Thoughts on Class and Finance from the OC Series Pilot Script

by Jia Tolentino

Brooding puppy dog Ryan Atwood is in the clinker because his brother has just stolen and totaled an Impala full of guns and drugs. Ryan, an accessory to the crime, is in big trouble. His public defender, a surfing pair of on-trend eyebrows named Sandy Cohen, has just asked him what he’s going to do with his life.

Ryan: “Modern medicine is advancing to the point where the average human life span will be a hundred. But I read this article which said that Social Security is supposed to run out by the year 2025. Which means people are going to have to stay in their jobs until they’re eighty. So I don’t want to commit to anything too soon.” 1

1 Social Security is currently projected to run out in 2035.

Sandy: “You’re gonna have to get over the fact that life dealt you a bad hand. I grew up — no money. Bad part of the Bronx.”

Ryan: “And look at you now.”


Ryan calls his friends and relatives but they all hate him or something, so of course he calls Sandy, who comes and picks him up:

Ryan: “This is a nice car. I didn’t think your kind of a lawyer made money.” 2

2 Public defenders in California can make up to $140,000.

3 In 2010, almost 30% of women in dual-income marriages out-earned their husbands (Kirsten, on the OC, worked with her father at The Newport Group and was a squillionaire).

Sandy: “We don’t. It’s my wife’s.” 3

Sandy and Kirsten’s house, a mansion in Newport Beach:

“The most expensive everything. Spanish tile. The kitchen is steel and chrome. The shower has a steamer and a seat in it! And soap that looks like sea shells. A terry cloth robe hangs on the door.”

We are in an age of innocence, where bad boys wear subtle leather necklaces and California socialites wear bootcut jeans. Ryan smokes a cigarette in the driveway of the mansion and spots the beautiful girl next door, a doe with a clogged throat named Marissa Cooper. They share the cigarette. Sandy Cohen’s eyebrows come out of the house and approach them.

Sandy, to Marissa: “We’re really excited about that fashion show fundraiser tomorrow.”

Marissa: “Me too. It’s been so much work, but it raises a lot of money for the National Charity League so — “

Sandy: “At two hundred dollars a head, it should.” 4

4 Fancy gala fundraisers are the most inefficient way for a nonprofit to gather capital, but since they are also the most glamorous, they’re here to stay.

Later, at Marissa’s house, men in suits come to the door demanding a chat with her father Jimmy, who’s been taking money from his client’s investments to support his wife’s lip injections and early-2000’s prestige footwear.

Marissa: “Those men came by again, Dad. What’s going on?”

Jimmy: “It’s just a client. You have nothing to worry about.” 5

5 “That was his biggest regret of anything is how we were hurt. Not so much that the clients lost so much money, but how much he hurt the family.” — Ruth Madoff

6 Since the recession began, American annual pet spending has increased from $43.2 billion in 2008 to nearly $53 billion in 2012.

7 EOnline thinks that Brangelina wedding photos could sell for over $10 million.

The fashion show:

“Feels like something for heads of state. Instead it it is filled with Newport’s wealthiest denizens. Every ear, neck and wrist glimmers gold and silver. Even the dogs are well dressed. Everyone white. But tan.” 6

The after-party:

“An expensive vase getting knocked over. Shatters. No one bats an eye.” A guy takes pictures of a couple hooking up through an open bedroom door. “Total blackmail. Easy money y’all!” 7

At the party, Ryan’s puppy dog magnetism acts like a tractor beam on pint-sized hottie Summer Roberts, who is the longtime secret love of Seth Cohen, who is Sandy and Kirsten’s firstborn Death Cab poster and has never been to a party before.

Seth misinterprets the situation: “I can’t believe you! I invite you into my world! I bring you to this party! And this is how you treat me?! Why don’t you go back to Chino. I’m sure you can find a nice car in the parking lot to steal.” 8

8 According to California law, Ryan would have been up for a felony as an accessory to his brother’s crime, punishable by either 2–4 years in prison or up to a $10,000 fine, but luckily he was a juvenile and Sandy had his back. Of course, the actor who played Ryan was 25 when the pilot was filmed.

It’s the morning after the party and Kirsten is horrified to find her one and only Death Cab poster hungover with a black eye. “Seth!” she yells. She runs to tell her husband, whose eyebrows have good-naturedly strapped on a wetsuit and gone surfing.

Kirsten: “This is what happens when you invite that kind of element into our home.”

Sandy: “I’d rather Seth hang out with Ryan than with some trust fund kid who only cares about getting his new Beamer. He’s gotta grow up some time. There’s a real world out there. Outside of this Newport Beach bubble.” 9

9 The 2013 BMW 7-Series costs up to $140,000 brand new.

Kirsten: “You don’t seem to mind living in this bubble.”


Kirsten goes back to the house and finds Ryan’s homemade apology breakfast. “Uh, Rosa’s not here today,” she says, unsure if people who speak English can prepare food from scratch. “I made it,” Ryan says. Well, it’s not enough. Sandy takes the brooding shelter puppy home, who gazes through the window at Marissa as the sun flares golden like an early-model Instagram and a Joseph Arthur song swells bittersweet. The two of them arrive at Ryan’s mom’s chain-link-fence place in Chino:

“The disparity between the two houses is remarkable… The house is cleaned out. Nothing. A few boxes left.”

Sandy: “C’mon. Let’s go.”

10 There have been eight novelizations of the O.C., one of which is called “Cohen!”, official O.C. fragrances, and a failed plan to combine Gossip Girl and O.C. characters in a series called “Valley Girls.”

The door closes. Ryan’s going back to Newport and our lives will never be the same. MMMMMMM WHATCHA SAYYY. 10

Jia Tolentino lives in Ann Arbor.

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