Next up, I’m joined by Cory Barker to revisit the introduction of the greatest bi-religious holiday to grace pop culture—Chrismukkah—from episode thirteen from the first season of The O.C.
In case you aren’t familiar with The O.C. (um, what?!) it follows a bad boy, Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) as he’s taken in by the Cohen family and has to adjust to rich kid life in Orange County, California.
In “The Best Chrismukkah Ever,” Ryan is introduced to the Cohen family tradition of Chrismukkah by Seth (Adam Brody)—a holiday he has created for his WASP mother and Jewish father. Ryan, with his complicated family history, doesn’t have a great holiday track record. His relationship with Marissa (Mischa Barton), who is the worst and dealing with her own problems, isn’t making Ryan’s first Chrismukkah look that bright. On top of that, Seth’s dealing choosing between the Summer (Rachel Bilson) and Anna (Samaire Armstrong) who are vying for his attention. Will Chrismukkah’s super holiday powers solve all?
Kerensa: God, I love The O.C. so much. When I started watching "The Best Chrismukkah Ever" I also realized that this might be one of my all-time favorite holiday episodes of anything, which is kind of insane!
I mean generally the show brings up lots of just out of high school/early into college feelings for me. But as a holiday episode, I think this episode just has such a perfect blend of heart, humor and just enough cheesy holiday cheer that really elevates it into a classic for me. And we meet the infamous OLIVER!
What did watching this episode initially bring up for you?
Cory: I've reserved a major space in my heart for all things O.C.-related, and that of course includes the show's wonderful holiday episodes. I probably prefer the season four holiday episode "The Chrismukk-huh?" just a little more than "The Best Chrismukkah Ever," but there's something special and charming about the introduction of Seth Cohen's greatest creation (Sorry, Kid Chino).
Watching the episode again, I couldn't help remembering how well the show structured nearly every episode around some big party. Obviously, Julie and Caleb's extravagant Christmas party was just one in a long series of parties-gone-kind of-wrong for the characters, but this episode made great use of bringing everyone's stories to a head at the party. I will say, though, that I'm slowly coming to grips with one true fact of The O.C.: Seth is horribly annoying. I was the same age as the core characters and so of course Seth Cohen was my dweebish hero back in the early aughts. But now? I dunno. I can only imagine how much of a neurotic goofball I was in 2003, trying to be like Seth Cohen. Yeesh.
Kerensa: Is The O.C. the OG Gossip Girl in that respect by structuring most of the episode around a party? Obviously better done than Gossip Girl :(
I totally agree with you about Seth! I rewatch The O.C. every couple years and I'm struck by how deeply grating Seth is. And when I watched The O.C., Seth was literally my dream guy down to the Death Cab soundtrack. Now, I have fully embraced my garbage taste in men but Seth is a NO GO. Cory, if you were trying to emulate Seth, I probably would have actively pursued you.
Also, Seth is such a dweeb when it comes to his romantic triangle with Summer and Anna, he cannot do anything right when it comes to juggling ladies. Both of them are SO much cooler than him even down to their presents for him. When you first saw this, did you ship Seth with Anna or Summer?
Cory: Right. Growing up means that I'm not actually a Seth Cohen, I'm a Ryan Atwood. Not in my ability to wear wifebeaters and chokers, but just in that I spent far more time during this episode rolling my eyes at Seth, Marissa, or the extravagant nature of this entire ecosystem—just as Ryan does. I relate to him as a point of entry character much more than I did before. But to this episode's credit, it sort of recognizes that Seth is being a tool in how he treats the women. Those comedic moments between Seth, Summer, and Anna really balance out the hour—especially the Marissa stuff, which vom—but there's something really great about the two girls recognizing at the party that they don't really want, or frankly need, to play Seth's game. It's like they both realize they're cool, interesting women who should actually be friends with one another, and not worry about Seth. That never entirely happened as S1 progressed, and that's probably a byproduct of the fact that they didn't quite know what to do with Anna once Seth and Summer became the OTP, which is one of the great tragedies of the aughts.
I guess as those comments suggest, I think I was pretty heavily invested in Team Anna, both in her relationship with Seth and in her as a character on her own. The show obviously went to great lengths to mature Summer over four years, to the point where she and Julie were the only characters that changed that much by the end of the run, but man, at this time, Anna just seemed like the coolest person on the planet. Again, to 15 year-old me, it wasn't really a contest, mostly because there weren't girls like Anna in my universe. I know now that Anna was a total—buzzword alert—Manic Pixie Dream Girl, to the point where the show used her to build up Seth's confidence and then discarded her when he was 'confident enough', or something. Heck, she even made occasional returns later in the series when he was in need, which only further signals the misuse of her and Samaire Armstrong's charm. I am not still mad about this. Nope. What about you? And did you also have weird feelings watching Mischa Barton's Marissa drink herself silly knowing everything we know now?
