Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: Kast Media

Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke on The O.C. storylines they’re excited to explore in their podcast

Photo: Kast Media
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

The O.C. lasted only for four seasons, but left a definite impact on the teen drama genre. Created by Josh Schwartz, the Fox series ended in 2007 but remains a pop-culture phenomenon even today. The show centered on four teens—Rachel Bilson, Adam Brody, Ben McKenzie, and Mischa Barton—navigating friendship and relationship drama in the series’ titular posh region. The O.C.’s take on complicated yet amusing relationship twists, its iconic fictional couples, and its focus on parenting and families—all set against the backdrop of glitzy Orange County—rightfully turned it into a hit over the years, inspiring thinkpieces and rewatches (it’s currently available on HBO Max).

The cult status of the show prompted two of its stars—Bilson, who played Summer Roberts (eventually, Cohen) and Melinda Clark, who played Julie Cooper, mother of Barton’s Marissa—to team up for a rewatch podcast, appropriately titled Welcome To The O.C., Bitches, which launched last month. They have a two-year commitment to launch a new episode every week as they rediscover The O.C. not just as cast members but fans themselves. The A.V. Club spoke to Bilson and Clarke about the episodes they’re looking forward to covering the most (and least), their musical takeaways from the show, and the importance of having a platform to discuss the longevity and legacy of The O.C.

The A.V. Club: What inspired you to do this podcast and revisit The O.C.?

Rachel Bilson: I was actually approached to do this O.C. rewatch podcast a year ago [by Kast Media]. I was at home with my kid, and everyone was at home because of lockdown, so I thought it would be a good time to watch the show and have some fun talking about it. I asked Mindy [Melinda Clarke] to do it with me, and luckily she said yes. Hopefully, we’re entertaining enough. For me, I’m basically watching the show for the first time because even if I saw every episode, I don’t remember them at all. I don’t remember storylines. It was a discovery for me.

Melinda Clarke: I think that’s what’s fun about it. You’ve probably watched it more than you remember, Rachel, but right now, it’s so new for us. We’re watching with a new set of eyes with all of our experience behind us.

AVC: How did your dynamic and friendship develop over the years since The O.C. such that you’re doing this podcast together?

MC: Oh, I can’t stand her. [Laughs.]

RB: Yeah, what a pain in the ass, right? [Laughs.] No, Mindy and I didn’t see each other for a while but it didn’t matter. We were a family for a long time when we were working and I always adored and loved her. She was a great mentor for me, so even though we didn’t always talk, it was like no time had gone by. That’s how you know it works.

MC: I have to give you props, Rachel. I haven’t said this publicly yet but thank you so much for this idea and sending me an email with the subject line, “Mindy, it’s Bilson.” It went something like, “I know this is random but are you interested?” I had no idea what I was saying yes to but I was like, yeah, let’s do it.

RB: I appreciate it. Like she said, we had this conversation a year ago. I emailed her last May, and it’s been in the making ever since.

AVC: What was the process of crafting the format of the podcast, and why did you think it was important to bring in guests for almost every episode to talk about their experiences as well?

RB: Everyone has different takeaways and memories from their time on the show. I just think it’s so fun to include everybody that was involved to hear what they have to say. It’s also a good reminder for both of us because there’s a lot of things we weren’t there for. This way we get a full package with everyone telling their stories.

MC: When we started, in all honesty, we didn’t know exactly what the format was going to be, even if it’s called a rewatch podcast. We had Josh Schwartz in for the pilot episode. He knows his pilot script so well that we might have notes, but he knows it by heart, and he’s saying, “Oh, you forgot this scene or that scene.” In episode two with our casting director, Patrick Rush, he remembers the casting process. Tate Donovan (Jimmy Cooper) remembers his part. I wasn’t even in every episode, so we have editors who remember working on those episodes. So in the podcast, each episode will be unique. Also, we both might run out of things we remember and it might get boring if it’s just us two. Or maybe not, I don’t know.

RB: We’ve done one so far that’s just us talking about it, which was actually a lot of fun. But yeah, we will mainly have guests who will be in a majority of the episode.

AVC: It’s an unexpected The O.C. reunion: What was the process like for you to get everyone onboard for it?

RB: Josh and I are very close, so he didn’t have a choice. I just told him that he’s doing the first episode, and he said “Fine, Bilson.” So, that was easy. But the response is great, everyone’s been willing to appear and excited to talk about the show, so we’re really fortunate.

MC: A lot of it was just sending a text to Kelly Rowan (Kirsten Cohen) or Peter Gallagher (Sandy Cohen) that says “Hey, let’s chat,” or if we don’t have their phone numbers, we’ve DM’ed them. If we really don’t have any contact, we’ve gone through their representatives. We’re talking to writers, too, like Debra J. Fisher who was a staff writer for us at the time and now she’s showrunning Ginny & Georgia. She was a great guest. It was so lovely to reminisce with her, learn about her process, and see what she takes away from The O.C. ’til today as a successful showrunner. One of our editors and directors, Norman Buckley, he was so excited and he said he’s got a lot to share. It’s fun for us to reconnect with everyone. We are true fans, and ultimately that’s what’s being communicated to the listeners.

AVC: Now that you guys are in the throes of it, are there any episodes you’re especially excited to unpack?

RB: I know what your favorite is, Mindy.

