If you came of age in the early aughts and you didn’t watch The OC religiously, well, did you really come of age in the early aughts? Actually, these pseudo-existential questions are not the ones I’m here to answer. What I am here to tell you is that every episode The OC is currently available on Hulu and that you should put all of your summer plans on hold and go binge watch it, because it’s every bit as magical as you remember (up until season 4, that is) and because isn’t lying around in your nice, air-conditioned apartment looking at Sandy Cohen’s eyebrows better than actually going out and doing things?
In the ten years since The OC went off the air, there have been copious think pieces, tweets, and podcasts about nearly every character, plot twist, and cultural moment on the show. And one of the most popular angles seems to be “Marissa Cooper sucks.” How much this has to do with the subsequent downfall of actress Mischa Barton is unclear, but one thing’s for sure: Marissa is the character OC fans and non-fans alike love to hate. Unfortunately, these people are all wrong, and here’s why.
She had excellent taste in music.
“I listen to the same music as Marissa Cooper? I think I have to kill myself,” exclaims Seth when hearing early in the series that his aloof, wide-eyed next door neighbor also enjoyed the musical stylings of punk bands like The Cramps, The Clash, and Stiff Little Fingers. This is a sexist and obnoxious comment to make, and it highlights exactly what was so lowkey awesome about Marissa: Because she was blonde and rich and pretty, nobody expected her to also be cool — they expected her to be bitchy and judgmental and listen to whatever awful shit was on the radio circa 2005. But cool she was, and that fact blew people like Seth’s minds, thereby exposing them as guilty of the same petty stereotyping they originally ascribed to her. Boom. Take that, Cohen.
She was a part of one of the first lesbian relationships on mainstream TV.
When Marissa began dating Bait Shop bad girl Alex (played by a young Olivia Wilde), it was one of the first depictions of a lesbian relationship on a mainstream, primetime American teen drama. While the relationship was ultimately short-lived, it paved the way for other shows to depict gay relationships and for kids who might have been struggling with their sexuality at the time to possibly feel more comfortable opening up.
According to showrunner Josh Schwartz, the relationship also put a lot of “very conservative” people on edge. And if that isn’t a good reason to love a character, I don’t know what is: “The network was very nervous — it was an extremely conservative time in our country and everyone was freaking out,” Schwartz later said. “It was a battle, and The Powers That Be are part of a big corporation and were going in front of Congress at the time (every network was) — so I understand they are all good people who were under a lot of pressure. But they wanted that story wrapped up as fast as humanly possible and Alex moving on out of the OC.”
She went out of her way to be nice to every girl Ryan hooked up with.
Marissa and Ryan were the show’s central couple, second only to perhaps Seth and Summer. Despite this fact, they both spent an awful lot of time canoodling with other people. After all, what kind of teen drama would it be if everyone was just happily enjoying their oh-so-functional long-term relationships? But while Ryan had a penchant for punching Marissa’s side dudes in the face, Marissa went above and beyond to be nice to Ryan’s other girlfriends in a way that was practically self-flagellating.
Think about it: When Ryan started dating Theresa, Marissa quickly befriended her, even going so far as to let her borrow a freakin’ dress so she could attend a Newport event with Ryan, who rudely drooled over her while Marissa was standing right there. When Theresa got pregnant, Marissa urged Ryan to leave Newport to go be with her. When he started dating Lindsey, Marissa invited her out for a “girl’s night” with her and Summer (which ended in Lindsey getting wasted and passing out at the Bait Shop, but still). When Ryan started hanging out with her dead friend’s cousin Sadie, she was totally cool with it, even though she and Ryan were technically still together. Come on. This is some saintly shit here, people.
She didn’t care about money.
Marissa started out as one of the richest girls in Orange County with a “dad who never said no,” as Summer put it in the first episode. The reason for this, of course, was that he was embezzling money from half of Newport. But even after he got punched at her cotillion and divorced by her mom, Marissa still chose to live with him in his post-divorce dad pad because he wasn’t her icy, judgmental, gold-digging mother and he accepted her relationship with Ryan. When she was blackmailed by Caleb Nichol to go live in the sprawling McMansion he shared with her mother, she grudgingly did so, but was, unlike her mother, openly unwilling to put up with Caleb’s sliminess in order to live in his house and use his money. This is admirable, is it not? What’s more, when Caleb died and her father sailed away from all paternal responsibility on his boat a second time, she happily went to live with her mother in their “Tiffany Blue” trailer, despite the constant advances of their disgusting neighbor Gus (remember him? Yeah.).
Everything in her closet was Chanel and Marc Jacobs.
Fine, for some, this might be a reason to hate her. But for those of us sitting at home in our Chanel-less suburban bedrooms who wanted nothing more than to see S/S 2006’s tweed 2.55 bags or silky drop waist dresses in action, it was a revelation. Remember, when The OC came out, fashion bloggers and street style culture was still in its infancy, so for many budding fashion lovers, seeing Marissa Cooper wear Miu Miu flats to high school was as real as the runway got.
Interestingly, Mischa Barton apparently played a big role in wrangling Marissa’s high-end wardrobe (or so she claims). “I started getting Chanel to send stuff. I started having these designers send stuff over because I saw the merit in getting that kind of stuff on television,” she told Elle. “It was interesting: If I had those connections in the fashion world, why not? [The wardrobe department] would totally have been happy just dressing us as regular teenagers, to be honest. Not in a bad way, we would have looked adorable, but we would have been just your average Orange County teenagers.”
She kind of went through a lot.
The most popular argument against Marissa Cooper seems to be that she was a drama queen who “always needed saving.” Aside from the inherent sexism of that statement, let’s take a quick look at all of the awful shit that befell Marissa during her time on The OC and see if we can’t drum up a little more sympathy for the girl, shall we?
Here goes: Her father committed fraud and got punched in the face at her cotillion, she caught her longtime boyfriend hooking up with one of her best friends, she got shipped off to therapy where she befriended a mentally unstable dude who became obsessed with her and threatened to kill himself in front of her, her mother had an affair with her underage boyfriend, her mother forced her to move in with her and her awful new octogenarian husband, her boyfriend supposedly impregnated another girl and was forced to leave town to go be with her, she got sexually assaulted by her boyfriend’s older brother, she was forced to shoot her boyfriend’s older brother in the back in order to save her boyfriend’s life, she had PTSD from the sexual assault and shooting of her boyfriend’s older brother because duh she did, she was investigated for the shooting of her boyfriend’s older brother, she got kicked out of her private school for said shooting and had to attend public school, she was bullied at public school, she befriended yet another dude who was obsessed with her and he actually did die in front of her, and then her ex-boyfriend drunkenly ran her car off the road, killing her in one of television history’s most dramatic moments. Yeah, so, kind of a lot for anybody to handle.
And no matter how much you pretend to hate Marissa Cooper, there’s no denying you totally cried during her death scene, even if it was just because of that damn tearjerking “Hallelujah” song.