the o.c. week

New Girl’s J.J. Philbin Remembers The O.C. Writers’ Room

The O.C. cast. Photo: FOX
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The O.C. writers’ room looked a lot like the Cohen’s pool house. A lot of rattan, decorative sea shells — everything looked like it was bought at a fire sale at Pier One. But inside our pool house, there was no angst-ridden teen in a wifebeater. There was only us, the small but feisty writing staff of The O.C., whose job it was to figure out what the hell else could possibly happen in Newport. We met every day and asked each other the big questions. Is Caleb up to no good with the Newport Group? Is that really Ryan’s baby in Theresa’s belly? At what point during any of this should Sandy offer someone a shmear?

There were times I would stare at our white board and think, That’s it. We’re finished. We’ve told every story we can tell. How many dances can these kids go to? How many punches can Ryan throw before we officially discount him as a budding architect? But just when I would think all hope was lost, someone would pitch something, and next thing I knew, we’d be up at the board, chasing one of our characters, hoping like hell they’d give us six acts worth of story.

When trying to break an episode, we had a few wells we returned to again and again — maybe too often. One thing that happened a lot in The O.C.: People walked into rooms at the exact moment a person in that room was doing something terrible. Often, they would slip away before they could realize that the person in that room only looked like they were doing something terrible, but they were actually doing something nice. It would lead to a misunderstanding that would force all parties to do bizarre things, even though no one had done anything bad in the first place. It’s amazing how often this happened in Newport.

But what can I say? It was a soap. We had to tell story, and we had to tell a lot of it, and we didn’t always get it right. But sometimes, we did. And in those moments when our characters, who we loved, did stuff that was crazy but emotional and interesting — the moments when they went out on limbs for each other, the moments when they changed into yet another permutation of the original character Josh created — well, those moments were thrilling.

In that case, everything that needed to happen would happen.

Josh would laugh, and Stephanie would cry (she only happy-cried, if one of the characters was growing). Our EP, Bob Delaurentis, would take the raw ideas and explain how to make them into a story. Leila Gerstein would tell us everything we were doing was stupid and terrible. And John Stephens would reference some obscure Korean film that would give us a twist we never saw coming.

And on the really good days, it would all come together, and I’d sit on the blue and white (nautical-themed) sofa with a dog asleep on my lap (Josh, Stephanie, and Leila brought their pets every day) and a smile on my face. And though I constantly looked at the calendar and wondered when this particular season would be over, because this time (I was convinced) we were truly out of story — when the whole show came to a stop, and it was time to break the series finale, it took me by surprise.

Of course I knew it was coming. We were told at the beginning of season four that it would be our last. I didn’t create this world — that was Josh and Stephanie — but the fake pool house had become my home. And the weirdos I broke stories with, my best friends. Many years after the show ended, we gathered to do the O.C. traditions — Project Runway viewings, high-stakes Secret Santa. And as for the characters, I was glad that, for their sake, we were no longer in that room, forcing them to do (sometimes) absurd things. I could rest easy knowing Seth and Summer got married, and Ryan was somewhere architect-ing.

It’s been ten years. I don’t look back and think, Wow, thank God we did everything right. Because of course we didn’t. It was some fuck ups, some moments of glory. But if that’s not the O.C. — if that’s not a coming of age story — I don’t know what is.

J.J. Philbin Remembers The O.C. Writers’ Room