MC: It’s a whole storyline. In the moment, back when we were filming it, the whole “Julie did a porno” was uncomfortable, but now, many years later, I think it’ll be fun to talk about it. Also, Julie moving to the trailer, that’s such a funny one.

RB: I’m excited to watch the Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) and Summer Roberts storylines play out because I really don’t remember most of it. I know a lot of stuff happens, and I think them losing their virginity would be funny to watch now. I’m a fan of them and excited to see it play out.

AVC: I’m looking forward to hearing all about Chrismukkah and how that originated.

MC: I will say, that is the one episode every guest asked if they could talk about. But we could only get one, and we’ll keep it a secret for now.

AVC: You talk a lot about the music used in the show on the podcast. Are there any songs or bands you were introduced to while on the show that you still remember fondly?

MC: This will be my weakest subject. I love the music of it, and I understand how music in a film or TV show is moving, but I will not know the names of any songs or bands. I’m educating myself now as I go along. I do remember the impact of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” though.

RB: Even from the pilot, I remember that Mazzy Star song that plays, “Into Dust” [when Ryan carries Marissa into the pool house]. It always stuck with me. Joseph Arthur’s “Honey And The Moon” from the pilot [when Sandy drives Ryan back to Chino] is a good one. Imogen Heap’s “Hide & Seek,” the first time I heard that song, it was so impactful. There are so many songs that when they come on, it takes me back to that time. It says a lot about how the show used the right music.

MC: I literally was thinking yesterday about how great it is that I can go back and educate myself now. I’ve been playing The O.C. soundtrack on my phone, or if I hear a song I like, I immediately ask Alexa which one it is. I often think, “Huh, I bet this is a Brody favorite.”

RB: Yeah, Adam Brody introduced us all to Death Cab For Cutie and Bright Eyes, and they were a big part of the show.

AVC: How has working on the podcast reinformed your time while you were filming the show and the memories of it?

RB: It definitely brought me back. I had a very emotional reaction when I started watching the pilot. I was crying. It took me back to when I was 21, so a lifetime ago. It was such a different time in everyone’s life.

MC: My daughter was 3 when it started, and she’s 21 now. I’m really paying attention to the Marissa Cooper storyline, and I really am giving props to Mischa Barton for playing this vulnerable, sweet girl who has felt so alone and her world is crumbling around her. I’ll be like, “Julie, how are you so motivated and not aware of what your daughter is going through?”

RB: I think we’re both dreading Marissa’s death episode. I’m not looking forward to it because it’s so sad. It’s so surreal, still.

MC: I’m not looking forward to the passing of Marissa. I know it also personally affected me. Even months after it happened, on a couple of occasions I just burst into tears in the summer of 2007 going, “That was so hard.”

AVC: In an interview Mischa Barton gave last year, she was talking about how having your own social media today is a good way to control your narrative, something you didn’t have when The O.C. was on. Do you think the podcast is a good way to address some of the issues and rumors that took away from the content of the show? 

MC: That’s actually a very good point.

RB: When Tate Donovan came on, we talked about some things he said in the past that people just took on and ran with. We were able to talk to him and hear what he had to say. So I do think the podcast is giving us an opportunity to talk about things we couldn’t address before.

MC: I think so too. I think Rachel and I are both of the same idea that we’re here to celebrate the show and everybody who was part of it. I’m not particularly interested in commenting on something a tabloid would’ve said that I have no opinion about.

AVC: Did you listen to any podcasts as you prepared for this one? There are so many now with actors talking about their former shows.

RB: I didn’t hear the rewatch ones, which I think I should’ve earlier. I have since listened to one of Office Ladies, and Zach Braff and Donald Faison’s for Scrubs, and they’re entertaining and great. I normally listen to podcasts like Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert or something for my kid, so this was new for us. I don’t think we knew what we were doing and we got into it like, “Let’s see what happens,” but we’re having fun.

MC: I think that’s what’s unique about podcasting for us; there’s no script or lighting or editing. It’s not being put out as a product. It’s perfectly imperfect. I did listen to the Scrubs and The Office podcasts, I love listening to Dax’s, and Conan O’Brien’s or Marc Maron’s. I love listening to great interviews.

AVC: Summer and Julie had the most evolution of any characters on the show. Did you know where your characters would end up? Did you have any say in their stories?

MC: Rachel may have more influence than I did. [Laughs.]

RB: No, no. I was going to say, Josh and I always had a joke where I would bug him to tell me what happens next and he would always tease me that Summer is involved in a shark attack and gets eaten. That was the theme throughout the show, and the extent of what I knew about what was going to happen. And you know, I was just up for whatever might happen and be as professional as possible.

AVC: The O.C. was obviously a success but when you were doing it, did you ever think the legacy of the show would last for so long?

MC: It was a magical time, but we could’ve never predicted it. Who could’ve known podcasting as a medium would’ve taken off like this, and specifically even more so during a pandemic where we’ve binge-watched everything we can and there’s so much content? I can vacuum or do my laundry and listen to these conversations that are so natural. I have to be honest, I had no idea what podcasting was. Me personally, I never really liked doing interviews or publicity, so it was a little uncomfortable, but I discovered how cool and rewarding this is.

RB: I think we knew we had something pretty neat. People were responding to the characters; all the girls were in love with Adam and Ben [McKenzie]. There were clues. We never knew it would have the legs that it has, especially with people still discovering it 18 years later and enjoying it. It’s a testament to the entire team of people who put it together.

Staff Writer (TV)