New characters can make or break a show, especially one in its vulnerable second season, a time when many series fall victim to the sophomore slump. As I noticed in Season Two of my rewatch, “The O.C.” didn't hesitate to throw new people into the mix — for better or worse. While the new kids on the block aren’t all so lovable, many of them are noteworthy in other ways, and I can't deny the impact they had on this batch of episodes.
Read ahead to see which newbies earned my coveted “Addition Awards” for their contributions to the second season of “The O.C.”
LOVE: Alex Kelly — Most Valuable Player
The storylines I remembered most from my original viewing of “The O.C.” 20 years ago were the Season One New Year’s Eve swingers party and Season Two’s Marissa (Mischa Barton) and Alex (Olivia Wilde) romance. Both were shocking for primetime television at that time (fortunately, TV has come a long way in its portrayal of same-sex couples since then!). I remembered liking Alex, but did not realize how pivotal she was to Season Two’s story arc.
Alex moves the plot, yes, but she really does so much more than that. Her impact on everyone is profound, especially Marissa, with whom she develops a brief romantic relationship. This roughly 18-year-old storyline has aged well, too. Their romance was mostly treated by the show as normal. Alex fell apart a bit toward the end, but I daresay that anyone who dates Marissa is prone to do so!
I would have liked even more Alex on my screen and hope she pops back up in Season Three or Four of my rewatch, but I think we may have seen the last of her. A huge addition to the show — and a loss in the end.
HATE: Rebecca Bloom — Best in Failed Chemistry Experiments
Rebecca Bloom (Kim Delaney) is Sandy Cohen’s (Peter Gallagher) first true love. She’s the daughter of Sandy’s academic mentor, Max (the late Barry Newman), and, oh yeah, a fugitive. When Max contacts Sandy to announce he’s terminally ill and would like Sandy’s help in locating the missing Rebecca, Sandy puts all of his time and energy into doing so. Sandy's wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), is understandably threatened, especially when Sandy does find Rebecca and spends a lot of intimate time with her, even hiding her in his office. Despite their past and a few stolen kisses, the on-screen chemistry between Rebecca and Sandy is so lacking that I had very little concern that she would destroy the solid Cohen marriage.
See also: Carter (Billy Campbell). Yawn.
NEUTRAL: Lindsay Gardner — Best in Hat Wear
Lindsay (Shannon Lucio) is a sweetheart and a quiet, interesting addition to the group in Season Two. Turns out family patriarch Caleb (Alan Dale) had an affair 16 years before and has been secretly paying to financially support his probable daughter, Lindsay, ever since — but not recognizing her existence in any other way. In a plotline I found a bit too coincidental, Ryan meets Lindsay at school, falls for her, and then finds out Lindsay is his pseudo-mom Kirsten’s half sister. This doesn’t end the blossoming romance immediately but is the eventual and understandable relationship killer.
Lindsay’s tenure on the show isn’t meant to be forever. Though we definitely didn't mind seeing her go, she will always be remembered for her sartorial holiday contribution: a combination yarmulke-Santa Claus hat known as the Yarmaclaus! She is definitely related to Seth (Adam Brody).
HATE: Zach Stevens — Most Forgettable
I wanted to love Zach (Michael Cassidy). I should have loved Zach! He’s smart, funny, kind, and attractive. But in comparison to the rest of the gang, especially Seth, Zach is just a big, dull dud. He was essential to the “will they or won’t they” Seth and Summer Season Two tug of war, and if we're being fair, perhaps even the most brilliant of characters would seem dull next to the Sethummer shine. It's a bad sign that I kept forgetting his name, even though he got a ton of screen time!
LOVE: Young Seth Lookalike — Best Callback
I was so charmed by the Captain Oats/Princess Sparkle storyline in Season One that I was, of course, thrilled to see their many appearances in Season Two. The best way the show called back to our favorite toy horses was through a new character, one who only spent seconds on the screen but whose essence fully represented the Seth Cohen we know and love.
In “The Rainy Day Women,” Summer is at the airport, about to go to Greece with boring Zach when she sees a very young, very Cohen-esque boy playing with a very Captain Oats-like toy. This sweet and nostalgic moment was just enough to make Summer admit to herself that her true love is Seth, prompting her to jet out of the airport, away from Zach, and back to Seth.
I didn’t realize until later that the young Seth doppelganger was played by Max Burkholder, who did an excellent job portraying Max Braverman in the hit show “Parenthood” (one of my all-time favorites). Despite this little lookalike's brief appearance, the consequences of this sighting are monumental in the Seth-Summer love story.