10.) Anna Stern, played by Samaire Armstrong
Anna was a supporting character who initially was introduced as Ryan's set-up date for the Cotillion in season 1, but quickly became a valuable companion to Seth with their similar interests in comic books, indie rock, and sardonic humor. Anna was a funny and likable character that had great chemistry with the entire core four, and honestly should have been bumped up to series regular. Can you imagine how much better the show would have been if Anna was always around? She told it like it was and always put the whiny Seth Cohen in his place, but their goodbye scene in season 1 is one of the most heartbreaking of the show. She returned briefly in season 3 with awful hair extensions but we don't talk about that.
9.) Kaitlin Cooper, played by Willa Holland
Kaitlin Cooper was initially portrayed by a young Shailene Woodley before her A-List days. But it was her return in season 3 as a much more fleshed out and active character, when she was portrayed by teen drama gold Willa Holland, that Kaitlin truly got to shine. Kaitlin is very much like her older sister Marissa with her gorgeous looks and rebellious nature, but is also quite different in her reaction to the melodrama around her. Kaitlin is mean, manipulative, seductive, but also doesn't give much of a crap about the bullshit that other teens care about. She sees the world for what it really is, and marches to the beat of her own drum. Even when she starts going to the Harbour School, Kaitlin is fully propositioned to become the new queen bee, but she just doesn't give a fuck. Despite her clear attitude problem, Kaitlin cares very much about her family, and after its completely broken by the start of season 4, does everything she can to make her and her mom's relationship strong.
8.) Marissa Cooper, played by Mischa Barton
Love her or hate her, the first few seasons of The OC would not have been the same without Marissa Cooper. She gave us some of the series' most iconic moments, from her bizarre poolside meltdown to the infamous "Mmm Whatcha Say" scene. Portrayed by the unbelievably gorgeous Mischa Barton, Marissa was the most popular girl at school, Social Chair, with a hot jock boyfriend Luke, a rich family, and a seemingly perfect life. But Marissa had a host of mental issues that plagued her, ranging from depression to an eating disorder to alcoholism/drug-abuse to kleptomania and more. She had an inner depth beyond their glitzy and glamorous world, a dreamer cursed by fate. She was a tragic character, constantly dealing with traumatic events that more than often weren't her fault, ultimately to meet her demise at the end of season 3. Marissa may have been melodramatic, and Mischa might not have been the best actress, but she was a dedicated friend and girlfriend, and was loved by her family and those close to her. Even the Cohens cared a great deal about Marissa, and her loss left an emptiness in several of the characters' lives. All Marissa ever wanted was to make something out of herself and to be happy. In another world, I imagine she went off to live with her dad in Greece and found the happiness she deserved.
7.) Kirsten Cohen, played by Kelly Rowan
While not nearly as active and hands-on of a parent as her husband Sandy, Mama Kiki is still a great mom and a warm, comforting figure in The OC universe. Even though she didn't trust Ryan in the beginning, she quickly came around, and remained a great maternal presence throughout the series, with compelling storylines of her own. Kirsten's rocky relationship with her father, as well as the subtle grief over her mother's passing prior to the series and an abortion she had in her late teens, made you understand her journey as a woman, and made you root for her through her troubles. Her descent into alcoholism was definitely soapy, but Kelly Rowan acted the heck out of it, and we just wanted Kiki to get better for her family and more importantly for herself. As Kiki grew throughout the series, she became a wise and trustworthy figure in the lives of her sons, husband, and best friend Julie Cooper. Even though she was a terrible, terrible cook, by the end, she was the mom we all secretly wanted.
6.) Taylor Townsend, played by Autumn Reeser
Oh Taylor. Sweet, helpless Taylor. What started as a one-note villainous role at the beginning of season 3 quickly blossomed into one of the series' most likable characters, thanks in part to Autumn Reeser's charming af performance. Extremely type-A, motivated, neurotic, and slightly unhinged, Taylor began the series as a foil to Summer and Marissa's characters, the perky nerdy girl determined to be the head of the school at all costs. But when we learned that Taylor's obsession with perfection stems from her relationship with her verbally abusive mother, we instantly felt bad for the girl who we wanted to see fail. As the series progressed, Taylor softened and became a bonafide member of the gang, eventually become Ryan Atwood's first truly stable girlfriend, which says a lot because Taylor is super unstable. Even with her quirks, her many, many quirks, Taylor was someone you wanted to be friends with, because you just know she'd sneakily manipulate some situation in your favor and always have your back.
5.) Julie Cooper, played by Melinda Clarke
I absolutely adore this character, who has shown some of the most growth of any of them throughout the series. Initially portrayed as Marissa's overbearing and superficial mother, Julie was known for burning bridges in her life, be them with friends, relationships, or her own family. While her intentions were always in her daughter's best interests, Julie's methods of intervening in Marissa and Kaitlin's lives weren't always the smartest. Julie grows into a caring and devoted mother, especially after losing Marissa, and a deeply loving friend to Kirsten. She makes amends for her mistakes and finally finds herself moving towards a successful and happy place by the end of the series, always striving to be bigger than the trailer park she came from. Julie Cooper is unique in being just about the only likable statutory rapist (remember Luke anyone?) on television, and while we'll forever side-eye that plot, Julie is certainly one of the best and most memorable soap opera villainesses this OP has ever seen.
