In case you forgot where The O.C. takes place, “The Model Home” begins with a Rufus Wainwright song titled “California" a few minutes before the opening titles which features a Phantom Planet song titled "California.”
After being abandoned by his mother in the pilot, Ryan is back at the Cohens (and lounging around shirtless with a shirtless Seth) but is being sent to a group home in the morning. “The Model Home” is mostly about developing the kids, introducing layers that go deeper than the “rich girl” and “nerd boy” and “jock asshole” basics, and setting up the friendships (and sort of relationship) that’ll anchor the entire season. With the sad exception of Summer who is still flitting around in bikini tops and talking about Oxycontin.
I don’t believe Seth listens to Trapt.
Seth decides Ryan should live in an abandoned model home and Marissa ditches her best friend’s birthday party to drive them there. The car scene is one of my many favorites because you can picture the writers scrolling through their iPods to figure out what bands to namedrop. And we have the first Rooney appearance via Marissa’s car speakers! When Marissa says she listens to punk (“I’m angry”), Seth calls her out by making the second Avril Lavigne reference in as many episodes but Marissa counters by listing The Cramps, Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, and The Sex Pistols. Drink for each one! There’s a running theme about the clash (see what I did there?) between Marissa and Seth. They’re neighbors and classmates, their respective parents are close, and they go to the same events yet they’re not friends because of their preconceived notions of each other. Seth views Marissa as a stuck-up socialite who thinks she’s better than everyone; Marissa views Seth as a pretentious smartass who thinks he’s better than everyone. They’re both right.
It’s too easy to make Seth into a totally sympathetic character. He doesn’t have friends, he gets the shit kicked out of him, he gets called “queer” more than Seth, and his dream girl has no idea who he is. Even Sandy carefully chose his words when describing Seth: “He’s an interesting kid if you get to know him.” But “The Model Home” shows that he can be as judgmental as the kids who bully him. Marissa’s taste in music is met with derision (even when it’s similar to his own), he’s wary of her shared interest in On The Road, and when he calls Marissa out on never talking to him despite being neighbors forever, she quickly points out that he’s never talked to her either. Of course, Seth is still Seth and it’s his insecurities that mostly prevented him from talking with Marissa (why would she deal with a geek like him?), and his sarcasm is often a defense mechanism. Plus, the polo bros really do have it out for the kid. Basically, I love that he’s a little more complicated than the typical nerd boy.
At the titular model home, we get a nice moment of Ryan and Marissa sharing secrets as a blurry Seth recreates his role in Grind by going all sk8er boi in the empty pool (Schwartz must have had an aneurysm trying not to make another Lavigne reference). Oh, and we get the very important story about how Marissa and Luke first hooked up on a class trip to the Museum of Tolerance which might be the only thing I like about her. But the bonding is temporary because soon Marissa is all see ya l8er bois and runs off to a party.
Back at the Cooper household, they discuss horses.
And then there is this scene! The obligatory “Hey, look at these different teenagers have fun as they become friends forever” scene! Look at Seth skate! Look at Ryan ride his tiny bike! Look at Marissa ride on his pegs and be useless! It’s the transportation equivalent of a friendship bracelet. It’s a cheap and easy way to establish the friendship forming but it works. I hate that it works but even I’m not immune to their stupid smiles. It’s always nice to be reminded that although Ryan is a brooding delinquent with a rap sheet and a quick temper, he’s still a teenager. It’s great when he’s happy and having fun even if it’s with Marissa and her dumb pants. PS: The DVDs occasionally have this ridiculous and pointless music guide that provides trivia about the musician/song playing such as “Rooney appeared on the 2002 Ramones Tribute Album.”
At the diner, Luke and his polo crew walk in and everything goes just as you would expect. Luke calls Seth a queer, Seth makes a snarky comment under his breath, Ryan steps in, Luke makes the best 8 Mile reference that has ever been made in a Fox teen drama, Marissa is still useless, and Ryan throws a punch. This scene has Ryan’s greatest and most important line in the entire season and we all fall a little bit in love with Ben McKenzie’s pre-punch smile. No one pays the check.
A comprehensive list of things Ryan Atwood likes about rich kids:
And we’re back at the model house and some weird camera angles! Jimmy Cooper takes a much-needed break from equestrian talk (they’ve already cut twice to horse mentions at the Cooper home) to hang out with Kirsten where they discuss their shared past (they were each others first kiss! twist!). He talks about his money issues and she mentions that the contractors are working on the house tomorrow — all while the kids conveniently overhear everything. Ryan has no place to stay for the 49th time within two episodes. Everyone looks sad. No one rides a tiny bike.
Marissa goes to another party, utters this stupid and clunky line which is only made worse by Mischa Barton’s terrible delivery but a million girls added it to their AIM profiles anyway.
Fortunately, it’s followed by a scene between Seth and Sandy Cohen: Father of the Century. I will never shut up about how great Sandy is and, by extension, how great Peter Gallagher is for making lines that seem cheesy on paper somehow absolutely perfect on screen.
Sandy: The minute you were born I knew that I would never take another easy breath again without knowing you were safe.
Seth: So I’m like asthma?
Sandy: I’m warning you, you run away, I’m coming with you.
At the model home, badass Ryan lights some candles and listens to Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” which is every television writer’s favorite song. Marissa tells Ryan that the song “reminds me of you” and ugh. There’s a dramatic Marissa/Ryan scene that’s has some admittedly cliche lines for Ryan like “If we spend the night, I don’t know that I could leave” and “We’re from different worlds” which reads like the stiff thesis for the series. But Ben McKenzie is a great enough actor to sell it and Jeff Buckley is quietly singing in the background so there’s all sorts of feelings happening whether you want them to or not.
But then Marissa ruins it by running out of the model home in flip-flops while resembling a gazelle on heroin. It’s pretty hilarious. And Jeff Buckley sings about Samson while Luke and his polo crew sit in a car and spy on Ryan, which is also pretty hilarious.
Luke and Ryan have a romantic candlelit fistfight sponsored by McDonalds. The model home, of course, catches on fire. I mean, this IS a teen drama so if you show a candle, it better end in either two characters losing their virginity or a house burning down. The polo dudes run away and leave Ryan there but Luke doubles back to drag him out because Luke, at his core, isn’t the worst person (layers!). Or at least he’s not a murderer. He’s a total jerk, but he’s not entirely heartless and he gets better as the season progresses. And when Ryan goes back to the Cohens to confess, Luke admits his involvement as well.
The episode ends with the divide between those who wear robes and those who don’t.
- Best musical moment: Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah" because I like to think that all the songs on The Model Home Mix were just other cover versions.
- A+ Seth Cohen moment: Immediately recapping Ryan and Luke’s fight which is such a realistic teenage thing to do after your friend does something awesome.
- Marissa Cooper self-destruction count: Surprisingly only one margarita, but I think we can assume that she drank herself into a stupor after Ryan’s arrest.
- Episode specific drinking game rules: one sip for every mention of a fucking horse, every time Seth skateboards, and every time Jeff Buckley says the word “Hallelujah” and you’re overwhelmed by emotions that you didn’t know you had.