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A couple sits in a restaurant booth decorated with garland in this image from Warner Bros. Studios
Will Taylor (Autumn Reeser) and Ryan (Ben McKenzie) survive the holidays? (Image: Warner Bros. Studios)

“I found out long ago, it’s a long way down holiday road…”

“The O.C.” writers should have been singing that old Lindsey Buckingham song all through Season 3 to remember the importance of festive holidays, which that dreadful season unfortunately lacked. But Season 4 — wow! They really packed in the holidays in this shortened season, and executed them beautifully for the most part.

Read on to see which Season 4 holidays rang my bells, as well as which one was too trippy for my taste.

5. Groundhog Day

Someone in a groundhog costume is featured in this image from Warner Bros. Studios
Yes, you’re seeing an oversize groundhog in this photo. (Image: Warner Bros. Studios)

While rewatching the series, I noticed very early in Season 4 that “The O.C.” writers were making the most of every moment — almost as though they knew it would be the show’s final season (they didn’t actually know at that point). Almost every storyline was on another level.

Episode 12 (“The Groundhog Day”), however, is an exception. Yikes. I’m still not sure I didn’t accidentally drink some weird tea that Che (Chris Pratt) brewed and fall down a psychedelic rabbit hole, but I’m definitely not willing to rewatch this episode (again) to find out! Mostly what I can bear to remember is that the episode found some of our cast trotting around Orange County in groundhog costumes.

“The O.C.” sometimes does silly very well (see the No. 1 entry on this list), but this was a dumb kind of silly and I just wasn’t here for it. To be honest, though, I wasn't here for most things involving Che.

4. New Year’s Eve

A woman in an alien costume is featured in this image from Warner Bros. Studios
New Year’s Eve in Nevada isn’t complete without a requisite alien. (Image: Warner Bros. Studios)

I was delighted to see the return of road trips in Season 4, and Las Vegas is always an exciting destination. I assume the writers wanted to lighten things up after such a heavy Chrismukkah episode, so they sent the core four* off for some wacky New Year’s Eve adventures.

This zany, madcap episode felt off in tone though. Summer (Rachel Bilson) may be pregnant and an “alien” steals the purse with the pregnancy test results. No. Just, no. The only saving grace was the growing romance between Ryan (Ben McKenzie) and Taylor (Autumn Reeser).

*Author’s Note: When I first typed “core four,” I started deleting immediately. Marissa (Mischa Barton) was, of course, the fourth in the show’s core four, not Taylor. I typed it in error. But then I realized that maybe my slip-up represented the change the writers were slowly working toward across the season with Taylor’s larger role. Well played, writers!

3. Valentine’s Day

A woman looks concerned in this image from Warner Bros. Studios
Will another man get between Seth (Adam Brody) and Summer (Rachel Bilson)? (Image: Warner Bros. Studios)

This was mostly a fun episode, especially the Team Bullit (Gary Grubbs) versus Team Frank (Kevin Sorbo) showdown. I never thought I’d cheer for either of these men when I first met them, but they became equally endearing during my rewatch. Bullit and Kaitlin’s (Willa Holland) bond is absolutely precious.

The rest of “The Case of the Franks” was fine, if not a little humdrum. I understand the instinct to put Summer and Seth through some serious trials this season (like, uh, every season), but the fortune-teller/George stuff was a witless attempt to mislead the audience. But congrats on the exciting baby news, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) and Sandy (Peter Gallagher)!

2. Thanksgiving

A family stands in a kitchen in this image from Warner Bros. Studios
The Cohens were grateful everyone started to get closure over the holidays — and so was I. (Image: Warner Bros. Studios)

Thanksgiving was a turning point in the healing journey the whole “The O.C.” crew goes through in the wake of Marissa’s death. We don’t get full closure yet, but we get a lot of forward momentum. Volchok (Cam Gigandet) surrenders, for starters. (I can’t tell a lie; a tiny part of me felt bad for him.) That kicks off a huge figurative sigh of relief for everyone, and the surviving characters can start meaningfully connecting with each other again.

The final “tell me about her” scene with Ryan and Julie (Melinda Clarke) is lovely. They understand each other’s loss in a way the others can’t. It was also a full-circle moment, and not just because Ryan was recalling the first time he and Marissa met. Julie and Ryan were finally united in their love for Marissa instead of clashing over her like they did in much of Season 1.

1. Chrismukkah

A man and woman lie in hospital beds in this image from Warner Bros. Studios
This life is not so wonderful. (Image: Warner Bros. Studios)

The second I realized what was happening — only a few minutes into the episode — I wrote in my notes, “If they’re going to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’-ify Chrismukkah, it better pay off.” The last part was in all caps, and it’s possible there was an expletive before “pay.”

Well, it paid off almost immediately! I laughed seeing Seth being bullied by Luke’s (Chris Carmack) water-polo-playing little brothers, and the payoff only ramped up from there. Alternate universes in TV and movies can sometimes be hokey or ridiculous, but the writers hit all the right notes with this twist on “The O.C.”

I was mildly teary before we found out Marissa would have died in that dirty Tijuana alley if Ryan hadn’t saved her, but at that point I went into full-blown sobs. I was emotionally spent by the end of the episode, and I didn’t think I had any tears left — until Kirsten said those magic words: “It’s going to be OK.”

I am so thankful for almost everything in “The O.C.” Season 4, including the return of iconic holiday-centric episodes. Cheers to that!

One thought on “‘The O.C.’ Holiday Celebrations in Season 4, Ranked

  1. Thomas Bodhi says:

    i wish i could unsee the groundhog day episode

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