4.) Seth Cohen, played by Adam Brody
Truly iconic, Seth Cohen is arguably the show's first breakout character, the inventor of geek chic, and an absolute staple of early 2000s pop culture. For some reason we're made to believe a super cute guy like Adam Brody is supposed to be the biggest loser in school, oftentimes bullied for his awkward personality, hipster weirdness and obsession with comic books. Seth is certainly a prominent perpetrator of the "nice guy" trope, but a unique one in that his rampant self-absorbedness and inability to make good decisions is often called out on by the other characters. Adam Brody had impeccable comedic timing that made Seth funny and relatable, a breath of normalcy among the decadence that is the rest of Newport Beach. Even though he can often be an annoying whiny ball of teen angst, he is one of the show's more realistic characters and an icon for lonely high school outcasts everywhere.
3.) Summer Roberts, played by Rachel Bilson
Speaking of breakout characters, Summer Roberts began the series initially intended to be a supporting cast member for just a few episodes. But Rachel Bilson's natural humor and charm made her so darn likable that she quickly became a full-fledged regular, and one of the only cast members to appear in every single episode of the series. She even had her own catchphrase (see above)! Summer arguably experiences the most character development of anyone on the show, beginning as Marissa's sidekick, a ditzy, superficial, typical Orange County popular girl with no bigger aspirations than becoming one of Newport's social elite. Through her relationship with polar opposite Seth Cohen, however, Summer develops into a strong-minded and caring individual. Seth and Summer's chemistry provided for much of the series' laughs and heart-felt moments, and were the couple everyone rooted for. But it was Summer's tenacity, determination, and willingness to forgive that allowed her to put up with hot mess Seth, and the two grew into mature adults together. After Marissa's death, Summer spirals into a strange depression, becoming a completely different person passionate about animals' rights and environmental protection. But when she learns to balance both sides of herself, we see Summer begin to truly shine towards the end of the series as she finds her calling: doing good for the world around her. We just know Marissa is looking down on her best friend with a proud smile.
2.) Ryan Atwood, played by Ben McKenzie
The protagonist of the series, The OC is undeniably Ryan's story, so it'd be a crime to put him any lower on this list. The OC does a wonderful job of giving Ryan a series arc that comes full-circle by the end. Beginning as a troubled teen from the wrong side of the tracks (aka Chino...ew), Ryan comes from a broken home and has a broken attitude to show for it. Known for throwing punches, mostly to people who deserve them, Ryan is a standoffish outsider that shocks the squeaky clean community of Newport Beach when he first arrives. Deep down he longs to be greater than his past, but oftentimes doubts himself and his ability to be a better person. It's through his heartwarming relationship with the Cohen family, as well as his on/off-again romance with Marissa, that Ryan begins to believe in himself, and realize that he can achieve greatness. Time and time again Ryan's good nature is tested, but underneath those wife-beaters and that rugged exterior is a sweet teddy bear who deserves the world. The final scene of the series shows an adult Ryan, now working as a successful architect, reaching out to a troubled teen just like Sandy did for him years prior, an encounter that changed his life forever. You'd have to be a fucking sociopath to not get a little weepy at that.
1.) Sandy Cohen, played by Peter Gallagher
If you're a fan of The OC and you didn't at one point want Sandy Cohen to be your dad and/or daddy than you are one bold-faced liar. Rarely on teen shows do the adults outshine the kids, but Sandy Cohen was the ultimate TV father, husband, lawyer, surfer, eyebrow king, etc. His cool and laid-back attitude masked a fierce devotion to his family, and no one could hit you with a truth bomb, make you feel like shit because you fucked up, give you the best wisdom ever, and be the shoulder you can always lean on better than Sandy motherfucking Cohen. Sandy's instant love for Ryan and desire to give him a better life is what kicks off the series. He is a kind, generous man and an excellent public defender, committed to sticking up for the little guy and taking down corruption. A Bronx native and proud Jewish man, Sandy is a bit of an outsider himself in the WASP-infested Orange County, but he never lets his spirit falter despite many instances that test him otherwise. Peter Gallagher loved playing Sandy so much that to this day he hosts an annual award ceremony named "The Sandy Cohen Awards" or The Sandys, which gives a scholarship to a law school student at UC Berkeley who wants to become a public defender. It just goes to show the powerful influence that a strong and good-hearted person like Sandy Cohen can have on the world, even as a fictional character. For this impact, I truly believe Sandy Cohen is the best character from The OC.
Do you agree with my list, ONTD? If you've never seen The OC or are interested in doing a rewatch,
the entire series is on Hulu! While the lack of diversity makes it very much a product of its time,
the humor and the heart still hold up surprisingly well, and I think everyone should give it a shot.