The Best Thing To Come Out Of ‘The OC’ Was ‘Laguna Beach’

Ryan and Marisa had nothing on LC and Stephen.

Laguna Beach

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In 2004, the world was in the throes of OC fever. Billabong trucker hats were flying off shelves, Adam Brody was the new kind of pin-up boy and Death Cab For Cutie was a household name. In the backroom of my mum’s house every Tuesday, an 11-year-old me would tune in to Channel 10, stand up and put my hand over my heart to sing ‘California’ like it were some kind of swearing-in ceremony. (It was.)

Just shy of its second season, The OC had captured the imagination of the world like no soap in recent history. As Sinead Stubbins wrote for Junkee, “It was the smart, quippy show that teenagers had been waiting for.” And in its wake, producers scrambled to capitalise on the fanfare. Most notably, through a real-life glimpse into the young, rich and beautiful people living in Laguna Beach, Orange County.

The Real Orange County

It’s hard to remember now, seeing as it’s taken on such a life of its own, but Laguna Beach was originally touted as “The Real Orange County”. Its purpose was to show viewers that teenagers really did live like Seth, Summer and Marissa. There were debutante balls, pink flip phones and McMansions. Teenagers were gifted cars as rewards for good behaviour. The wild world of excess privilege that Ryan Atwood stumbled into was ours to peer into as well.

In its first season, Laguna Beach was the epitome of all that was cool in 2004. They worked at surf shops!!! They went to a Blink-182 concert. They sunbaked. They wore fabric belts and ate immeasurable amounts of sushi. Not to mention the fact that they lived in huge beachside mansions.

Yet even though their world was so different to ours, Laguna allowed us to really relate to the people on screen. Remember when Morgan got rejected from the only college she applied for? And LC was constantly knocked back by the fuccboi Stephen? (“StEEE-vvvEEn”) Or Lo was just being Lo and she felt like our best friend? The minutiae of their lives was better than the car crashes and illegitimate children we saw on The OC.

Shows like The Real World had given us a taste of this kind of voyeurism, but it was clear that the characters weren’t in their natural habitats. Laguna went into their homes, featured people who were actually friends with each other, showed their stress about exams, boys and what to wear to prom. Laguna was the first of its kind.

And while reality TV is never truly “real life”, Laguna felt as close as you could get. The cast members have since confirmed that the show feels like a pretty accurate representation of their senior year. “They did some scripting in the sense that they would set up scenes. But it was based on real-life things that were going on. They didn’t concoct anything like they did on The Hills,” Jen Bunney told Time.

It premiered two years before The Real Housewives franchise kicked off with Orange County, and three years before we were invited to keep up with the Kardashians. I’m not sure if it’s correct to say that it paved the way for these shows, but through Laguna, audiences sure got a real taste for aspirational television.

Welcome To The Spin-Offs, Bitch

While The OC faltered after its second season (and crashed after its third), Laguna wrapped up two tight seasons and an uneasy third to head straight on to a spin-off, barely missing a beat.

The Hills was five delightful seasons of LC finding her footing in the fashion world of Los Angeles, with a cast of iconic supporting characters. Plus a sixth season of Kristin doing Kristin things (“drama”) and a two-season run of Whitney Port in The City.

Where The OC faded into nostalgia, the Laguna/Hills empire had staying power. To this day, we’re still fascinated by who Audrina’s dating, or whether or not LC and Heidi will ever make up. Is Jason OK?

The OC will hold a special place in my heart as the first TV show I truly fell in love with. But as I get older, I realise that I love it much more for what it ended up giving me: good reality TV.

Without The OC, we wouldn’t have had Laguna Beach, which means we wouldn’t have had The Hills. Which means we wouldn’t have had Speidi, and Justin Bobby, and way too much kohl eyeliner, and that fateful non-trip to Paris, and “You know what you did”. We wouldn’t have had The City, and we certainly wouldn’t have had Kristin’s newest venture, Very Cavallari.

Now, when I think of The OC, I think of the real Orange County – Ryan and Marisa had nothing on LC and Stephen.

Josephine is a writer from western Sydney and she’s pretty sure Heidi knew what she did. Follow her on Twitter.