Mischa Barton has reflected on her groundbreaking bisexual storyline on The OC.
The actress, who currently stars in Freevee’s Neighbours reboot, memorably played Marissa Cooper in the classic teen drama, a privileged high schooler with an alcohol and drug addiction.
Created by Josh Schwartz, the series also featured Peter Gallagher as Sandy Cohen, Kelly Rowan as Kirsten Cohen, Ben McKenzie as Ryan Atwood, Adam Brody as Seth Cohen, Tate Donovan as Jimmy Cooper, Melinda Clarke as Julie Cooper and Rachel Bilson as Summer Roberts.
Airing from 2003 to 2007, The OC became a cultural phenomenon and is widely regarded as one of the most influential teen dramas of all time, having inspired shows such as One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl and the 90210 revival, among various others.
The show made queer waves in its second season when Marissa entered her first same-sex relationship with Alex Kelly, the manager of The Bait Shop. Played by Booksmart director Olivia Wilde, the character was hailed as The OC’s resident “bad girl” because of her tattoos, high school expulsion and bisexuality (of course).
As a result of its time period, their romance was highly-publicised and Marissa’s sexual identity was debated. Because the show never referred to Marissa as bisexual, many harmfully downplayed her romance with Alex as “just a phase” – a damaging stereotype that bisexual people know all too well.
In the years since, however, fans have rightfully claimed Marissa as a bicon. Barton agrees, sharing with GAY TIMES that she thinks her character “was [bisexual”: “I do. I do think that. That’s the thing, they were trying to write off so many of her things as “phases” like her drug use and alcohol use.
“I mean, [her bisexuality] was touched on but not really properly looked into. I definitely see that for Marissa.”
@gaytimes #MischaBarton has reflected on her groundbreaking #bisexual storyline on #TheOC 👀 #theocmarissacooper #theocmarissa #marissatheoc #marissacooper #mischabartonedit ♬ original sound – GAY TIMES
Barton says Schwartz and executive producer Stephanie Savage “recently” spoke about how they handled the narrative, expressing how they ‘maybe didn’t do enough to flesh out’ Marissa and Alex’s feelings for one another.
“But, it was hard to even get that approved at the time. We really wanted that storyline, and we have some regrets that we weren’t able to do more with the Olivia and me storyline and really explore it more,” explains Barton.
“They really fell for each other and were a really cute couple, but I think Josh wishes he could’ve written it a bit more in-depth.”
While Barton claims she doesn’t hear much from queer fans of the show, she ‘loves’ when she comes “across random people wearing ‘Free Marissa’ shirts”.
In 2019, Wilde reflected on her time on the series on the Keep It podcast.
The actress and director revealed that she didn’t fully understand the show’s impact until fans approached her on the street and credited her character with feeling brave enough to come out. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s an honor,’” she said.
Three years prior, she told The Advocate: “When I started acting and one of my first jobs was playing a bisexual teenager on The O.C., nothing about it scared or shocked me. I was just surprised by the enormity of the response.
“I still have women coming up to tell me they started discovering their own sexuality because of The O.C.”
Revisit Marissa and Alex’s romance in the lovely compilation video below: