On a whim, I forced my housemates to watch the first two episodes of The O.C. in an attempt to get them as hooked as I was at age 13. They enjoyed it well enough, but evidently not as much as I did as I went on to watch the whole first season in under three weeks. Watching it after so many years, I was faced with the same emotional response I had had almost ten years ago.
Like so many young, naïve, romantically-starved teenage girls, I was taught everything I thought I needed to know about relationships by television of the late '90s and early '00s. My ultimate heroine was actually not from The O.C., but from Dawson’s Creek. Joey Potter was able to articulate so many of the emotions I felt about boys and family and puberty in ways that I was never able to. She was smart, funny, cute, and endearing–everything my spotty, nervous, awkward teenage self was not. But, as with many teen shows, it was obvious that a middle-aged television writer was putting words into the characters’ mouths. What 16-year-old girl says things like, “Mistakes were made, hearts were broken, harsh lessons learned, but all of that has receded into fond memory now?” (I only realized the absurdity of some of the things Joey says upon rewatching the show. Before that I just thought that anyone older than me was really sophisticated).
If Dawson’s Creek represented all teenagers overthinking and overanalyzing their ordinary, unexceptional lives (which it did), The O.C. was nothing but teenage angst in stares and glares and, God, I loved it. Emotionally unstable Marissa, moody Ryan Atwood, nerdy Seth Cohen–perfection. Yet, I felt strangely sad watching the show again; I felt my 13 -year-old self would have been disappointed by the decade that followed. Having turned 22 months ago, I know my teenage years have officially been and gone. During the greatest years of my life nobody stood on a coffee cart and declared their love for me in front of the whole school, gatecrashed a New Year’s Eve party at exactly midnight for me, or recreated the upside-down Spiderman kiss in the rain. This is exactly what I, a young teenager, thought love and romance would entail, but none of these grand romantic gestures and meaningful stares across the school hallways have ever been directed at me.
I suppose, though, my teenage years were not that bad. I managed to get through them without getting threatened by a gun, becoming an alcoholic, burning down a house, or overdosing in Mexico. The house parties I attended never turned into the crazy affairs I had encountered on television, but everyone managed to get home at the end of the night relatively unharmed. Perhaps that high drama was best reserved for primetime television. Perhaps. For the time being though, I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that Seth Cohen and Joey Potter only exist within the realm of T.V., and that’s maybe not such a bad thing after all.