Kerensa: Cory, I do think that maybe you should try pulling off a choker though! It might be your new 2015 look!
And I completely agree with you, at the time I was totally team Anna as well. Mostly because I totally saw myself as a quirky alt. Anna type who was always friend zoned with my personal Seth Cohens who told me in excruciating detail about their crushes on hot chicks while I soothed their bruised male egos. Ugh. But Anna's entire arc on the show, like you said, was totally misused and was even more insulting when she was brought back to again only counsel Seth on common sense shit he should have figured out on his own.
Oh so many weird feelings about Marissa--mostly because when I first saw her on this show I idolized her, which is obviously problematic. But I wanted her clothes, height and jutting hipbones. Watching Mischa Barton though on this show seems so weirdly prophetic. Poor Mischa. But dude, Marissa is just the worst. Like you mentioned all the Marissa stuff in this episode is so vom worthy. The one scene that always stands out in my head when I think about this episode is when she's just casually swinging that vodka around while Ryan is driving when they get pulled over. I mean maybe it's the hot/crazy scale but how did Ryan not just STOP THERE.
Cory: Marissa is, was, and will forever be the worst. It's funny that we're supposed see Ryan's comparison of she and his mother as an indictment of HER behavior when in reality, it says everything about him. Every holiday with Marissa was dramatic, because that's just how she is. Her anti-therapy rants were pretty great. Also great: Jimmy's condo. Forgot about that.
But what's more important about this episode: the introduction of Seth's relatively ingenious holiday, or the introduction of all-time psycho buzzkill Oliver?
Kerensa: Oh god, Cory, I don't know!
On the one hand, Seth's holiday is super important to pop culture. And for me at least, gave me one of my all-time favorite holiday soundtracks!
So his introduction might win out for me.
What do you think?
Cory: It's likely that Chrismukkah had a larger impact on society as a whole, while you could make a strong case that Oliver is more important to the show. He is an absolute demon person, and Taylor Handley is glorious in the role. Together, the introduction of the show's big holiday and arguably its most villainous character (depending on your view on Volchok, I guess) makes this an extremely important episode for The O.C.
OK, we've waited long enough. We have to talk about Summer in the Wonder Woman costume. Tremendous gift idea, indictment of some warped version of female empowerment, or both?
Kerensa: I want to sleep with Volchok :(
I mean it's definitely a bit of both--but damn, Summer looks SO GOOD as Wonder Woman. That scene has legit ruined my imagined Wonder Woman casting for years because I can't picture anyone but Rachel Bilson wearing that outfit. Did Summer in the Wonder Woman costume ruin women for you for your teen years?
Cory: Who doesn't?!
This is dangerous territory, but I didn't actually care for Summer in the costume. Part of it is that that early Summer wore an ungodly amount of makeup (it's part of the character, sure, but I definitely prefer the more uh, refined version), and part of it is that I've always been annoyed at the entire conceit of the gift. It feels like a Valentine's Day gift to me, not Christmas—or Chrismukkah—gift. But maybe I'm being too harsh, because it's definitely an original gift idea, especially given the target audience. I probably shouldn't worry about policing 16 year-olds' gift-giving choices either.
Are there other things we should touch on? It seems like Ryan getting his own stocking is a pretty big deal, and the episode-ending Cohen family photo is one of those other seminal things that reoccurred a few times until the show went away. For all the wonky things the show did wrong with Ryan and Marissa (or Ryan and Lindsay, or Ryan and Sadie [shudders]), it was always awesome at weaving in those little moments that reinforced Ryan's place in the Cohen household. This being the first Christmas, and Ryan being unsurprisingly anti-Christmas, those final moments are crucial to affirming his place in the family—even if the show would predictably pull at that thread time and time again for another 80 episodes.
Kerensa: I agree that Ryan's stocking is so important to cementing his place in the Cohen family. Also, I think it's super important when he stays for the movie night instead of accompanying Marissa to her first therapy appointment (cause ugh). And the show was also SO good at those moments--and like you mentioned for everything the show did wrong with Ryan's various relationships (or did right, Ryan and Taylor!) it always really nailed the moments between Ryan and the Cohens and for me, that's what really always made the show.
Next Time: Kerensa will be revisiting more angsty holiday romances on Degrassi.
FYI: Cory Barker is a contributor to TV.com and a PhD student in Communication & Culture at Indiana University, where he studies contemporary television and teaches courses on American consumer culture.