Cue up the Phantom Planet for a trip down decade-old memory lane: I’ll never get over the greatness that was the Summer Roberts, Seth Cohen, and Anna Stern love triangle on The O.C.
That show may not be the teen drama that went on the longest, and it may not have had even one vampire among its hot young cast, but it had by far the greatest love triangle in all of fictional high school, with three likable people at the center. This made many viewers — myself included — change who we were rooting for week to week. More often in a television love triangle, there’s one character you’re hoping the protagonist will get with, and another who you’re biding your time waiting out while the main couple is “on a break.” If you do get attached to both, the writers typically take a strong left turn and make one of the characters super unlikable/undatable to ensure that all fans are on the “right” side of the relationship by the end of the arc. See: She-cheated-first Addison on Grey’s Anatomy.
Not so for Seth Cohen’s big romantic moment. Let’s break it down: In one corner you had adorkable-before-that-word-existed-and-ruined-everything Anna Stern, whose “confidence, Cohen” speech made geeky guys want to sleep with her and made women consider chopping off all their hair for a look they had no business attempting to pull off. In the other, you had bitchy-with-a-heart-of-gold Summer Roberts, the popular girl whose secret vulnerability gave her a depth that showed she was more than a pretty face.
Seth may have had a crush on Summer since her middle school mermaid story, but he also loved hanging out with Anna. Check out a clip from the incredible 2003 season 1 Thanksgiving episode — where all the action comes to a head just in time for some turkey — below:
Cards on the table: Like many, I was a Team Anna girl who slowly became Team Summer. But while I eventually came round to what Captain Oats was hoping for all along, the show writers, by not making Anna weepy and pathetic post-breakup or cutting and mean to Summer when she eventually got the guy, made it so I could continue to love Anna while simultaneously cheering for Seth’s new relationship. This “other woman” likability isn’t a privilege given to many third wheels, particularly when it’s two women and a guy. How many people were cheering for mean girl Quinn when Rachel decided she had a crush on Finn on Glee?
The fact that Anna remained likable right up until she flew off to Pittsburgh is a major high point for the show. I enjoy complicated characters, and you don’t find many of them on teen dramas. Ten years later, I really miss watching a TV love triangle where everybody involved is someone I genuinely want to be happy — something I would never say about Ryan, Marissa, and Oliver.