Benjamin McKenzie and Mischa Barton Photographs by Mark Liddell
November 02, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Since we last left The O.C., Ryan joined an all-transsexual revue of Showgirls, Marissa got a job at a Payless shoe store, and Seth was caught lip-synching ”Pieces of Me” on Saturday Night Live. Well, not quite, but as we learned in season 1, when it comes to The O.C. anything is possible. The Fox soap, whose second season premieres Nov. 4 at 8 p.m., has made wifebeater tank tops hip, boosted a few music careers (last season: Rooney; this year look for the Walkmen and the Killers), and changed the lexicon. (No, we’re not talking about Chrismukkah. Until August 2003, ”Orange County” never had an article preceding it.) Most impressive, the Fox series joins an elite few — Dallas and Miami Vice come to mind — that have redefined a locale. The 789-square-mile stretch of California, once notable only for its Republicans and municipal bankruptcy in 1994, is now better known for cotillions, pool houses, fistfights, and its disdain of neighboring Chino. Here’s everything you need to know to catch up on the series, and a few clues (spoiler alert!) to the new season. No transsexuals — we think — although there are four new characters, so who’s to say?

Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie)
WHO HE IS Good kid in bad boy’s clothing; refugee from Chino (”ew”) now living with the Cohens, a rich Newport Beach family. SOAP CHARACTER FORMULA My So-Called Life‘s Jordan + Beverly Hills, 90210‘s Dylan x Felicity‘s Ben WHERE HE STANDS Ryan left Newport Beach for Chino (abandoning his near-wordless ”relationship” with girl next door Marissa) after ex-girlfriend Theresa announced she was pregnant with a baby that may or may not be his. Spent the summer working a soul-crushing construction job. SIGNATURE LOOK Wifebeater tank tops, jeans. TYPICAL QUIP [Brooding look. Silence. Another brooding look.] WHAT’S NEXT You didn’t think he’d stay in Chino, did you? Ryan moves back to Newport Beach (Theresa tricks him into thinking he’s not going to be a daddy after all), hoping to reunite with Marissa.

Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton)
WHO SHE IS Babeliciously troubled rich girl with self-esteem issues. SOAP CHARACTER FORMULA Dynasty‘s Fallon + 90210‘s Brenda (season 1) + Party of Five‘s Julia WHERE SHE STANDS Reluctantly moved in with mom Julie after new stepdad Caleb threatened her father Jimmy’s financial security. Lost Ryan to the pregnant Theresa, so she turned to booze — and her mom’s hot gardener — for comfort. SIGNATURE LOOK Marc Jacobs wardrobe, ”Save me” doe eyes. TYPICAL QUIP ”I’m still the girl who tried to kill herself in Mexico.” WHAT’S NEXT All roads point to a nervous breakdown (see her brilliantly psychotic run-in with pool furniture). Ryan’s return leaves her even more confused, which means lots of ”Newport Beach iced teas,” spiked coffee, and makeout sessions with the lawn boy.

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