Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I: Forward, Into the Breach

We Shouldn't Be Here.jpg

Inspired by timing, geography, and our friends, what follows is the first in a series.

Phantom Planet first skyrocketed to fame on the identity of their drummer, Wes Anderson's beloved Jason Schwartzman. One of the bands to synthesize LA club buzz with nationwide nerd appreciation on the heels of Rushmore, countless records were sold into the hands of fans soon to be disappointed with the workmanlike attempt to crib the Attractions without the dynamism of Elvis Costello. That is, of course, but for the lead single: California.

The song was released in November of 2002, but hit the bigtime after McG picked it as the theme song to Fox's summer premiere blockbuster series, The OC. For the first episode, it is a transition piece, playing as Ryan moves from Chino to Newport Beach. The carefree, echoing track starts as he packs his bag, fleeing his mom and abusive step father, and futilely seeks refuge with friends. Pulling his public defender's card from his pocket and sticking it in his mouth, not unintentionally like a cigarette, Sandy Cohen arrives once more as the savior in an incongruous black BMW.

For all of Phantom Planet's faults, and all the qualms one can have with a pop song, this track is a fantastic piece of work. The piano and guitar build a surprisingly solid base until the drums come in with a casually powerful backbeat under the second verse, and the the chorus is among the best reasons why stereos were put in cars and roads were built down the California coast.

But the 101 doesn't go from Chino to Newport, and that isn't even the biggest problem here. "California" is a song about coming back, and the OC is a show about being anywhere but. Despite any overtures toward similarity and common human experience, it is a show driven by conflicts bred by difference. "Welcome to the OC, Bitch."

It used to be that residents of Orange County, CA would describe their origins to foreigners by some combination of landmarks. Los Angeles, Disney Land, San Diego, Not in Florida. This show had the remarkable effect of putting a place on the map, no disrepect to Colin and Jack. From here on out, the response to identifying your origins behind the Orange Curtain was no longer, "Where's Orange County?" but "Do you know Seth and Summer?"

That isn't exaggeration. I've been asked a variant of that query on multiple occasions: by Brits, Irish, Spaniards, Thais, Serbs, Tenesseans. Mostly with the same wink and self-aware smirk that belies the stupidity of the question, but with the question nonetheless.

We are nearly five years from the premiere of the Oc. A show that began the shift toward the year-round prime-time premiere scheduling, but that couldn't stop the onslaught of reality-television on the networks. A show that forever altered the self-perceived and therefore only reality of the place in which I lived for eighteen years. A show that today isn't even carried in my hometown's Blockbuster. A show that is perhaps due for a critical reevaluation, or perhaps one that can occupy me for twenty seven episodes and two months before I start law school.

1 comment:

Brendan K. said...

Since leaving Orange County in 2003, I have wondered which era I prefer: that in which I would just tell people I was from Los Angeles rather than explain the geography of the Southland, or the one in which I have to insist that I didn't grow up in a gated community and that my high school was never on tv. My "I (Heart) OC" shirt used to pull a decent giggle when worn around LA or San Diego. At a Lucero show in little Rock, a girl totally let me hit on her because she saw it and gasped "I love that show too!" Seriously. That was a good night, but the principle remains one that renders useless a rag in my closet until our homeland becomes unfashionable again. Go Angels.